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How to use academic writing style

Using evidence to support your writing

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why is academic writing style so important?

Read the two research paper extracts below and consider the following questions:

Extract 1

According to recent research by the Mauna Loa Observatory, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached all time high. Following extensive research, scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory concluded that CO2 levels in the atmosphere is now 387 parts per million (ppm), that is a rise of almost 40% since the industrial revolution and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years. The research, published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also confirms that carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere faster than originally expected. The annual mean growth rate for 2007 was 2.14ppm, - the fourth year in six to see an annual rise greater then 2ppm. From 1970 to 2000, the concentration rose by about 1.5ppm each year but since 2000 the annual rise has leapt to an average 2.1ppm.

Extract 2

The amount of carbon dioxide in the world's atmosphere is really high, I think that this is very worrying for scientists and the general population. Apparently, CO2 levels in the atmosphere is now 387 parts per million (ppm), that is a really big rise of almost 40% and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years! This research was published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These people also confirm that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's accumulating faster than they thought it would. The annual mean growth rate for 2007 was 2.14ppm, this is happening all the time now, it the fourth year recently to see an annual rise greater then 2ppm. From 1970 to 2000, the concentration rose by about 1.5ppm each year but since 2000 the annual rise has gone up to an average 2.1ppm.

Can you see how much influence the style of a written piece can have on the reader irrespective of the content?

why is academic writing style so important?

Academic writing style is the accepted style that should be used for essays, reports, scientific writing, dissertations, theses and other formal written pieces. In fact, most written assignments at university should be written in an academic style. The easiest way to demonstrate academic writing style is to use examples.

This infamous poem is obviously not written in an academic style:

Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, And so are you!

However, if it was written in an academic style, it would read like this:

Recent studies have shown that although many roses are indeed red, they can be found in a multitude of colours including, pink, yellow and and orange. (Dimmick et al, 2005, Bill and Ben, 2006) Violets, however, have been shown to be almost always blue, with some exceptions noted in the excellent work carried out by Titchmarch et al (2008). In addition, but not directly related to this, sucrose has been shown to produce a sweet flavour when consumed my most adults (S. Martie at el 2001, M. Asrbar 1996). Although one would personally describe the subject in question as a 'sweet', this is not scientifically sound as the subject is not, of course, an item of confectionery.

Obviously, in this situation, academic style writing would not be the style of choice! However, it is a useful demonstration of the type of style you should be aiming for. This may seem slightly overwhelming at the moment, but this module will work through the various aspects involved in academic style, which are:

using evidence to support your writing

First and foremost, this paragraph - written in an academic style - is evidence based.

Recent studies have shown that although many roses are indeed red, they can be found in a multitude of colours including, pink, yellow and and orange. (Dimmick et al, 2005, Bill and Ben, 2006) Violets, however, have been shown to be almost always blue, with some exceptions noted in the excellent work carried out by Titchmarch et al (2008). In addition, but not directly related to this, sucrose has been shown to produce a sweet flavour when consumed my most adults (S. Martie at el 2001, M. Asrbar 1996). Although one would personally describe the subject in question as a 'sweet', this is not scientifically sound as the subject is not, of course, an item of confectionery.

That is, any 'facts' that are stated are supported by published research, which is referenced in the text. For example, instead of simply stating that 'Roses are red' without any evidence, a student who has developed a good academic writing style would use published research to support this statement:

'Recent studies have shown that although many roses are indeed red, they can be found in a multitude of colours including, pink, yellow and and orange. (Dimmick et al, 2005, Bill and Ben, 2006)'

The following activity will help you to start identifying where evidence is needed in academic writing.

Activity: Identifying where evidence should be used - 10 minutes

1. Read the following article, taken from the Guardian newspaper

2. Write down, in your notes, all of the passages or statements that you would have to back up with evidence if you were to turn this into a piece of academic writing

For tens of thousands of years, the birds of Gough Island lived unmolested, without predators on a remote outcrop in the south Atlantic.

Today, the British-owned island, described as the home of the most important sea bird colony in the world, still hosts 22 breeding species and is a world heritage site.

But as a terrible consequence of the first whalers making landfall there 150 years ago, Gough has become the stage for one of nature's great horror shows. Mice stowed away on the whaling boats jumped ship and have since multiplied to 700,000 or more on an island of about 25 square miles.

What is horrifying ornithologists is that the British house mouse has somehow evolved, growing to up to three times the size of ordinary domestic house mice, and instead of surviving on a diet of insects and seeds, has adapted itself to become a carnivore, eating albatross, petrel and shearwater chicks alive in their nests. They are now believed to be the largest mice in the world. Yesterday Bird life International, a global alliance of conservation groups, recognised that the mice, who are without predators themselves, are out of control and threatening to make extinct several of the world's rarest bird species.

How did you do?

When you have finished the above activity you can check your answers below. Spend a moment looking over any pieces of information you missed. Can you see now why this has to be supported by evidence?

Recommended Further Reading

Action point:

When you are preparing to write a piece of work, take care to note any journals, papers or other sources used to provide evidence – this will make it much easier to reference your work at a later date. You may wish to use a referencing management software package to organise and insert references for you.

When writing your own work you need to decide which statements should be evidence based and reference these correctly. For more information on referencing, see the 'referencing' topic.

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