Academic writing and publishing is conducted in several sets of forms and genres. This article provides a short summary of the full spectrum of critical and academic writing and lists the genres of academic writing. It does cover the variety of critical approaches that can be applied when one writes about a subject. However, as Harwood and Hadley (2004) and Hyland (2004) have pointed out, the amount of variation that exists between different disciplines may mean that we cannot refer to a single academic literacy.
Writing in these forms or styles is usually written in an impersonal and dispassionate tone, targeted for a critical and informed audience, based on closely investigated knowledge, and intended to reinforce or challenge concepts or arguments. It usually circulates within the academic world ('the academy'), but the academic writer may also find an audience outside via journalism, speeches, pamphlets, etc.
Typically, scholarly writing has an objective stance, clearly states the significance of the topic, and is organized with adequate detail so that other scholars may try to replicate the results. Strong papers are not overly general and correctly utilize formal academic rhetoric.
While academic writing consists of a number of text types and genres, what they have in common, the conventions that academic writers traditionally follow, has been a subject of debate. Many writers have called for conventions to be challenged, for example Pennycook (1997) and Ivanic (1998), while others suggest that some conventions should be maintained, for example Clark (1997, p136).
A discourse community is essentially a group of people that shares mutual interests and beliefs. "It establishes limits and regularities...who may speak, what may be spoken, and how it is to be said; in addition [rules] prescribe what is true and false, what is reasonable and what foolish, and what is meant and what not." (Porter, 39). People are generally involved in a variety of discourse communities within their private, social, and professional lives. Some discourse communities are very formal with well established boundaries, while others may have a looser construction with greater freedom. Additionally, discourse communities have approved channels of communication in which members write or speak through. These channels can be a web page, a journal, a blog, or any medium people use to communicate through. Examples of discourse communities may include but certainly not limited to:
- Films (Movies)
- General Forums
- Rhetoric and Composition
The concept of discourse community is vital to academic writers across nearly all disciplines, for the academic writer’s purpose is to influence a discourse community to think differently. At the same time the discourse community does not expect to see any writing that appears too foreign. For this reason the academic writer must follow the constraints (see article section below) set by the discourse community so his or her ideas earn approval and respect.
Discourse community constraints
Constraints are the discourse community’s written and unwritten conventions about what a writer can say and how he or she can say it. They define what is an acceptable argument. Each discourse community expects to see a writer construct his or her argument using their conventional style of language and vocabulary, and they expect a writer to use the established intertext within the discourse community as the building blocks for his or her argument.
Writing for a discourse community
In order for a writer to become familiar with some of the constraints of the discourse community they are writing for, a useful tool for the academic writer is to analyze prior work from the discourse community. The writer should look at the textual ‘moves’ in these papers, focusing on how they are constructed. Across most discourses communities, writers will:
- Identify the novelty of their position
- Make a claim, or thesis
- Acknowledge prior work and situate their claim in a disciplinary context
- Offer warrants for one's view based on community-specific arguments and procedures (Hyland)
Each of the ‘moves’ listed above are constructed differently depending on the discourse community the writer is in. For example, the way a claim is made in a high school paper would look very different from the way a claim is made in a college composition class. It is important for the academic writer to familiarize himself or herself with the conventions of the discourse community by reading and analyzing other works, so that the writer is best able to communicate his or her ideas. (Porter) Contrary to some beliefs, this is by no means plagiarism.
Writers should also be aware of other ways in which the discourse community shapes their writing. Other functions of the discourse community include determining what makes a novel argument and what a ‘fact’ is. The following sections elaborate on these functions.
