Core 202 – Developing as an academic writer

In the time since you took Core 101 (or the equivalent), the material you are being assigned to read has become more complex. You are being assigned to read material written with more sophisticated sentence structure and broader vocabulary choices. Your professors are also expecting your sentence structure and vocabulary to be more advanced than it was when it was when you were younger.  At this point in your academic career, you should be developing a good academic style, speech and writing that are not just correct, but are able to express complex ideas in a smooth way.

  1. How can being too informal hurt my writing and speaking style?
  2. How can being too formal hurt my writing and speaking style?
  3. Why is it important to consider connotation when making word choices for an academic essay?
  4. What is the most appropriate level of formality for an academic essay?
  5. How do I incorporate the terminology of the course into an academic essay?

1.  How can being too informal hurt my writing and speaking style?

Many students struggle with how formal they should be in an academic essay. Some err on the side of being too informal, writing the way they would speak to their friends:

There are a lot of ways Katniss has to deal with ethics in The Hunger Games. One way is when she takes Prim’s place. Another is when she lies to Peeta that she “likes” him because she wants to him to make it through the games.

Not only is the language conversational, but it is also vague and oversimplified. More precise word choices would more fully explain Katniss’s ethical dilemmas. The sentences are also very simple.

2.  How can being too formal hurt my writing and speaking style?

Other students err on the side of being too formal, using sentence structure and vocabulary that seem very academic to them, but which strike the reader as stuffy and clumsy:

A multitude of ethical quandaries face Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of The Hunger Games. In the second chapter of the novel, Katniss volunteers to partake in the competition in place of her sister so that her sister won’t expire in the arena. Later in the tome, Katniss misleads Peeta into believing that she is more enamored by him than she truly is, having to do this in order to retail an epic romance to the audience so that they can be granted largesse from sponsoring spectators.

In this example, not only is the writer being wordy, but she has also fallen in love with the thesaurus feature of her word processing program, replacing ordinary words with more sophisticated seeming synonyms. However, some of these synonyms may strike the reader as inappropriate for the point the writer is making about the novel, and some might even be considered silly.

3.  Why is it important to consider connotation when making word choices for an academic essay?

An effective academic style uses precise language. You should only choose words with which you’re comfortable that you’re using them correctly. That means understanding the connotations of your word choices. Some words are more neutral, some more negative in connotation, and some more positive. The following joke is an example of how the connotations can shift the meaning of a sentence:

He is pigheaded. You’re stubborn. I’m stalwart.

4.  What is the most appropriate level of formality for an academic essay?

An academic essay should be relatively straightforward in its language choices, using fairly neutral words and sentence structure that is neither too simple nor too complex. A more effective version of the above paragraph about The Hunger Games would read:

Katniss Everdeen makes many ethical choices in The Hunger Games that reflect her values. The most important choice she makes is to sacrifice her own safety in order to protect her sister from being killed. Even though later in the story she lies to Peeta about her feelings for him, she does it in order to save his life, demonstrating that one of her ethical values is to protect people who matter to her.

5.  How do I incorporate the terminology of the course into my essay?

When you are writing an academic essay or preparing a speech for a course, your professor wants to see that you can apply the concepts you are learning in the course. Your professor wants to see you using the course’s terminology accurately and correctly.

For instance, if you are assigned to analyze the ethical dilemmas faced by characters in The Hunger Games, your professor will want to see you discuss such issues as whether in-group bias affects Katniss’s actions or how obedience to authority influences Effie Trinkett’s behavior.

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