The Structure of Academic Writing

“The book is boring.” This is a common complaint many lecturers receive from students about the assigned reading in a class. Although this is discouraging to hear it is usually a cry for help. What the student is really saying is that they cannot understand what they are reading. Yes, the read it but they didn’t get it.

The missing ingredient for students to appreciate academic reading is to understand the structure of academic writing. Lecturers forget that students are not scholars and thus do not quite understand how scholars organize their writing. If students knew this they would no longer be students. Therefore, lecturers need to help students not only understand the ideas of a book but the actual structure of how those ideas are framed in a textbook.

This post will try to explain the structure of academic writing in a general sense.

How it Works

Below is a brief outline of a common structure for an academic textbook.

  • Preface
    • Purpose of the book
    • Big themes of the book (chapters)
  • Chapter
    • Objectives/headings provide themes of the chapter
  • Headings
    • Provides theme of a section of a chapter

Here is what I consider to be a major secret of writing. The structure is highly redundant but at different levels of abstraction. The preface, chapter, and headings of a book are all the same in terms of purpose but at different levels of scope. The preface is the biggest picture you can get of the text. It’s similar to the map of a country. The chapter zooms in somewhat and is similar to the map of a city. Lastly, the headings within a chapter are similar to have a neighborhood map of a city.

The point is that academic writing is highly structured and organized. Students often think a text is boring. However, when they see the structure, they may not fall in love with academics but at least they will understand what the author is trying to say. A student must see the structure in order to appreciate the details.

Another way to look at this is as follows.

  • The paragraphs of a heading support the heading
  • The headings of a chapter support the chapter
  • The chapters of a book support the title of the book

A book is like a body, you have cells, you have tissues, and you have organs. Each is an abstraction of a higher level. Cells combine to make tissue, tissues combine to make organs, etc. This structure is how academic writing takes place.

The goal of academic writing is not to be entertaining. That role is normally set aside for fiction writing. Since most students enjoy entertainment they expect academic writing to use the same formula of fun. However, few authors place fun as one of the purposes in their preface. This yet another disconnect between students and textbooks.

Conclusion

Academic writing is repetitive in terms of its structure. Each sub-section supports a higher section in the book. This repetitive structure is probably one aspect of academic writing students find so boring. However, this repetitive nature makes the write highly efficient in terms of understanding giving that the reader is aware of this.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The Structure of Academic Writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s