Misconceptions regarding fact and opinion in the discourse community
It is important for any writer to distinguish between what is accepted as ‘fact’ and what is accepted as ‘opinion’. Wikipedia’s article Fact misguides writers in their interpretation of what a fact actually is. The article states that 66"A fact (derived from the Latin factum, see below) is something that has really occurred or is actually the case". But this is not how writers think of facts. Writing professionals hold that, "In a rhetorical argument, a fact is a claim that an audience will accept as being true without requiring proof". Facts can be thought of merely as claims. The audience can be thought of as a discourse community, and a fact can suddenly change to become an opinion if stated in a different discourse community. This is how writers within discourse communities manage to present new ideas to their communities. Any new opinion would need to be proven by making a rhetorical argument, in which the writer would weave together what his or her intended audience will accept as ‘facts’ in a way that supports his or her idea. Therefore, knowing the intended discourse community is a very important part of writing.
Across discourse communities, what is considered factual may fluctuate across each community. As Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs wrote in their book Writing about Writing, in reference to Margaret Kantz’s article "Helping students use textual sources persuasively":
A key concept in this change is learning to recognize that facts aren't so much inherently true statements as they are claims-that is, assertions that most of a given audience has agreed are true because for that audience sufficient proof has already been given. You, like most people, would probably classify the statement "the Earth is round" as a "fact." Its status as a fact, however, depends on our mutual agreement that "round" is an adequate description of the Earth's actual, imperfectly spherical shape. What Kantz wants us to see is that what makes the statement a fact is not how "true" the statement is but that most people have agreed that it's true and treat it as true. Statements about which we haven't reached this consensus remain claims, statements that people argue about. Kantz's work here demonstrates why it's so important to read texts-even "factual" works like textbooks and encyclopedias-as consisting of claims, not facts.
Misconceptions regarding making a novel argument
Within discourse communities, writers build on top of the ideas established by previous writers. One of the most common misconceptions about writing is the idea of the ‘lonely writer’; that great writers’ papers are filled almost entirely with original ideas and messages. But this is simply not the case. Discourse communities introduce new ideas and claims, and from these, writers expand on them. James Porter, a scholar of Rhetoric at Indiana University, uses The Declaration of Independence as an example to illustrate this point. Porter points out that Jefferson merely pulled the phrase "That all men are created equal" straight from his commonplace book he made as a boy. Porter also points out that, "‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’" was a cliche of the times, appearing in numerous political documents." In fact, according to Porter, almost nothing in the Declaration of Independence was written originally by Jefferson. Jefferson wrote this great work by weaving together the intertext of his discourse community. As Greene describes in his article, "Argument as Conversation," academic writing can be thought of metaphorically as a conversation between those in the discourse community. "The metaphor of conversation emphasizes the social nature of writing" (Greene). Just like in a conversation when you listen to the ideas of the others who are involved and formulate your own opinion on the topic, a writer may be reading a paper done by another writer in the discourse community and from this paper, the scholar may obtain inspiration to expand the claims expressed in the paper or address them from other angles. "Like the verbal conversations you have with others,' effective arguments never take place in a vacuum; they take into account previous conversations that have taken place about the subject under discussion" (Greene). Good academic writers know the importance of researching previous work from within the discourse community and using this work to build their own claims. By taking these ideas and expanding upon them or applying them in a new way, a writer is able to make their novel argument.
Intertextuality in academic writing
Intertextuality is the combining of past writings into original, new pieces of text. The term intertextuality was coined in 1966 by Julia Kristeva. All texts are necessarily related to prior texts through a network of links, writers (often unwittingly) make use of what has previously been written and thus some degree of borrowing is inevitable. This generally occurs within a specific discourse community.
Factoring in intertextuality, the goal of academic writing is not simply creating new ideas, but to offer a new perspective and link between already established ideas. This is why gathering background information and having past knowledge is so important in academic writing. A common metaphor used to describe academic writing is "entering the conversation", a conversation that began long before you got there and will continue long after you leave. A quote from Kenneth Burke encapsulates this metaphor:
"Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress."
Intertextuality plays into this because without it there would be no conversations, just hundreds of thousands of writings not connected or able to build on each other. The listening until you can join the conversation can be seen as doing research. All of the research you read, is built on research instead of self-knowledge. This can be connected to the part of the metaphor where no one in the parlor is qualified to bring you up to speed, just as the papers your researched were researched also.
