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Academic Coaching & Writing

Good Academic Writing

Good academic writing, no matter the discipline, field, or genre, is characterized by:

Starting with Good Ideas. Writers should first be concerned with their ideas and translating these ideas into readable prose for their intended audience. Your ideas are the most important element of your project, especially as it takes shape. But before you show your final drafts to other readers, you need to pay attention to style, grammar, and mechanics, both traditional and in your field. Nothing will make a reader stop reading more quickly than poor style and grammar, even if the ideas are profound.

Having a Clear Sense of Audience, Genre, and Purpose. The most important aspect of becoming a good writer in your field or discipline is, as Ken Hyland has written, to be aware of your rhetorical choices.1 As you write, keep in mind the rhetorical purpose and academic standards under which you write: (a) Who is your audience? (b) What is your purpose? and (c) What is the genre of what you are writing?

Approaching the “So What” Question. Academic Writing is considered successful when it answers the “So What” question or problem statement, best described by the following guidelines to be answered in the text: (a) What is the issue? (b) What are the specific questions surrounding the issue? (c) What is the context and background of the issue? and (d) Why does the issue matter? If the work you produce answers these questions and tackles the answers by paying attention to both higher- and lower-order concerns, and adds new information (called the value-add) to make the writing even more compelling, the paper will be successful.

Using a Logical Progression of Ideas. Order your paragraphs and evidence in a linear manner that makes sense through transitions, signal phrases, and verbs that tell the reader if you agree or disagree with the evidence you are providing. Each paragraph, and your paper as a whole, should follow this format: (a) Introduce the main idea that will be discussed, (b) Provide the evidence used to prove your argument, and (c) Outline the significance of the evidence you have provided.

Using Sources Judiciously. As you write the connections and evidence portions of your work, take time to make the following choices: (a) How much information to provide, (b) What kind of information to provide, and (c) How to sequence the information you provide.

Writing Clearly and Directly. Write with a linear progression of ideas. Use strong verbs, rather than nominalizations or adverbs. For example, a nominalization would be to write “raise an obstacle” rather than to use the verb “to obstruct” or the nominalization “give assistance” rather than “to assist.” The verb is always better and more direct. Likewise, use strong verbs, such as “to speed,” rather than “to drive quickly,” in which the adverb modifies a weaker verb.

Writing Specific and Detail-Oriented Prose. Don’t expect your reader to know what you know. You are the expert in this study. You need to hold your reader’s hand so that he or she can follow your argument as it progresses.

Using a Consistent Tone and Style. Match the tone and style consistent with your discipline, field, or course. For example, in the Sciences, passive voice is often used (the chemicals were mixed), whereas in the Humanities, active voice is used (the assistant mixed the chemicals).

Writing with a Compelling Strong Voice. You are either a member of the disciplinary tribe already, or you are asking to be accepted into the tribe. You are the expert on your subject. Write with conviction.

Making Sure Your Writing is Mechanically Competent: Finally, by using the proper rules of citation expected in your field or discipline, a writer is able to establish a credible writerly ethos. Citation helps to define a specific context of knowledge or problem to which the current work is a contribution. Citation plays an important role in mediating the relationship between a writer’s argument and his or her discourse community. And then there is plagiarism. Do not do it.

Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary discourses: social interactions in academic writing. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.

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