|Writing an Academic Paper|
|How It Differs From Writing in High School
One of the first things you'll discover as a college student is that writing in college is different from writing in high school. Certainly a lot of what your high school writing teachers taught you will be useful to you as you approach writing in college: you will want to write clearly, to have an interesting and arguable paper, to construct paragraphs that are coherent and focused, and so on.
Still, many students enter college relying on writing strategies that served them well in high school but that won't serve them well here. Many of the old tricks - such as using elevated language or repeating yourself so that you might meet a nice four-page requirement - will not serve you now.
So how does a student pass successfully from high school to college?
The first thing that you'll need to understand is that writing in college is for the most part a particular kind of writing, called "academic writing." While academic writing might be defined in many ways, there are three concepts that you need to understand before you write your first academic paper.
1. Academic writing is writing done by scholars for other scholars.
Writing done by scholars for scholars? You then ask yourself whether this does not actually leave you out.
Actually, it doesn't. Now that you are in college you are part of a community of scholars. As a college student,
you will be engaged in activities that scholars have been engaged in for centuries: you will read about, think
about, argue about, and write about great ideas. Of course, being a scholar you must read, think, argue, and
write in a certain way. Your education will help you to understand the expectations, conventions, and
requirements of scholarship
2. Academic writing is devoted to topics and questions that are of interest to the academic community.
When you write an academic paper, you must first try to find a topic or a question that is relevant and
appropriate. But how do you know when a topic is relevant and appropriate?
First of all, pay attention to what your professor is saying. He will certainly give you a context into which you
can place your questions and observations.
Second, understand that your paper should be of interest to other students and scholars. Remember that
academic writing must be more than personal response. You must write something that your readers will find
useful. In other words, your objective is to write something that helps your reader better understand your topic,
or see it in a new way.
3. Academic writing should present the reader with an informed argument
To construct an informed argument, you must first reflect on what is known about a subject, what you know
about the subject and what you think about the subject. If your paper fails to inform, or if it fails to argue, then it
will fail to meet the expectations of an academic reader.
Constructing An Informed Argument
When you sit down to write an academic paper, ask yourself these questions:
1. What do I know about my topic?
Can I answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, how?
What do I know about the context of my topic?
What historical or cultural influences do I know about that might be important to my topic?
Does my topic belong to any particular genre or category of topics?
What do I know about this genre?
2. What seems important to me about this topic?
If I were to summarize what I know about this topic, what points would I focus on?
What points seem less important?
Why do I think so?
3. How does this topic relate to other things that I know?
What do I know about the topic that might help my reader understand it in new ways?
4. What DON'T I know about my topic?
What do I need to know?
How can I find out more?
What You Think
As you consider the questions listed above you will discover that you are moving beyond what you know about a topic and are beginning to consider what you think. Your aim is to come up with a fresh observation. It is not enough to summarize in a paper what is already known and what everybody has already said. You must add something of your own to the conversation.
"Adding something of your own", however, does not simply mean writing about your own personal associations, reactions, or experiences to the reading of a text.
To create an informed argument, you must first recognize that your writing should be analytical rather than personal. In other words, your writing must present a critical context, rather than a personal one.
How does one move from personal response to analytical writing?
First, summarize what the text you are consulting is saying about the particular topic you have been asked to deal with. You will notice that you may construct several different summaries, depending from which point of view you consider the text.
You can also summarize what you know about the topic.
You can also summarize what other books say about that topic.
Try to summarize all that you know.
The process of evaluation is continuous. You evaluate a text the moment you encounter it, and you will continue to evaluate and to re-evaluate it as you go along. Evaluating a text is different from simply reacting to a text. When you evaluate for an academic purpose, it is important to be able to clearly articulate and to support your own personal response.
What in the text is leading you to respond a certain way?
What is not in the text that might contribute to your response?
In asking these questions, you are performing two intellectual processes:
1. experiencing your own personal response
2. analyzing the text.
To analyse is an important step towards constructing an informed argument.Analysing means considering the parts that make up your topic and then examining how these parts relate to each other or to the whole. To analyze means that you want to break down the topic you have been asked to write about by examining particular parts of it, points of view, arguments that can be developed, and so on.
In short, you will ask:
What are the components that make uo the topic?
How do these components contribute to the topicís theme?
How do they contribute to the topic as a whole?
When you analyze, you break the whole into parts so that you might see the whole differently. In the process of analysis, you might find things that you will want to say.
When you analyze, you break down a topic into its parts. When you synthesize, you look for connections between ideas.
In analyzing a topic, you might come up with elements that seem initially disparate. You may have some observations that at first don't seem to connect. Or you may have read various critical perspectives, all of them in disagreement with one another.
Now would be the time to consider whether these disparate elements or observations might be reconciled, or synthesized. This intellectual exercise requires that you create an umbrella argument - some larger argument under which several observations and perspectives might stand.
Choosing An Appropriate Topic .
Many students writing in college have trouble figuring out what constitutes an appropriate topic. Sometimes the professor will provide you with a prompt. She will give you a question to explore, or a problem to resolve. When you are given a prompt by your professor, be sure to read it carefully. Your professor is setting the parameters of the assignment for you. He is telling you what sort of paper will be appropriate.
