What is the difference
between academic and personal writing?
Writing that simply
expresses your ideas or feelings is private writing.
No rules apply, because it's written for you and
no one else.
is public writing. You're expected to follow conventions,
such as using standard
English and documenting
sources. You should also present an informed
opinion that goes beyond your personal feelings to provide credible
information or useful insights.
Suppose that you
keep a journal. You notice that you deal with difficult situations
better when you write about them. At this point, you have
a personal opinion: Journal writing helps people deal with
problems. The only basis for your opinion is your personal
However, what's true
for you might not be true for everyone. Is there any objective evidence
that keeping a journal is good for you? Studies have
shown that writing can help people deal with serious illness or losing
a job. Now you have an informed
opinion: one that goes beyond your experience to include evidence
and expert opinion.
How do I develop
an informed opinion?
This example shows how a writer moved from a personal reaction
to an informed opinion. His first reaction to an article
on suicide terrorism was "This makes no sense!" After doing
more reading to prove that the author, Robert
Pape, was wrong, he changed his mind about what causes suicide
January 1, 2008 Today I read an article by
Robert Pape about "The
Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism." Why does he think
logic applies to people who blow themselves
up without caring whether innocent bystanders get hurt? I find
it hard to believe that logic has anything
to do with their tactics. This guy must be wrong.
February 2, 2008 After reading more about my topic,
I have to admit that Pape was right. Several
studies have found that suicide terrorists
are normal individuals. That's amazing. But
I can't fight the evidence; I'm going to
have to change my thesis.
So why do normal people decide to blow themselves up for a cause? Volkan's
a terrorist group may help
me explain that.
Despite Americans' perception that suidicde bombers
are insane, most are not mentally ill.
Crenshaw found terrorists' “outstanding common characteristic
... is their normality” (as cited in Hudson, 1999, p. 30).
Psychiatrist Marc Sageman (2004) studied 400 Al-Quaeda members and concluded
4 of the 400 men had any hint of a disorder“ (The Data section).
Hudson, R. A. (1999, September) The sociology and psychology
of terrorism: Who becomes a terrorist and why? Retrieved October
23, 2005, from Library of Congress Web site: http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/pdf-files/Soc_Psych_of_Terrorism.pdf
Sageman, M. (2004). Understanding terror networks. Retrieved
October 24, 2005 from National Memorial
Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) Web site: http://www.mipt.org/
What style should I use in papers I write for class?
the difference in style between the personal journal
and the academic paper above. The personal writing is expressive
and casual. It uses informal language like "this guy" and provides
no evidence. In contrast, academic writing is objective and uses
formal language. In research-based writing, you should avoid slang
and spell out contractions like it's and don't.
You should also write objectively, avoiding phrases
think and as you know.
Your writing should
show that you are familiar with authoritative sources in
the field. For example, if you are writing about leadership, James
MacGregor Burns is an important name to know. William
Dement is an
authority on sleep deprivation, and Carol
Dweck is one of the leading researcher on how our beliefs affect
In formal academic
writing, your opinion is not credible unless you have evidence
to back it up. Any evidence you
must also be documented. Providing intext
citations like Sageman
list allows readers to find your sources
if they want to learn more. Documentation also proves
that you did not plagiarize.
Why do I
have to learn academic writing?
One answer is that grades in college courses often depend on
academic writing. But another is that "Writing a research
paper is in part about learning how to teach yourself....There
is no better way to hone the skills of life-long learning
than by writing individual research papers," according
to Professor Charles
Doing research "forces
you to ask good questions, find the sources to answer them,
present your answers to an audience, and defend your answers,"
How do I learn to
write with sources?
The best advice is to read. Check out the Resources on
this site. Read magazines aimed at people in your field, subscribe
to a free email newsletter about a subject of interest, or ask your
teachers or librarian for reading ideas.
Want to become a
better reader? Check out these reading
Want to become a
better writer? Check out the links below.
What are some helpful
You can also take advantage of Internet resources
papers and the tutorials below.