How to Achieve
Academic Writing Style
Jim Hu, PhD
Thompson Rivers University
[email protected]
Workshop for the TRU Writing Center, Mar 18, 2013
Overview
• Rationale
• Explaining Academic Writing
Style
• Don’ts and Do’s
• Examples
• Concluding Remarks
1. Rationale
• ESL students are expected to write
academic assignments in academic
writing style, yet many have no idea
about the style and write like speaking.
• Need to inform them about academic
writing style (i.e., know-that) and have
them practice the skill in drafting and
editing (i.e., know-how) with guidance
and feedback (see Hu et al, 2012).
2. Explaining Academic Writing
Style
English academic writing style (register)
• Linguistic features characteristic of
academic writing published by
academics of English-speaking postsecondary institutions, e.g., academic
journal articles.
2. Explaining cont.
• Features at levels of
lexis (words, cf AWL)
morph-syntax (grammatical forms within
a sentence)
discourse (a series of unified sentence
structures in context)
Varieties of English
Formality
Fig. 1: Formality continuum (Hu, 2011;
adapted from Quirk et al., 1985)
• Very informal (familiar): between close
friends, family members, etc.
• Slang, abbreviations, short forms (e.g.,
cuz, aint, gonna), ellipsis (incomplete
Ss), colloquialisms, and chat and texting
language (e.g., lol, omg)
• Incomplete Ss as norm, maybe
ungrammatical (e.g., Gotta run cuz
getting’ late. Gotta run, late.)
• Informal style (e.g., in informal emails)
uses colloquial expressions (e.g., isn’t),
easy words and Ss(e.g., I’ve got to run
because it’s getting late.)
• More concern for grammatical accuracy
but not always following grammar rules
(e.g., Would you mind if I open the
window?).
• Acceptable ≠ grammatical
• Neutral style: language used in
everyday contexts, e.g., newspapers,
magazines, Internet reports
• may still have some informal features
(e.g., The crowd begins to leave
because it’s getting late.)
• avoid all grammatical errors
• Formal style: often found in academic
journals
• relies on formal vocabulary (e.g., AWL),
long well-constructed phrases and Ss to
achieve seriousness, thoughtfulness,
and forcefulness
• No informal or very informal language
• Academic writing uses a mixture of
formal and neutral varieties in terms of
vocabulary, sentence structures, and
discourse (unified text).
• Within this variety, there is further
variation.
• AW should not contain informal or very
informal language features, “red flags.”
• Very formal (rigid): usually found in legal
documentation and very formal
situations
• uses very formal vocabulary and often
long, complex Ss. (“Distinguished
patrons are requested to ascend to the
second floor” Quirk et al, 1985, p. 27)
• Also “red flags” for AW
3. Academic Writing Style:
Don’ts and Do’s
No DON’TS (RED FLAGS)
DO’S
1
Use contracted forms
Use full forms
2
Use colloquial expressions
Use written expressions
3
Repeat the same
expression if possible
Delete or use a different
expression, e.g., a pron
4
Repeat the same meaning
in different words
unnecessarily
Delete semantic repetition
5
Use questions in the text
body
Use direct statements
6
Use omnibus words
Use precise expressions
7
Use multi-word phrasal
verbs or verb phrases
Use single-word verbs
8
Use second persons
Use third persons
9
Use personal-opinion
expressions
Delete them
10
Use choppy sentences
Use compact phrases and
Ss involving coordination
and/or subordination
4. Examples
Contracted forms
1a. Since the island doesn’t have a long
history, it combines a variety of cultures
from its colonists: Dutch, Spanish,
Japanese and Chinese.
1b. Since the island does not have a long
history, it combines a variety of cultures
from its colonists – Dutch, Spanish,
Japanese and Chinese.
Colloquial expressions
• The most prevalent problem for AWS. Many
ESL students often write like the way they
speak or hear others speak.
• Suggestions: a) Note words used in
academic writing but not in informal
speech/writing; b) check Longman Dictionary
of Contemporary English for Advanced
Learners (2009) for labels of slang, informal
vs formal, spoken vs written, and register
notes.
 Colloquial expressions cont.
• Longman (2009): Register (style) note
for OK
“People usually avoid OK or okay in
writing, and use more formal words such
as acceptable or satisfactory: We have
to make sure that the quality is
acceptable” (p. 1213).
Colloquial expressions cont.
