It isn't easy to have a universal definition of what constitutes an academic paper. This is because every teacher, lecturer, or professor has their way of teaching, and they expect their students to come up with papers based on their specific guidelines. Nonetheless, certain parameters cut across all forms of academic writing.
The formality of academic writing changes as you advance from one grade to another. However, most academic papers that must pass strict scrutiny are the ones you will be expected to do at the college level. A university-grade paper must be clear, concise, focused, based on actual research, and carefully structured.
Each discipline will have its writing style, which you will become familiar with over time. However, all the papers that you will do from research essays, literature reviews, compare and contrast essays to dissertations should have the following characteristics:
You might already be well informed about a given subject- maybe by experience. However, when doing an academic paper, you need to base most of your ideas on evidence-based reasoning. What this means is that you need to support your opinions using other scholarly sources.
However, we do not mean that you copy other people's work and use it as your own. NO. Your papers need to be an objective stance presented as a logical argument. That is why a lot of research papers will require you to include a literature review. It would be best to consider that not all sources are credible, for example, webpages and Wikipedia. The evidence you use should be valid, e.g. peer-reviewed articles.
As we have stated above, an academic paper's main objective is for you to convey a logical argument but from an objective standpoint. Therefore, always use an impersonal tone. Avoid inflammatory, biased or emotional language. This should apply across all papers, whether you agree or disagree with an idea. You should analyze every research problem from an authoritative point of view. The key is to use a tone that is none-confrontational, neutral, and not dismissive.
One of the things most students struggle with is staying on topic. Without a clear plan, most people tend to stray away from the original goal of the paper. That is why it is essential for you to always have a thesis statement (this is a requirement for all academic papers). The thesis statement tells the reader what the paper's purpose is and what conclusion you will draw by the end of your research.
Everything you write from the first sentence to the last should track back to the thesis statement. Essentially, you should start your work from a particular position applied to the chosen topic under investigation. This can be, for example, proving, disproving, or establishing solutions to the research question. Therefore, it is crucial for you to always research first and get all your ideas organized before writing any paper.
The choice of words you use in academic papers is essential. This is because words and terminology can evolve and have new meanings. As such, always use concrete words that have a specific meaning. Avoid ambiguous words that can confuse the reader. Also, do not use vague expressions that are not precise enough to deliver any concise meaning, for example, ('they,' or 'we,'). Abbreviations like 'a.k.a.' 'e.g.' or 'i.e.' should not be used.
Academic writing is about taking information and presenting it to the reader in a way that makes sense. You can have all the data/information in the world; however, if you cannot coherently communicate your findings, your research will serve no good. As such, you need to take the information you gather, analyze it, and present a logical argument to your reader.
We have said it multiple times, but we cannot overstress the importance of backing your views with evidence. To do this, you need to have excellent research skills. You have to be able to discern a credible source from one that isn't. Also, you should be able to find information that is related to your topic. Therefore, a simple google such will not suffice. As such, you need to be prepared to spend hours gathering information and data about your research question. Luckily there are plenty of online libraries and databases that can provide you with all the information you need.
Your academic paper needs to flow linearly. If you jump from one point to another without engaging the reader all the way, you will most likely fail. Therefore, you need to have an organization that follows a clear progression of ideas. The best way to do this is to have a draft that contains all the points you want to address. This will enable you to remain focused on your argument. You cannot achieve this if you do not plan your work. Have a dedicated schedule to avoid the last-minute rush.
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Now that you know the essential characteristics of academic papers and the skills you need to perfect them, let's look at the academic writing projects you will likely face.
These are some of the simplest forms of writing you might be required to write. Just as the name suggests, you are supposed to describe places, objects, persons, etc. You can also be asked to describe a character or an experience.
Therefore, you need to have the skills to present a paper that is easy to understand and encourages the reader to visualize what they are reading. You have to evoke the readers to use their five senses (touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing.) For instance, if you are talking about food, your audience should imagine how it tastes and smells.
This type of writing mandates the writer to investigate an idea and collect the evidence that supports it. Afterward, one must evaluate the validity of the evidence presented and then provide a discussion that involves that idea.
Basically, it is an academic paper that uses factual evidence to investigate or explain a given topic. Therefore, you are supposed to have a neutral viewpoint and solely focus on providing objective analysis.
This type of writing is a bit similar to expository. However, it is more demanding. This is because you are supposed to generate an opinion about a given topic, find evidence to support your claim, and present it logically for your reader to understand. Therefore, these papers have all the features of an expository essay, with the addition of your stand on the matter.
Persuasive essays are the most common, especially at the university level. Your stand on the research problem can range from an interpretation, argument, or recommendation of others' works. The only thing you need to remember is that each claim you make has to be supported by evidence.
For example, suppose you want to persuade your reader that "socialism is the best political ideology". In that case, you must have references that show that this system of governance has been or can be a success.
Having a personal opinion on something is important. However, do not feel pushed to use a point of view that you cannot be sufficiently backed using credible evidence. Always choose a topic where the evidence is strongest.
A few tips that might help
All academic papers follow a specific format which is;
This is perhaps the most critical part of your essay. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. By the time your reader is done reading your introduction, he or she should be more than curious to read on and see what your research uncovers. A good introduction should provide a broad overview of what your essay is going to address.
However, avoid adding 'fluff' to your introduction. Do not just write anything to make your introduction interesting. Remember, this is not a blog post but an academic paper. Be direct and engaging at the same time. Let the reader know why you choose that topic or why the research question is essential, and what you will address in your paper.
The most important aspect of the introduction is the thesis statement. You can also call it the purpose statement. This should come at the end of your introduction and tell the reader what conclusion your paper will draw. When writing the thesis statement, avoid using phrases such as, 'This paper will highlight the following…" Instead, state, 'based on the evidence gathered (state the findings), one can conclude that…"
The body is the longest section, and it is where you will present your findings, points of view, and evaluation of the topic. It is easy for you to go out of topic in this section. So ensure you stay focused and not stray away from the main research question.
Also, ensure that your ideas flow naturally. If the paper is long, include topics and subtopics to break down the text. For shorter essays, ensures your paragraphs are well written. A good paragraph should introduce an idea (topic sentence), discuss it and then conclude it. Do not mix different concepts in one paragraph.
Be as detailed as you can in this section and ensure that you have covered everything you need. This is because you are not supposed to introduce any new ideas in the conclusion.
The conclusion's primary purpose is to summarize your findings. Ensure that you conclude by restating your thesis. Show the reader how your paper is in line with your purpose statement or how it proved your initial hypothesis.
For example, in some papers, dissertations, and literature reviews, you can recommend topics/research problems that might require further study based on your findings.
I know we talked about how to format your paper (introduction, body, and conclusion); however academic articles have to follow certain styles, for example, MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, etc. Each of these styles provides clear guidelines about writing your cover page, adding references and in-text citation to your paper, and much more. You can find online samples for each of them.
One of the most serious offenses you can commit when doing any paper is to present someone else research as your own. Depending on your institution, this will not only mean an automatic fail but can lead to suspension or expulsion. Always credit the authors whose work you have used to base your argument.
There are numerous types of academic writing. This makes it very hard to produce a guide that will universally cut across all the different papers you might handle. Nonetheless, our guide can provide you with the general guidelines you require to get the 'A' finally.
Just remember that an academic paper should present a logical argument that is based on credible evidence. Always take your time to plan and organize your work, research thoroughly, be concise, avoid grammatical mistakes, and keep your reader engaged.