A free, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, award-winning Open Text for students and faculty in college-level courses that require writing and research.

Academic Writing

Professors tend to define academic writing as research-based, objective and formal in style and tone, thesis-driven, and deductively organized (that is, where your introduction presents your argument or interpretation and forecasts the organization for the paper).

Genres of academic writing commonly assigned in introductory composition courses in the U.S. tend to rely on exposition and analysis, including personal narratives, Book Reviews, Literacy Narratives, Reports on subjects and concepts, Rhetorical Analysis, causes and effects.

The phrase, "Oh, that's academic!" tends to mean "Forget about it!  That's boring and unimportant!"  Yet that isn't what teachers mean when they ask for "academic writing."  Instead, professors tend to define academic writing as research-based, objective and formal in style and tone, thesis-driven, and deductively organized (that is, where your introduction presents your argument or interpretation and forecasts the organization of your paper).

In what ways have you fulfilled the assignment requirements as they relate to audience, appropriate persona/tone, and rhetorical stance? Why is this word choice/diction inappropriate (conversational) for your audience? What might be more appropriate?

For students and teachers alike, most writing occurs in non-academic settings—notes, e-mails, Facebook posts, blogs, shopping lists, etc. In these writing settings, it is perfectly fine to “write as you speak,” using a conversational tone and slang terms.

Two Types of Essays

Your composition professor has given you an assignment, requiring you to write an essay in which you identify your favorite book and explain why you like it best. Later she assigns an essay in which you take a stand either for or against homeschooling.

Both assignments require you to write a paper, yet the essays called for are in two different genres. Thus, you will need to present your views in two different ways.

You need a good thesis statement for your essay but are having trouble getting started. You may have heard that your thesis needs to be specific and arguable, but still wonder what this really means.

Let’s look at some examples. Imagine you’re writing about John Hughes’s film Sixteen Candles (1984).

You take a first pass at writing a thesis:

Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy about high school cliques.

The main idea. The argument of an essay. The thesis. It’s a tricky thing to define “thesis” because theses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. A thesis can be a sentence, two sentences, perhaps even an entire paragraph. Every thesis, though, regardless of where in an essay it appears, does a few important things:

  1. A thesis acts as a unifying idea for every piece of evidence in an essay.
  2. A thesis results from research in addition to the writer’s own beliefs or opinions.

When is a thesis considered weak?

A well-developed thesis statement should clearly and concisely communicate the main point, purpose, or argument of a paper. A weak thesis may be unfocused, incomplete, or inaccurate in some way. Building a focused, accurate thesis can be a challenge, but revising a weak thesis to make it complete and insightful will strengthen the paper’s foundation.

What is a thesis?

A thesis consists of one or two sentences that clearly and concisely summarize the main point, purpose, and/or argument of an academic document. The thesis serves as the foundation—or heartbeat—of a paper; without a thesis, a paper is incomplete and lifeless. Ideally, a well-crafted thesis increases the likelihood that the target audience will engage with the writer’s discussion.

Broadly speaking, the term genre refers to a classification scheme for texts. For example, Netflix, the popular streaming video service, classifies movies by "Action & Adventure, Children & Family Movies, Comedies, Documentaries, Dramas"—and so on. Genres are largely defined by shared textual expectations, such as the voice of the writer (first person or third person) or the need to cite sources (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc).

Understand why analytical and explanatory writing is one of the most important genres of writing in school and professional careers.

Read a variety of analytical and explanatory reports, noting the diversity of audiences, purposes, contexts, media, voices, tone, and personas. Understand the defining characteristics of texts that analyze or explain concepts.

Learn to write convincing evaluations and improve your critical thinking abilities. Evaluate a performance (such as a movie, speech, or play), a visual (such as an ad or artwork), or a text (such as a Web site). Read exemplary evaluative texts, define appropriate assessment criteria, and write a convincing and well-researched evaluation.

Reviews present an author's opinion or interpretation. Writing an evaluative text involves defining criteria and then applying these criteria to assess a subject. 

