Academic writing has become an increasingly important part of education as parents and educators realize the value of critical thinking skills and preparing students for college.
Still, many students, parents, and even other teachers don’t have a great grasp on this area of learning and why it is so critical.
As such, at Englist we find it is important to not only teach academic writing, but also help everyone understand why it is imperative to the development of thoughtful and capable students.
What is academic writing?
First, what is academic writing? Most students see writing as something they just have to do because a teacher says so, and it becomes a painful and time-consuming assignment. Our mission is to end this kind of thinking.
Simply put, academic writing is teaching students how to write essays. That sounds pretty simple, but there is a lot more to it than that.
Essay writing is the process of sharing complex ideas, thoughts, or opinions. Writers learn to construct a rather complicated argument or explanation by combining sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into an essay.
Academic writing demands writers become clear in their explanations and reasoning, direct in their communication, and most importantly, able to make readers understand their topic and thesis.
Why should students learn academic writing? Because writing is thinking.
Learning how to write strong essays is important not just for getting good grades or getting into a good college so you can get a good job or whatever. It is important because, at its most fundamental level, it is about taking your own thoughts and then arranging them so they are logical and make sense, first to yourself, and then to your readers.
This happens because you are pulling these thoughts from your mind and crystalizing them on paper or a screen. They are in a place where not only do you have to see them for what they are, but so can other people. If your ideas are convincing and powerful, these thoughts can become the thoughts of others. This is the crux of communication.
In other words, good thoughts equal good writing. If your thoughts are unclear or not solid or lack structure, they will be poor writing and others will not understand nor agree.
Most writers start at a place where their writing isn’t particularly good, but by practicing writing skills, they learn how to become better writers, which means they become better thinkers.
Practicing writing is like sharpening your thinking process – the more you do it and the better you become at it, the more others will listen to you.
The other important thing about academic writing is, of course, students do in fact need it for college! It is a highly practical and foundational educational skill, and if anyone is going to be a competent student, they need to be at least a decent writer and communicator.
Skills academic writing develops
Academic writing is useful, but what skills specifically does it instill in students? They are:
- Strong communication
Students who can write a convincing and structured essay can speak in a clear and structured way, and with confidence. Not only will these individuals write well, but they will speak and think using these same strategies.
- Critical thinking and reasoning skills
The ability to move from one idea to the next and to understand the connection seems straightforward, but it is surprising how few people ever actually train this capacity. Learning to write, however, teaches students how to reason. In other words, writing teaches students “structured thinking”.
Furthermore, writing teaches students how to analyze, or what experts call “critical thinking”. Students learn to ask, “does what I am saying make sense?” and “is what I am reading true?”. They learn to consider evidence, appreciate detail and nuance, and ultimately develop the capacity for making up their own minds about things. We think this is the entire purpose of education.
- Understanding an audience
When you write an essay, you need to understand who it is meant to be read by, what they need or want to hear, and how to present that information in the most convincing or approachable manner. By practicing writing, students learn how to consider their audience and how to best reach them.
- Language skills
Academic writing is a synthesis of all other language skills. You need strong grammar. You need an academic vocabulary. You need to be able to listen to and comprehend instructions, and you need to be able to speak up to ask questions and assert your opinions. And most importantly, you need to have read an awful lot.
If developing advanced English skills is what you are after, there is no better way than learning academic writing.
- Research skills, because you learn a lot
Finally, writing teaches students how to do research. The fact is, students don’t know the answer to most of the questions they are asked to answer in writing assignments. This means they need to go find out. The fancy name for “going to find out” is “research”.
By doing research, students come to understand their writing topics on a deeper level than most people ever consider. Whether they are writing about a scientific, cultural, or literary topic, by doing the research they learn not only what they need to get a good grade, but they also come to understand that there is a tremendous amount to learn about pretty much every topic.
Englist's online academic writing lesson
Our series on How to Write a Simple Persuasive Essay is taken directly from the Englist curriculum, which has helped countless students how to write better academic essays. Our online video modules include the same lesson structures, examples, and prompts that are taught in our classrooms. We also cover the same problem areas that we see students in our classes struggle with.
Types of academic writing
Okay, so we might agree writing is important and useful, but what do students need to learn specifically in academic writing classes? There are many types of essays with various purposes. Here is a quick list of a few of them:
- Persuasive essays – trying to convince readers of your opinion about a topic
- For example: “In Praise of Idleness” by Bertrand Russell
- Expository essays – explaining a topic to an audience
- Narrative essays – telling a story with an essay
- For example: “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell
- Composite essays – essays that persuade, explain, or tell a story
- For example: “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell
- Compare and contrast essays – taking two subjects and analyzing their similarities and differences
- For example: “Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White (this is also a narrative essay)
- Cause and effect essays – essays that explain why something happened or the effects of a given event or process
- For example: “The Adults in the Room” by Megan Greenwell
- Analysis – not an essay type, but many essays try to get readers to better understand a given subject
- For example: “A.A. Gill on Autobiography by Morrissey”
- Research papers – usually persuasive, expository, or compare and contrast, but also requiring citations and research to support the claims of the writer
Characteristics of academic writing
Before we wrap up, it is important to understand what characteristics define quality academic writing. All students and writers should be aiming for these attributes in their work in every piece they write.
- Focused, clear, and logical
One of the first things we tell writers is that they need to STAY ON TOPIC. As a matter of fact, we literally scream that phrase in class because it is so central to the writing process.
Writing needs to be about a specific topic and only about that range. Furthermore, readers need to be able to understand not just the words and ideas, but how they connect to form a larger argument. In other words, academic writing needs to make sense.
- Convincing and interesting
An idea might make sense to a reader, but that doesn’t mean they agree with it. Academic writing needs to go beyond logical and also be convincing – readers should come away thinking the author has a good point.
Furthermore, regardless of the topic, academic writing should be engaging. Yes, academia can be dry, but it is the writer’s job to make a topic interesting and worth reading. All of the essay examples in the section above are thought-provoking and compelling, even when some of their topics might be less than exciting to all readers.
- Based on evidence
Finally, academic writing needs to be true. Narrative essays are rarely fiction because if they were they would just be short stories, which are a whole different animal.
Writers of academic work should provide evidence for their claims and assertions, and academic thinking needs to be based on what is real and can be stated with confidence rather than conjecture or outright fabrication.
Academic writing is imperative for students. It is necessary for practical purposes, as students will need to write essays for tests like TOEFL, IELTS, and the SAT, college applications, and then many more once they reach college. Upon graduation, at whatever job they have, they will have emails, reports, presentations, and speeches to compose. It isn’t just philosophy – academic writing skills ensure students are prepared for their futures.
However, academic writing is important beyond just the bottom line. Learning academic writing sharpens minds, teaches students how to communicate, and develops their thinking capacities and ability to understand others. Writing is thinking, and every student deserves to be a strong thinker.
Let Englist help them get there.