Types of intertextuality
There are two distinct types of intertextuality as defined by Porter:
Iterability is the capability of a text to be reiterated and repeated in various contexts. Iterability is explicitly seen in texts, as opposed to presupposition, which refers to assumptions a text makes. One such example of this concept from Porter is the Declaration of Independence. Many texts and ideas of different centuries were integrated into the one document. Jefferson took the idea of John Locke’s social contract theory, the Declaration of Rights for Virginia by George Mason, and the form of the English Bill of Rights in 1689 into the Declaration of Independence. Some claimed that this was blatant plagiarism but others say it was iterability. He used the form of a list of grievances as used in the English Bill of Rights and this example proves that not only direct quotes can be reiterated but also the form of a text. When Thomas Jefferson proposed the Declaration to congress, they made 86 changes to his actual original ideas because they were so farfetched from the current discourse community. This is an example of the constraint a discourse community can place on a text.
Presupposition is the process by which implications are made without being specifically stated or explained within text. These assumptions are usually extremely basic thoughts made by a vast majority of the audience; such thoughts may be considered "common sense" or otherwise obvious to anyone who reads the text. Example: "Rodrigo rode his bike to his friend’s house." -This simple statement implies several facts that the reader automatically assumes. Rodrigo owns a bike, he has a friend, his friend has a house, his house is within biking distance, and Rodrigo has the ability to ride a bike. -Details can be added or removed by an author to give more or less creative license to the readers themselves; in this case, one reader could imagine the bike being colored red, while another may believe it to be blue. Because the assumptions made by different readers can be drastically different from one another, it is important that the framework the author provides is sufficient to keep the assumptions that are crucial to the story itself constant between readers. Example: "It was dark and stormy night." -This statement is iterated as a cliché opening to a story. The statement provides an opening for a fictional narrative while simultaneously implying an ominous, foreboding setting. When opening a story with this line, the author is able to instantly set a mood and tone before the story truly begins, giving the reader a sense that the story is already in progress.
Examples of intertextuality
1) Ulysses: Ulysses, a novel written by James Joyce in 1918, is an example of intertextuality because the themes largely shadow those of Homer’s Odyssey (an ancient Greek epic poem). Ulysses uses the plot line from The Odyssey and retells it with a new character in a new setting, thus using past writings to create a new, original one.
2) Aladdin: The classic Disney movie Aladdin has many distinct examples of intertextuality throughout. For example, one scene depicts the Genie that comes out of Aladdin’s lamp being pinched by a crab – the same crab from another popular Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. In another scene, the two main characters are flying through the sky on a magic carpet and, for a moment, Zeus’s temple from the movie Hercules can be seen in the background. These are examples of intertextuality because they pull from past Disney works and use them to create something new and original.
3) West Side Story: West Side Story is an example of intertextuality in that it is the modern retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Tony (Romeo) and Maria (Juliet) are both in love. However, their families and the rival groups with which their loyalty lies forbid their love. West Side Story uses themes from Romeo and Juliet (such as forbidden love and a tragic ending) to create a new, original story.
Academic document types
- Book, in many types and varieties.
- Chapter in an edited volume
- Book report.
- Conference paper.
- Dissertation; usually between 6,000 and 20,000 words in length.
- Essay; usually short, between 1,500 and 6,000 words in length.
- Explication; usually a short factual note explaining some obscure part of a particular work; e.g. its terminology, dialect, allusions or coded references.
- Research Article.
- Research Paper; longer essay involving library research, 3000 to 6000 words in length.
- Technical report
- Thesis; completed over a number of years, often in excess of 20,000 words in length.
- Exam questions and Essay titles; the formulating of these.
- Instructional pamphlet, or hand-out, or reading list; usually meant for students.
- Presentations; usually short, often illustrated.
Summaries of knowledge
- Annotated bibliography.
- Annotated catalogue, often of an individual or group's papers and/or library.