Learn to write convincing evaluations and improve your critical thinking abilities. Evaluate a performance (such as a movie, speech, or play), a visual (such as an ad or artwork), or a text (such as a Web site). Read exemplary evaluative texts, define appropriate assessment criteria, and write a convincing and well-researched evaluation.

Reviews present an author's opinion or interpretation. Writing an evaluative text involves defining criteria and then applying these criteria to assess a subject.

Mark Twain once wrote, “Don’t say the old lady screamed—bring her on and let her scream.”  What he was trying to convey is the power of storytelling, or narration, in a piece of writing.  Many times it is more effective to tell a story, to let the old lady scream, than to just state facts or state an argument—that is, to say the old lady screamed.  Narrative essays are essays that enable you to tell a story (or stories) to make a point.

A well-chosen and well-told story will capture and hold your readers’ attention, arousing their curiosity or sympathy, and making your ideas more thought-provoking and memorable.

By reading and discussing literature, we expand our imagination, our sense of what is possible, and our ability to empathize with others. Improve your ability to read critically and interpret texts while gaining appreciation for different literary genres and theories of interpretation. Read samples of literary interpretation. Write a critique of a literary work.

Texts that interpret literary works are usually persuasive texts. Literary critics may conduct a close reading of a literary work, critique a literary work from the stance of a particular literary theory, or debate the soundness of other critics' interpretations.

What is Literature and Why Does it Matter?

Literature is what makes the world whirl. Whether a student is reading about Miranda’s encounter with a “Brave New World” in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, a “falling star” in John Milton’s poem “Song,” or “a Spring Saturday” in Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, what the student reads was written by an author who aimed to give a reader his or her perspective—or spin—on the world in the form of literature. By reading literature with a critical eye, one can begin to go beyond simply expressing a like or dislike of a particular text, delving deeper into the particular view of the world that an author wanted to convey. 

In contrast to analyzing the structure, codes, or patterns in a literary text, biographical criticism emphasizes the relationship between the author and his or her literary work. Since the premise of biographical criticism maintains that the author and his or her literary work cannot be separated, critics look for glimpses of the author’s consciousness or life in the author’s work. Early childhood events, psychological illnesses, relational conflicts, desires (fulfilled or unfulfilled), among other things, may all arise in an author’s work. 

Feminist criticism, or gender studies, focuses on the role of women (or gender) in a literary text. According to Bressler, “central to the diverse aims and methods of feminist criticism is its focus on patriarchy, the rule of society and culture by men” (168). Feminist criticism is useful for analyzing how gender itself is socially constructed for both men and women. Gender studies also considers how literature upholds or challenges those constructions, offering a unique way to approach literature.

Support your arguments with reasoning, library and Internet research, and original research, including questionnaires, interviews, and ethnographies. Employ emotional, ethical, and logical appeals to sway readers' opinions.

Arguments are persuasive texts. Writers make specific claims and support these claims with reasoning; library and Internet research; and original research, including questionnaires, interviews, and ethnographers. There are three main types:

Understand how to make and refute arguments. Learn how to analyze a Web site from a rhetorical perspective. Identify a place to publish your work online.

Appeals to persona, appeals to emotions, and appeals to logic--these three appeals, as outlined by Aristotle and described below, are used with varying degrees of success and emphasis to persuade people. Persuasive arguments targeting critical readers tend to be thoroughly grounded in logic.

Solving Problems by Negotiating Differences 

How many times have you been in an argument that you knew you couldn't win? Are you reluctant to change your mind about certain social, political, or personal issues? Do you have an unshakable faith in a particular religion or philosophy? For example, are you absolutely certain that abortion is immoral under all circumstances? Are you categorically against animal experimentation for advancements in medicine?

When faced with a creative writing assignment in your composition class, you may feel a bit nervous at first. How do you write something that’s not a research paper, where your main goal is to tell a story in a clear and inventive way?

Learning to tell a story—or have a strong, narrative voice—is a useful skill both in the classroom and outside of it. You can use storytelling to write a gripping opening to a paper.

Below is an aggregated listed of undergraduate publishing websites (open article to view the full list):