Academic Writing

Academic writing is different than other forms of writing in that its main area of focus is to inform and outline ideas for the academic world to read about, therefore its formatting is meant to cater to this cause. In comparison to other forms of writing, it does a few things better, different and worse.

Academic writing is better at outlining ideas and setting up the reader to know what they will be reading. For example, there is table of contents that outlines the abstract, introduction, experiment, and results. The reader can easily skip to certain parts of the text that they need to read when referring back to it later. For example, in academic texts such as the Ariely, Kamenica, and Prelec’s study, it says things such as:

In this article, we focus on minimal perceived meaning by the labor producing force and investigate how it influences labor supply in controlled laboratory experiments. Our intention is to compare situations with no meaning (or as low a level of meanings as we can create) with situations having some small additional meaning. Thus, our investigations will focus not on occupations highly endowed with meaning, like medicine or teaching, but on the least-common-denominator of meaningfulness that is shared by virtually all compensated activities. (1)

It also is better at being more in depth of explanation with numbers and data to back up its claims and explain the reasoning behind certain assertions. For example, when explaining one of the experiments, instead of just saying how they worked, it goes into more detail by saying:

Subjects become faster as they build more Bionicles. To address this issue, we also use the speed of building the first Bionicle as the measure of productivity. We get qualitatively the same results. Specifically, the correlation is 0.454 (p<0.05) in the Meaningful condition and -0.274 (p=0.24) in Sisyphus. The exact two-sided p-value for the difference is 0.031. Hence, even when the selection effect cannot play a role, subjects’ productivity influences labor supply more strongly in the Meaningful condition. (6)

Academic writing is different in that it writes towards a different audience than most kinds of writing. Being written towards an academic audience creates the need to aim at keeping the attention of those that want direct and straightforward information rather than fluff and implied meanings. With this focus, it is different because it uses more specific writing styles and words to the academic community instead of using laymen’s terms where everybody could understand what was going on. For example, when saying:

While the magnitude of the difference in the implied reservation wages is somewhat surprising, the existence of the effect conforms with intuition. However, a priori intuitions about possible differences in the strength of the relationship between willingness and productivity are more varied. (6)

Another way in which it is different is with giving the thesis first in a summary of an abstract. This is in contrast to most other forms of writing, where the thesis can be found anywhere and does not necessarily thoroughly summarize the topic. Also, the academic writer uses much more quotes and previous academic studies to construct their argument and therefore their writing. For example:

We investigate how perceived meaning influences labor supply. In a laboratory setting, we manipulate the perceived meaning of simple, repetitive tasks and find a strong influence on subjects’ labor supply. Despite the fact that the wage and the task are identical across the conditions in each experiment, subjects in the less meaningful conditions exhibit reservation wages that are consistently much higher than the subjects in the more meaningful conditions. The result replicates across different types of tasks. Moreover, in the more meaningful conditions, subjects’ productivity influences supply more strongly. (1)

In relation to doing things worse, academic writing as a form is worse than most other types of writing in that it does not connect to the human emotion of an audience. It does not pull them in through ethos; rather it keeps them around through logos. For example, the only part of the written study that tries to connect to the emotional side of a reader, but would fail with a normal audience is when it says:

At least in the United States, ‘What do you do?’ has become as common a component of an introduction as the anachronistic ‘How do you do?’ once was, yet identity, pride, and meaning are all left out from standard models of labor supply. (1)

In conclusion, academic writing has a very different way of approaching its audience, and is able to thoroughly inform through the different forms of rhetoric.





One Response to Academic Writing

  • richardcolby says:

    You do a really good job in analyzing the academic writing, using quotes as evidence to back up your claims. I would have liked just a touch of comparison with the public pieces, just to show a bit of contrast, but you are correct overall in focusing on the academic. Just as helpful advice, journal article page numbers should be referred to and not the PDF page number. For example, the Ariely et al. article actually starts on page 671 (journal article pages are often consecutively numbered throughout the year). So you wouldn’t say (1) but instead (671).

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