- Creating a simplified graphical representation of knowledge; e.g. a map, or refining a display generated from a database. There will often be a 'key' or written work incorporated with the final work.
- Creating a timeline or chronological plan. There will often be a 'key' or written work incorporated with the final work.
- Devising a classification scheme; e.g. for animals, or newly arisen sub-cultures, or a radically new style of design.
- Encyclopedia entry.
- Journal article (e.g. History Today); usually presenting a digest of recent research.
- Literature review; a summary and careful comparison of previous academic work published on a specific topic.
- Site description and plan (e.g. in archeology).
Collating the work of others
- Anthology; collection, collation, ordering and editing of the work of others.
- Catalogue raisonné; the definitive collection of the work of a single artist, in book form.
- Collected works; often referred to as the 'critical edition'. The definitive collection of the work of a single writer or poet, in book form, carefully purged of publishers errors and later forgeries, etc.
- Monograph or exhibition catalog; usually containing exemplary works, and a scholarly essay. Sometime contains new work by a creative writer, responding to the work.
- Transcribing, selecting and ordering oral testimony (e.g. oral history recordings).
Research and planning
- Experimental plan, called a protocol
- Laboratory report.
- Raw data collection plan.
- Research plan (sometimes called desk-based research).
- Structured notes.
Disseminating knowledge outside the academy
- Call for papers.
- Documentary film script or TV script or radio script.
- Opinion; an academic may sometimes be asked to give an expert written opinion, for use in a legal case before a court of law.
- newspaper opinion article.
- Public speech or lecture.
- Review of a book, film, exhibition, event, etc.
- Think-tank pamphlet, position paper, or briefing paper.
Technical or administrative forms
- Brief; short summary, often instructions for a commissioned work.
- Peer review report.
- Proposal for research or for a book.
- White paper; detailed technical specifications and/or performance report.
- Artist's book or Chapbook.
- Belles-lettres; stylish or aesthetic writing on serious subjects, often with reference to one's personal experience.
- Commonplace book.
- Diary or Weblog.
- Memoire; usually a short work, giving one's own memories of a famous person or event.
- Collaborative writing, especially using the internet.
- Hypertext, often incorporating new media and multimedia forms within the text.
- Performative writing (see also: belles-lettres).
The most common disposition standard in the academic world is the IMRAD method, stating that an academic document should consist of sections in the following order:
- Introduction (Problem motivation, aim, objective, problem statement, own contributions, background materials, overview)
- Method (Assumptions, questionary, system model, simulation model, performance measures)
- Result (Empirical results, charts, plots)
- Discussion (Analysis, Conclusions)
Other common sections in academic documents are:
- List of references
- Appendix/Addendum, any addition to a document
- Academic journal
- Academic publishing
- Author editing
- Creative class
- Expository writing
- Knowledge worker
- Persuasive writing or rhetoric
- Scientific writing
- Scientific publishing
- Scholarly method
- Scholarly skywriting
- Style guide
- Tony, Becher,; Paul, Trowler, (1 October 2001). Academic Tribes And Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines. McGraw-Hill Education (UK). ISBN 978-0-335-20627-8.
- Booth, Wayne C.; Colomb, Gregory G.; Williams, Joseph M. (15 May 2009). The Craft of Research, Third Edition. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-06264-8.
- Borg, Erik (2003). 'Discourse Community', English Language Teaching (ELT) Journal, Vol. 57, Issue 4, pp. 398–400
- Canagarajah, A. Suresh (2002). A Geopolitics of Academic Writing. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 978-0-8229-7238-9.
- Coinam, David (2004). 'Concordancing Yourself: A Personal Exploration of Academic Writing', Language Awareness, Vol. 13, Issue 1, pp. 49–55
- Phyllis, Creme,; Mary, Lea, (1 May 2008). Writing At University: A Guide For Students. McGraw-Hill Education (UK). ISBN 978-0-335-22116-5.
