ACADEMIC WRITING AND SOCIAL WRITING
Some comparisons between these two styles
During the past three or four decades, the English language has changed considerably. This is mainly due to what we call the digital revolution which has led to the principal means of written communication being by text messages and social media. Such contractions as “how r u?”, “y r u calling me?” or “when will u b home?” have become the norm in text messages. Furthermore, writing on social-media platforms has developed its own style as it is written for whoever may want to read it, which can mean millions of people. Such writing often contains spelling and grammar mistakes and anyone who attempts to correct these is not popular; in fact, it is considered impolite to correct them. For older people, who were taught correct grammar and spelling, such informal writing styles are new; but many younger people, who grew up with such styles, consider this to be the norm.
It is no surprise, therefore, that this style of language has crept into restaurant menus, notices outside shops and other written communication. A walk around the high street in any town will usually reveal many examples of such linguistic errors.
However, this does not mean that social writing is something new. There has always been a difference between academic writing and social writing. In the past, many people had the skill of letter writing which certainly had a style of its own. Today, with the advent of email, text and social media such skills have effectively disappeared. Therefore, social writing has undergone much change.
Academic writing is quite different, and anyone who uses styles of social writing (even in just a few words) in essays or dissertations will not attain any success. The language style must be formal, logical and concise, whereas, in social writing, ideas are written spontaneously, in social writing it is essential to make a plan and to structure the essay enabling it to flow naturally. Moreover, in social writing, the writer is free to say what he/she wants, but in academic writing, the writer needs to abide by a style sheet which is produced by an educational institution. Another aspect of academic writing is that arguments should not be presented, nor conclusions made without evidence, which should always be quoted or cited. This again differs from social writing where there is a tendency to make assumptions or present arguments without presenting any evidence.
Furthermore, in social writing, there is tendency for the writer to jump from one unconnected idea to another. However, in academic writing, structure is important. There should be an introduction which gives an overview of the subject of the essay. Next comes the main body, which is the longest part of the essay. This develops the argument logically and quotes evidence from literature. It is necessary to quote or cite the authors of any literature mentioned in the essay. If the author is quoted directly, quotation marks should be used and the quotation must be accurate. If any words are changed, this could be regarded as a misquotation. Alternatively, the writer can refer to an author’s work in his/her own words, in which case quotation marks should not be used. This is particularly useful in the case of long quotations. In all cases, the author of the literature must be acknowledged.
The final part of an academic document is the conclusion. This should be short and draw together the arguments which have been presented in the main body. Furthermore, a well-planned structure avoids the error of repeating ideas.
Some guidance for academic writing
1. Although academic writing should be formal, this does not mean that sentences should be excessively long, since long sentences can be confusing and unclear to the reader. It is better to split a long sentence into two or three shorter sentences than to leave it as one long sentence.
2. Care should be taken to ensure that a sentence is, in fact, a grammatical sentence. This means it should contain what is known as a finite verb (a verb which agrees with its subject). For example: “The experiments which have been conducted in the laboratory during the past year, which have also helped the students to understand new scientific topics” is not a sentence because it contains no finite verb. It would be better to rewrite this as “Several experiments were conducted in the laboratory during the past year. These have helped the students to understand new scientific topics” (The underlined words are the subjects and the bold words are the finite verbs).
3. In theory, it is a simple task to know whether a past, present or future tense should be used, but in practice, this is not always easy. For example: Should it be “The experiment proved the hypothesis to be true” or “The experiment proves the hypothesis to be true.” It could be argued that either is correct. The past tense, “proved” states that the experiment was conducted in the past, but it does not rule out the possibility of another experiment being conducted in the future with new evidence which proves the hypothesis to be false. However, if the present tense, “proves” is used, it implies that, although the experiment was conducted in the past, it is proved without any possible doubt that the hypothesis is true. In tenses, it important to see the verb in its context.
4. Contractions (don't, it’s) should not be used, but rather (do not, it is). If abbreviations are used, the first occurrence should usually be written in full. For example, “United Nations” for the first occurrence and “UN” thereafter.
5. There are different types of academic writing, three of which are general academic writing, reports and reflective writing. General academic writing is objective and presents evidence and quotations without bias. It usually avoids the use of the first person (I, we). Reports should keep to the facts and should be concise without any unnecessary words. Reflective writing should reflect the writer’s own experience and may contain his/her own opinion and may use the first person. Some academic writing may take the form of essays or dissertations. Essays are written by all students, but dissertations, which are more detailed and usually written by postgraduate students.
6. Consistency is essential. This is why it is important to abide by the recommendation of style sheets.
John D. is an English language editing and proofreading UK-based expert.