Is there such a thing as an “academic style”? You may have come across this, or similar phrases, or you may have heard of “the Cambridge essay”. However, academic style is difficult to describe definitively. There is no simple formula, and there are always exceptions to ‘rules’ such as “never use the first person”. Between supervisors’ individual preferences and students’ individual writing styles, there is the possibility of a good deal of variation and flexibility. However, academic writing does have distinguishing features. It is a genre with its own conventions, although these vary between subjects and allow for personal taste. Therefore, the intention of this resource is not to be prescriptive about elements of style and tell you how you should write, but to help you to identify some of the characteristics of academic writing, consider the impact of style on your work, and make informed decisions about the way that you write.
“Academic style isn’t a single thing. We all write in different ways, and the right style for one essay might not be the same as for another. Some fields lend themselves to clear exposition and the arrangement of facts. Others lend themselves to the savouring of technical terms, or sophisticated metaphorical approaches to sophisticated metaphors. You should always try to think of your reader, though – complexity or bluntness for their own sakes aren’t admirable.”
Leave room for doubt, such as possibly, probably, may, could, etc. rather than definitely, certainly, must, obviously.
An academic writing style:
Academic writing is clear, concise, focussed, structured and backed up by evidence. Its purpose is to aid the reader’s understanding.
Each subject discipline will have certain writing conventions, vocabulary and types of discourse that you will become familiar with over the course of your degree. However, there are some general characteristics of academic writing that are relevant across all disciplines.
In this section
In this section
When writing an academic paper, it is necessary to adhere to a given style. This style is determined by the audience, the assessor or the publisher. Academic departments and publishing bodies have their own requirements and usually provide guidelines for authors to follow. It is important that these guidelines are followed exactly. This chapter covers three important styles used in applied linguistics. The American Psychological Association (APA) 6th edition is the most widespread style and is used by the majority of journals publishing quantitative research in applied linguistics. The Modern Language Association (MLA) style of citation is often used for student writing and within universities. This style is similar to APA as it is an author-page style. Both APA and MLA are known as parenthetical citation styles. By contrast, the Chicago Style uses extensive footnotes and endnotes to refer to sources. These three styles will be outlined below focusing on in-text citations, reference lists and bibliographies, headings and the use of tables and graphics. Because of its dominance and its very specific guidelines, most attention in this chapter is devoted to APA.
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