Presentations  |  November 21, 2021

The Art of Academic Writing

By Dr Alison-Jane Hunter

Great academic writing requires an ability to understand a number of different ways of writing (or writing genres) that fit together to form a publication or thesis.

In order to write a thesis, the first genre to be mastered is that of general academic language. This requires an understanding of how the written word assists in building an argument through what we call ‘signposting’. Signposts help us when driving a car to tell the driver which way to go, the hazards that lie ahead, and when to proceed with caution. In the same way, ‘signposts’ in academic writing help the reader to understand the direction of the author’s argument. Examples of signposts are: “On the one hand, … on  the other hand”, “Next …”, “To extend upon this argument, the next point looks at …”, and so on.

The next genre to be mastered in thesis writing is the language of the discipline in which the author is writing. This includes all the conventions and jargon associated with each discipline. In my area of sociology, many words are used that are meaningless to people outside of the discipline, such as problematisation, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, knowledge/power, and so on. These terms have very specific meanings to the sociologist that differ greatly from dictionary meanings/definitions. All disciplines have their own ‘language’ and conventions which need to be mastered by the thesis writer.

Once general academic language and the language of the discipline have been mastered, the thesis writer is then faced with the challenge of writing each chapter in an appropriate register and style. One of the greatest challenges for many thesis writers is the writing of the literature review.

This is because the author needs to position himself in the ‘centre’ of the literature and to compare and contrast the themes in the literature [i.e., Smith (2014) suggests that …however, Singh (2017) refuted this argument by instead building upon the work of Foucault (2007)]. Writing the literature review is completely different from writing the methodology and methods section of a thesis, which involves the writing of a process.

Each chapter of the thesis requires a very different way of writing, so it can be seen that in order to write a great thesis, the author needs to have a strong command of academic and discipline-specific language, in addition to understanding the different writing genres needed to write each chapter of a thesis.