In many cases, however, the professor will not provide you with a prompt. He might not even give you a topic nor does he tell you what the paper should look like. Should it summarize one theory, for example?
Should it compare two or more theories?
Should it place these theories into some historical context?
Should it take issue with these theories, pointing out their limitations?
At this point, you have two options:
talk to the professor and see what his expectations are
figure out this matter for yourself.
It is always a good idea to talk with the professor. At least, you will find out if he wants a report or a paper. In other words, is your professor looking for information or argument?
Chances are he wants you to make an argument. It will be up to you to narrow down your topic and to make sure that it is appropriately academic.
As you think about a topic, ask yourself the following questions:
Have you formed an intellectual question? In other words, have you constructed a question that will require a complex, thoughtful answer?
Is the question provocative? Startling? Controversial? Fresh?
Will you be able to answer this question adequately in a few pages? Or is the question much too broad?
If the question seems broad, how can you narrow it down?
Have you considered the historical and cultural circumstances that influenced this question?
Have you considered what other scholars have said about it?
Will your reader care about this question? Or will he say, "Who cares?"
Finding a Rhetorical Stance .
When writing an academic paper, you must not only consider what you want to say, you must also consider to whom you are saying it. In other words, it's important to determine not only what you think about a topic, but also what your audience is likely to think. What are your audience's biases? Values? Expectations? Knowledge? To whom are you writing, and for what purpose?
When you begin to answer all of these questions, you have started to reckon with what has been called "the rhetorical stance." "Rhetorical stance" refers to the position you take as a writer in terms of the subject and the reader of your paper.
Consider Your Position .
Let's first consider your relationship to your topic. When you write a paper, you take a stand on a topic. You determine whether you are for or against, passionate or cool-headed. You determine whether you are going to view this topic through a particular perspective, or whether you are going to make a more general response. You also determine whether you are going to analyze your topic through the lens of a particular discipline - history, for example. Your stance on the topic depends on the many decisions you have made in the reading and thinking processes.
In order to make sure that your stance on a topic is appropriately analytical, you will ask yourself some questions:
why have I taken this particular stance?
why did I find some elements of the text more important than others?
Does this prioritizing reflect some bias or preconception on my part? If I dismissed part of a text as boring or unimportant, why did Ido so?
Do I have personal issues or experiences that lead me to be impatient with certain claims?
Is there any part of my paper that might make my reader consider my paper as biased or uncritical? If so reconsider your position on the topic.
Consider Your Audience .
Your position on a topic does not by itself determine your rhetorical stance. You must also consider your reader. No matter who your reader is, you will want to consider him carefully before you start to write.
What do you know about your reader and his stance towards your topic? What is he likely to know about the topic? What biases is he likely to have? Moreover, what effect do you hope to have on the reader? Is your aim to be controversial? Informative? Entertaining? Will the reader appreciate or resent your intention?
Once you have determined who your reader is, you will want to consider how you might best reach him.
If you are an authority on a subject and you are writing to readers who know little or nothing about it, then you'll want to take an informative stance. If you aren't yet confident about a topic, and you have more questions than answers, you will want to take an inquisitive stance.
In any case, when you are deciding on a rhetorical stance, choose one that allows you to be sincere. You don't want to take an authoritative stance on a subject if you aren't confident about what you are saying. On the other hand, you can't avoid taking a position on a subject. There is nothing worse than reading a paper in which the writer has refused to take any position at all. What if you are ambivalent about a subject? Declare that to the reader. Make ambivalence your clear rhetorical stance.
Finally, don't write simply to please your professor. Though some professors find it flattering to discover that all of their students share their positions on a subject, most of us are hoping that your argument will engage us by telling us something new about your topic - even if that "something new" is simply a fresh emphasis on a minor detail. Moreover, it is impossible for you to replicate the "ideal paper" that exists in your professor's head. When you try, you risk having your analysis compared to your professor's. Do you really want that to happen?
Academic writing typically consists of:
1. Research reports
2. Scholarly papers which include
3. design theory and practice
5. teaching methods
10. drawing and visual presentation
12. Studio problems
Much of this writing is no different from reports, proposals, and correspondence. Where the paths diverge is in the unique subject matter-issues Academic writing has, often unfairly, been saddled with a reputation for obfuscation. The assumption is that critical or scholarly writing has to be obscure to be important.-Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have once remarked that you always admire what you donít understand. Princeton historian James McPherson cited the dilemma professional historians have in reaching broad general audiences, writing in the Princeton Alumni Weekly:
Soon after my best seller Battle Cry was published, a member of the programme committee of a professional
association formally invited me to participate in a session about the book at the association's annual meeting. I
was flattered and ... said yes. Six months later I received an apologetic letter from the same committee calling the
whole thing off. No coherent explanation was given, but in my re-reading of the correspondence, it seemed clear
that a majority of the programme committee felt that a book which had reached a large audience of non-
professionals was not sufficiently weighty to merit a session at a professional meeting.
Several schools now encourage clear writing for faculty through courses and special interdepartmental liaison programs. Architecture, the arts, and the humanities at Clemson University are combined in a single college, headed by architect and dean James Barker. A key part of the programme is links to the English and the speech and communications departments.