Some Thoughts on “Academic Writing”

The semester has just begun. I cannot help but think of the new Freshmen because I have taught First Year Writing for the last three years. On the first day of class, I always ask them to write their definition of ”academic writing.” The usual answers are things like, “it’s more formal… it is precise…it is better language…” then, we talk about the definitions of ”formal, precise, and better.”

I give them an example from Q’s Legacy, by one of my favorite writers, Helene Hanff. She tells the story of how she, “wanted instruction in how to read and write English” (7). She went to the library, and discovered Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing. In it, he offers two sentences, one jargon, and one “good English prose”:

He was conveyed to his residence in an intoxicated condition.

He was carried home drunk.

Guess which one most of them choose. We then begin the discussion on “academic writing” and Standard American English, how good writing is not good mechanics, as well as an assortment of myths that need busting. L. Lennie Irvin talks about this in “What is ‘Academic’ Writing?”. He advises: “ Your success with academic writing depends upon how well you understand what you are doing as you write and then how you approach the writing task” (3).

Finding a voice for academic writing is a challenge to navigate, especially as a Freshman. Oftentimes, students are sure they are terrible writers, or they are superb, depending on their previous knowledge and experiences. The answer for each student is different. But, learning to write with more confidence makes a space for your academic voices (yes, there are more than one) to flourish. Here are some ideas on writing with confidence.

Works Cited

Hanff, Helene. Q’s Legacy. Penguin Books, 1985.

Irvin, L. Lennie. “What is ‘Academic’ Writing?”. Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Volume 1. Edited by Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky, Parlor Press, 2010, pp. 3-17.