2a.Therefore, in Turkey, if two guys hug
and kiss each other on both cheeks,
please do not think they are
homosexual.
2b.Therefore, in Turkey, if two men hug
and kiss each other on both cheeks,
they are not necessarily homosexual.
 Colloquial expressions cont.
3a. Chinese New Year starts with a new moon
on the first day of the new year and ends on a
full moon 15 days later. In this essay I am
going to show you how we prepare and
celebrate the Chinese New Year.
3b. Chinese New Year starts with a new moon on the
first day of the new year and ends on a full moon 15
days later. This essay describes how we prepare and
celebrate the festival.
Literal repetition
4a.The translations do not meet the
needs of our colleges and universities.
The translations are too general and not
specific enough.
4b.The translations do not meet the
needs of our colleges and universities
as they are too general.
Semantic repetition
5a. Since there is a sign language, we are
able to understand what the deaf and
mute people want to say. If the sign
language does not exist, the deaf and
mute people can not interact with
normal people.
5b. Since there is a sign language, we are
able to understand what the deaf and
mute people want to say.
Questions
6a. Stress becomes dangerous. How to release
it? It could be many ways, such as taking
some outdoor exercise, communicating with
friends, and traveling.
6b. Stress that becomes dangerous could be
released in many ways, such as taking
outdoor exercise, communicating with
friends, and traveling.
Questions cont.
7a. Why did they [the athletes] cry? Did
they feel sad because they were the
best of the world? NO! Their tears
showed us they were extremely happy.
7b. They cried because they were
extremely happy to be the best athletes
of the world.
Omnibus words
8a. In this essay, I compare and contrast the ways of
doing funerals in India and Canada.
A funeral is a ceremony after a person’s death.
People in India do the funeral services very
traditionally according to their culture.
8b. In this essay, I compare and contrast the ways of
holding funerals in India and in Canada.
A funeral is a ceremony after a person’s death.
People in India perform funeral services according to
their culture.
Multi-word verbs
9a. This essay talks about presents in
different countries and the difficulty of
puzzling out different gift-giving customs.
9b. This essay discusses presents in
different countries and the difficulty of
understanding different gift-giving
customs
Second persons
10a. Generally, even though getting a part-time job has some
disadvantages, I still agree that international students should try to
find one. If your parents want to give you an allowance every month,
that’s great, but another way to make money is getting a part-time
job. Even if you do not need money, a part-time job is still a good
way to accumulate work experience.
10b. Generally, even though a part-time job has some
disadvantages, I still agree that international students should try to
find one. If their parents want to give them an allowance every
month, that is helpful, but another way to make money is a part-time
job. Even if international students do not need money, a part-time
job is still a good way to accumulate work experience.
Personal-opinion expressions
11a. Finally, I think I have learned many things
in this country. I love surprises because they
are my first experiences and can bring me
thoughts and feelings.
11b. Finally, I have learned many things in this
country. I love surprises because they are my
first experiences and can bring me thoughts
and feelings.
Choppy sentences
12a. However, the Canadian society does not consider
the problem [discrimination in the workplace]
important. Even when reports are filed, the police
do not treat them seriously. The police feel it hard
to communicate with victims. The police have to
work with a translator.
12b. However, the Canadian society does not consider
this problem important. Even when reports are
filed, the police do not treat them seriously as they
feel it difficult to communicate with victims through
a translator.
Concluding Remarks
• Guidelines not exhaustive.
• Students: Advanced ESL and
NES
• Context determines use.
No context, no text.
References
• Hu, J. (2011). Teaching ESL students to achieve academic
writing style. Peer-reviewed BC TEAL conference proceedings.
Retrieved May 12, 2012 from https://www.bcteal.org/wpcontent/uploads/2011/12/Compiled-Conference-Proceedings.pdf
• Hu, J., Hoare, A., & Yu, V. (2012). Language errors in ESL
writing: Perspectives of students. Roundtable discussion paper
presented at TESL Canada 2012 Conference, Kamloops, BC.
Retrieved March 10, 2013 from
http://www.tru.ca/tc2012/program/handouts.html
• Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English for Advanced
Learners (New Edition, 2009). Harlow, England: Pearson
Education.
• Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., and Svartvik, J. (1985). A
comprehensive grammar of the English language. London:
Longman.
Thank you!
Jim Hu
[email protected]
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How to Achieve Academic Writing Style