What is Academic Writing?

Academic Writing denotes the kinds of writing that are typical in scholarly settings—in modern research institutions. Within the university or “academy”—which takes its name from the garden in which Plato taught in Athens, which was named after the hero Akademos—there are numerous intersecting and interrelated discourses, numerous ways of speaking and writing that are unique to Faculties and to the Disciplines and the Departments that comprise them, such as the Humanities (English Literature, History, Philosophy, Modern Languages, Liberal Education, Women’s Studies), the Social Sciences (Anthropology, Economics, Kinesiology, Sociology, Geography, Archaeology, Women’s Studies), the Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, Neuroscience), the Fine Arts (Music, Art, Art History, Drama, New Media) and Professional Schools like Management, Education, and Law.

Most obviously, academic writing is research writing—writing done to generate and to disseminate knowledge that is produced by research. Academic writing involves a number of genres and related sub-genres, most notably text-based forms such as monographs and journal articles published by members of the academy, as well as things like research proposals, grant applications, case studies, lab reports, and so on. For students, the research paper is likely the most significant of the research genres.

By studying the conventions, the discursive habits and textual features, of academic writing, by paying attention to the rhetorical features and textual practices of the of the scholarly genres—those “forms of life” that are typical in scholarly culture and that regulate who gets to speak and how things are written, features such as citation, introductions, conclusions, analysis, persuasion, thesis statements, modalization, and so on—academic writers can become better readers and writers of scholarly writing.