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Academic vs. Non-Academic Writing: Going Beyond the Ordinary

written by: Winston Smith•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 4/25/2011

You've just received a marked assignment and it's covered with comments and a low grade. Your professor suggests improvement in your academic writing, by pointing out areas that were problematic. Learn the ins-and-outs of academic writing in this article, so you are prepared in college.

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    Success as a college student requires a combination of many factors including focus, dedicated time to study and financial resources. In addition, college students are expected to learn a set of fundamental skills such as time management, writing skills and meeting deadlines. However, these practical skills are not always explicitly taught; students pick them up through trial and error, reading college study tips and sheer experience. While some of college lessons can only be learned the hard way, academic writing skills can be learned more easily than that. By going through the process of comparing academic writing and ordinary speech, you can learn how to write better college papers.

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    Beyond Ordinary Speech

    Most people learn how to talk before writing; it is understandable that writing tends to follow the habits of ordinary speech. When you are simply writing a friendly email or text message to a friend, ordinary speech serves its purpose. Correspondence between family and friends often has less than perfect grammar and spelling, since the writer can assume the reader will understand their writing style. Using the conventions of ordinary speech in a college paper, however, tends to lead to bad marks and negative comments.

    To determine whether or not a piece of writing is ordinary speech, review this list:

    • Contractions: The use of contractions such as "can't" (i.e. can not), "I'll" (i.e. I will) or "you're" (i.e. you are) is common in informal writing.
    • Poor organization: In formal writing, each paragraph should communicate a single idea. While this convention is somewhat flexible, violating it tends to confuse the reader.
    • Use of slang terms and colloquial words: Few words mark a piece of writing as informal as quickly as the use of slang. The use of swear words and crude sexual language can be common in ordinary speech.
    • Use of the first person or second person: Informal writing commonly includes expressions such as, " I feel that Jane was right," or, "You shouldn't do that." Formal, academic writing strives to be objective.
    • Starting a sentence with a conjunction: Informal writing often includes sentences that began with "but," "or," or "and."

    In the eyes of some grammar and writing experts, informal writing can be defined more broadly as any writing that violates the requirements of traditional requirements and expectations.

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    The Demands of Academic Writing

    Academic Writing Is Different Than Ordinary Speech (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Academic writing requires a much greater degree of focus and attention to detail than ordinary speech. Given that most academic writing is seeking to make an argument or make a case, organizing sentences and paragraphs into a clear and coherent order is very important. Academic writing also requires the writer to produce well reasoned opinions supported by careful analysis of evidence. Each academic field has its own rules and expectations on how evidence can be presented. English courses may require students to quote only from a specific edition of a novel while science courses may require students to report experimental results to a high degree of precision. Learning the requirements of academic writing takes times but you can start by following these principles:

    • Use evidence: Effective academic writing requires that you use evidence as well as supporting information such as footnotes and bibliographies
    • Follow an established style guide: Popular style guides include the Chicago Manual of Style, the APA style and the MLA style. College libraries often have these writing resources available for free.
    • Use your field's terms: Every academic field has its specialized language and terms, academic writing should make use of these terms. Academic articles and textbooks provide are an excellent way to learn a subject's specialized language.
    • Avoid The Conventions of Ordinary Speech: The previous section outlined some of the common traits used in everyday writing; academic writing should seek to avoid all of these traits.
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    References

    To better understand the differences of academic writing and ordinary speech, explore the writing resources provided in this section. If you have any questions about the writing requirements of a particular question, ask your instructor for clarification if you cannot find the answer in your course outline.

    Academic Writing, http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/1/2/

    Advice on Academic Writing, http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice

    Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide, http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Gnarlycraig