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Academic Writing

Academic writing generally refers to the kinds of prose used by college students, faculty, and researchers to write about subjects under study. Academic writing can be viewed as a kind of conversation, which is ongoing and open-ended: When new participants (students) join the conversation, they need to seek background information on the topic before they can understand and respond in a reasonable, informed manner. Then, other participants can respond to them. The conversation continues after these individuals have participated (Burke 110 – 11). It is crucial that participants deeply engage in the conversation, which entails listening to, summarizing, and responding to others’ views, that is, “using what others say ... as a launching pad or sounding board for your own ideas” (Graff and Birkenstein 3). Academic writing is based on inquiry and study, relies more on reason than emotion, and is intended to inform and evoke a response from a real or imagined audience (Thaiss and Zawacki 5 – 8).

Academic writing compared to other kinds of writing

This chart makes distinctions among creative, personal, academic, and professional writing in terms of the elements of rhetorical situations; however, these categories also overlap and have similarities. Sometimes a writer’s rhetorical situation may invite or require combining characteristics from more than one category. Also, a piece of writing can change categories; for example, a paper written by a graduate student for an academic course may later be published in a professional journal. Creative writing can be done in a private, academic, or professional setting. While creative writing is an academic discipline, it can be argued that many kinds of writing involve creativity.

Creative Writing
Personal Writing
Academic Writing
Professional Writing
Content is largely imaginative or fictional though based on life experiences and knowledge/research
Content is known from personal life experience
Content is known through study or research
Content is known as part of professional knowledge, experience, or research
Audience is generally friendly, seeking to be entertained, informed, or enlightened
Audience is generally friendly, seeking to be entertained, informed, or inspired.

Can be peers/classmates, members of a group to which the writer belongs, readers of an online platform, blog, or print publication; professors.
Audience seeks to understand, learn from, or evaluate your ideas and knowledge and information, form an opinion, and (often) respond.

Peers, classmates, professors
Other professionals in the field or business, coworkers or colleagues, supervisors, customers, stakeholders, a targeted group or the general public
To entertain, inform, enlighten, move readers, make readers think
To express and/or share personal information and ideas; tell a significant personal story; to entertain, to enlighten
To inform, provoke, persuade, demonstrate knowledge about a subject
To inform, enlighten, and/or persuade
Style and conventions are diverse
Style and conventions can be informal, even conversational
Style and conventions should conform to disciplinary expectations, such as APA, Chicago Manual, or MLA
Style and conventions vary according to professional expectations
Common rhetorical approaches include narration and description, which can be prose or verse, or some combination of these. Can incorporate multiple modalities, for example, photographs or drawings
Common rhetorical approaches are narration, description, illustration through examples. But can also use comparative or causal analysis, etc.

Can incorporate multiple modalities, for example, photographs or drawings
Common rhetorical approaches include summary; analysis and synthesis involving comparison, definition, cause & effect, process, etc. Sometimes referred to as expository (explanatory) writing.

Multimodal, multimedia:
Charts, diagrams, figures
Common rhetorical approaches
Varies greatly but can include any
Short story
Personal narrative essay, (memoir)
Informal response
Letter, email
Informative or inspirational speech/multimodal presentation
Lab report, scientific study, summary, essay, term paper, blog or web page, research proposal, research paper, review; thesis, capstone, or dissertation; spoken or multimodal presentation
Article, abstract for article, blog, web page, spoken or multimedia presentation, podcast, advertisement, report, review, artist’s statement, proposal, executive summary, book


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