- Goodall, H. Lloyd, Jr. (2000). Writing Qualitative Inquiry: Self, Stories, and Academic Life (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press)
- Hyland, Ken (22 July 2004). Disciplinary Discourses, Michigan Classics Ed.: Social Interactions in Academic Writing. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-03024-8.
- Johns, Ann M. (1997). Text, Role and Context: Developing Academic Literacies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
- King, Donald W., Carol Tenopir, Songphan Choemprayong, and Lei Wu (2009). 'Scholarly Journal Information Seeking and Reading Patterns of Faculty at Five U.S. Universities', Learned Publishing, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp. 126–144
- Kouritzin, Sandra G., Nathalie A. C Piquemal, and Renee Norman, eds (2009). Qualitative Research: Challenging the Orthodoxies in Standard Academic Discourse(s) (New York: Routledge)
- Lincoln, Yvonna S, and Norman K Denzin (2003). Turning Points in Qualitative Research: Tying Knots in a Handkerchief (Walnut Creek, CA; Oxford: AltaMira Press)
- Luey, Beth (2010). Handbook for Academic Authors, 5th edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
- Murray, Rowena, and Sarah Moore (2006). The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach (Maidenhead: Open University Press)
- Nash, Robert J. (2004). Liberating Scholarly Writing: The Power of Personal Narrative (New York; London: Teachers College Press)
- Paltridge, Brian (2004). 'Academic Writing', Language Teaching, Vol. 37, Issue 2, pp. 87–105
- Pelias, Ronald J. (1999). Writing Performance: Poeticizing the Researcher's Body (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press)
- Prior, Paul A. (1998). Writing/Disciplinarity: A Sociohistoric Account of Literate Activity in the Academy (Mahwah, NJ; London: Lawrence Erlbaum)
- Rhodes, Carl and Andrew D. Brown (2005). 'Writing Responsibly: Narrative Fiction and Organization Studies', The Organization: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Organizations and Society, Vol. 12, Issue 4, pp. 467–491
- Richards, Janet C., and Sharon K. Miller (2005). Doing Academic Writing in Education: Connecting the Personal and the Professional (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum)
- Zamel, Vivian; Spack, Ruth (6 August 2012). Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning Across Languages and Cultures. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-60891-9.(
- Free open educational resources for research students www.readytoresearch.ac.uk and www.digitalscholarship.ac.uk Useful information on English for English for academic purposes, academic phrasebank, self-assessment, grammar guide etc.
Architecture, design and art
- Crysler, C. Greig (2002). Writing Spaces: Discourses of Architecture, Urbanism and the Built Environment (London: Routledge)
- Francis, Pat (2009). Inspiring Writing in Art and Design: Taking a Line for a Write (Bristol; Chicago: Intellect)
- Frayling, Christopher (1993). 'Research in Art and Design', Royal College of Art Research Papers, Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 1–5
- Piotrowski, Andrzej (2008). 'The Spectacle of Architectural Discourses', Architectural Theory Review, Vol. 13, Issue 2, pp. 130–144
- Roudavski, Stanislav (2010). 'Transparency or Drama? Extending the Range of Academic Writing in Architecture and Design', Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, 3, 2, pp. 111–133
- Wardle, Elizabeth; Downs, Douglas (2011). Writing about Writing (PDF). Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 76. ISBN 0-312-53493-0. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
- Wardle, Elizabeth; Downs, Douglas (2011). Writing about Writing (PDF). Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 67. ISBN 0-312-53493-0. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
- Kantz, Margaret (1990). "Helping students use textual sources persuasively" (PDF). College English. 52 (1): 74–91. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
- Baldo, Shannon. "Elves and Extremism: the use of Fantasy in the Radical Environmentalist Movement." Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric 7 (Spring 2010): 108-15. Print.
- Greene, Stuart. "Argument as Conversation: The Role of Inquiry in Writing a Researched Argument." n. page. Print.
- Kantz, Margaret. "Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively." College English 52.1 (1990): 74-91. Print.
- Porter, James. "Intertextuality and the Discourse Community."Rhetoric Review. 5.1 (1986): 34- 47. Print.