Academic Writing Style
The style of writing required in university is different to high school and it sometimes catches people off guard. The main features of academic styles of writing are:
> Passive voices
> Formal language
> No contractions
> No run on expressions
> Impersonal language
> Low to medium high modality
> Area/field specific language
> NominalizationsPassive voice
The passive voice focuses on the person or object, rather than the action. This is because we want to focus things, people or issues to become the subject at hand. To write in a passive manner, make the object or person the subject, e.g. “Our home” and “Plastics are”. Notice that the home and the plastics are what we are talking about.
Active vs. Passive
'Water drenched our home' vs. 'Our home is drenched in water'
'One picture conveys a lot of meaning' vs. 'A lot of meaning is conveyed in one picture'
'Many methods are used to recycle plastics' vs. 'Plastics are recycled by using many methods
Replace colloquial (day to day) language with formal expressions, and do not use slang words.
Lack of contractions
Colloquial vs. Formal
'Easier said than done' vs. 'More difficult in practice'
'Got out of control' vs. 'Was no longer under control'
'Stumbling block' vs. 'Point of contention'
'Other ways to' vs. 'Other alternatives to'
'TV and the movies got more and more dependent on each other' vs. 'The relationship between television and the cinema grew increasingly symbiotic'
Contractions are the combinations from two words, that are shortened. Avoid these and write the full words out.
No run-on expressions
Contraction vs. Full words
don't vs. do not
can't vs. cannot
doesn't vs. does not
Run-on expressions are phrases that imply that there is more to be listed, used at the end of sentence, such as 'and so forth', 'and so on' or 'etc'.
Run-on expression: Public transport in Australia includes buses, trains and ferries etc.
Corrected expression: Public transport in Australia includes modes such as buses, trains and ferries.
Impersonal language is where the language used sounds independent from writers and the readers. It excludes:
> Personal pronouns – “I”, “you”, “we”
> Judgmental words – “be ashamed”, “disgraceful”
> Emotive words – “appalling”, “terrible”
These all must be avoided at all costs and it will cost you marks if you do so. The removal of personal language also makes the essay seem more objective and this is the appropriate feeling that the reader of the essay should get.
Area/field specific language
Personal: Only a few people have most of the money and power in Australia. I conclude that is not an egalitarian society. I think that most people end up staying in that class for the entirety of their life.
Impersonal: In Australia, the financial inequality between the wealth and the poor are indicators of the lack of egalitarianism. In 1994, 10% of the population owned 75% of Australia’s wealth (Edge, 1999). Such a skew in the wealth distribution indicates that there is a class system.
Notice how the impersonal example, which communicates the same information, seems more professional and stronger in terms of the argument (rather than a rant).
These are terms that are specific to areas or fields, e.g. melanosomes, classical management style, tunnel vision and employer relations.
It is important to not use technical terminology JUST for the sake of it, you need to know what it means and where it should be used. To a marker, they will know if you just inserted technical words for the sake of it. ADDITIONALLY, the sentence must make sense. Students sometimes make the mistake of using technical words, and the sentence grammar seems odd or the sentence does not make sense. Modality
Modality means the level of certainly of your opinions or argument.
There are three levels of modality, high, moderate and low.
– Definitely certain, e.g. is, will, must, clearly
– Somewhat certain, e.g. should, would, can, tends to, generally
– Less certain, e.g. may, might, sometimes, seldom, uncertainly
It is recommended to be a little bit below and or above the moderate level of modality. This is because the writer needs to have a VOICE and it must be CLEAR, but it must not be overstated or overconfident.
Same statement, varying levels of confidence:
> STRONG – The experiments concluded that the previous study was false.
> MODERATE – The experiments appear to show that the previous study was false.
> LOW – The experiments did not show that the previous study was false.
Nominalizations are verbs that in the form of nouns, e.g. “the charity walk”, “the fundraiser”. The nominalization process turns actions or events into things, concepts or people.
Verb vs. Nominalisation
'We ran two hours for charity' vs. 'The two-hour charity run...'
'Crime was increasing rapidly' vs. 'The rapid increase in crime...'
'Germany invaded Poland in 1939' vs. 'Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939...'