Key components of good academic writing (an brief introduction)

Nimen Hao,

welcome to our class for this week.

I’ll start by giving a little guidance on what John Langan calls four basic elements of a good academic essay. (This lecture is based on John Langan’s book College Writing Skills with Readings, 9th edition).

There are five basis for a good academic essay writing: unity, coherence, support, and sentence skills.

As well as these we can also usefully think about our personal writing styles.

Unity

Have a clearly stated point or thesis. Begin with a clear opening statement of the main point or thesis of your presentation. Make sure that everything else works to support this opening statement.

Coherence

Organize and connect your supporting material. Have an effective introduction, body, and conclusion, make sure your points are well-linked.

A Model for structuring your essay.

  1. Introduction
  2. Three or more main points, with supporting material.
  3. Conclusion.

Signposting

A key part of a good introduction is sign=posting, telling your reading where you are going to take her on your written journey. That is also important for linking different sections of your essay.

Headings and Subheadings

Like signposting, headings and subheadings tell your read, or direct his attention, onto a particular aspect of your essay’s themes or argument. Your headings and subheadings should follow each other logically (and without unnecessary repetition).

Timeliness and organization

Writers need to plan the amount of writing devoted to each section of their written work (essay) carefully.

One suggestion would be to give no more than 20 per cent to the introduction, 60 per cent to your main points, and then the remaining 20 per cent to the conclusion. You could choose to vary these proportions, but be careful not to run out of words (for example, end up without giving a conclusion).

Words can be measured in terms of working time. Think about how much time each section requires, allow for revisions and don’t short change any part (don’t forget to give enough time for working on each part). Giving enough time for all parts should include time for revision. Sometimes, or often, things need changing once you have done some writing. Often writers find that what they wrote in their introduction needs revising after they have finished a first draft of an essay, because their ideas changed as they were writing the essay body (for example, they found different evidence, and maybe changed one or more key arguments).

Support

Provide logical and detailed support for your thesis, including sufficient specific evidence, reasoning or examples. Conversely, weed out (delete) any statement, claims, opinions or assertions that you have not supported with evidence, reasoning or examples (those belong to non-academic writing).

Note: Often reasoning is insufficient as a means of support on its own, and needs to be used with examples and/or evidence.

Sentence-skills.

Revise and edit so that you sentences are effective and error-free. Practice your essay by reading it aloud (you could record it and listen to yourself, or ask a peer to listen to you). Often when a writer does this s/he will be surprised to find mistakes that s/he had not seen when looking at her written word. Check for the following.

  • Correct verb forms?
  • Subject and verb agreement?
  • Avoidance of fragments (speaking in full sentences)?
  • Correct use of pronouns including gender (he/she)?
  • Needless words eliminated?
  • Effective word choices?
  • Varied sentences?
  • Clarity: Express your ideas as simply and clearly as possible (avoid unnecessarily complex language).

Your personal writing style

As well as those four basic components of good writing, there are also related qualities that may enhance your written communication, including creativeness, inventiveness, entertainment.

Different writers might have differing positive qualities and still produce an effective and well-communicated written work: for example, one student might gain positive marks for a humorous essay while another might gain just as many marks for a serious and compelling (or persuasive) essay.

Humor: a word of caution

If you have a humorous manner and can use it to support your writing’s thesis that’s great. But make sure it does work to support rather than distract from your arguments, that it is appropriate to your subject matter, and is used respectfully.

Mistakes to avoid

  • Being overly descriptive means you will have spent too many words describing things without giving enough analysis (your judgements and reasons). Sometimes poor writers give their opinion without any reasons (or sufficient reasons); such as in an essay on a movie: great acting, cool effects, a good movie, it was bad etc.
  • Writing about irrelevancies (you need to keep your discussion unified [keep your eyes on the prize]).
  • Lack of a strong structure (for example, not finishing with a conclusion).
  • Running out of time (not finishing an essay, or a section of an essay).
  • Failing to adequately support your points.

 

 

 

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