3.10.07

Crash Course on Academic Writing

I like to frame academic research by looking at Kenneth Burke's famous passage on the unending conversation of humankind.

I also want to discuss three terms from classical rhetoric: ethos, pathos, and logos.

logos Driven

Unlike your blog writing, which is a mix of argument, exposition, analysis, and entertainment, academic writing is more strictly argumentative and analytical in nature.

You might present a theoretical lens for a discourse community (from our readings, for instance) and then analyze how your community does (or does not) meet those criteria. This will help create a sense of purpose and necessity for your paper (which will help you write your introduction... speaking of which...)

Write your introduction last. For those of you (like me) who need to write temporary introductions, fine. End it with a "training wheels" sentence such as "this paper examines (argues, explains, explores, details, compares, assesses, etc)." I still use these kinds of crutches while writing drafts. But delete and rewrite this introduction when you are done. We'll talk more about academic introductions next week.

MLA Citation

I am asking you to provide evidence for your claims and characterizations. You'll want to point at specific blog posts, but you want your passages to be of a reasonable size. In other words, quote what is necessary-nothing more, nothing less.

Plagiarism is the highest academic crime. Err on the side of caution. If you borrow a term from a blog or reading, make sure it is clear that the term is not your own. For instance:

Stephen Doheny-Farina calls upon the research of Robert Bellah to clearly distinguish discourse communities from lifestyle enclaves. According to Farina, the former involve a measure of "interdependence" between community members; the latter are merely collections of hobbyists and enthusiasts (50).

Make sure you provide a context for your quotes, you need to transition into them. Don't expect a reader will be familiar with the material you are quoting from. Think of Burke's metaphor of the parlor--you are taking your reader for a guided tour.

Although it might seem obvious to you, make sure you offer some kind of content summary after a quote. Don't assume your reader will read the quote in the same way you do--you want to direct their attention / offer them a specific gloss of the passage.

Your paper will be accompanied by an MLA works cited list. MLA works cited lists follow a million obscure formatting rules. It makes no sense for me to try to explain all these rules up front. I will simply direct you to Purdue's OWL lab's materials on MLA formatting. The OWL will provide guidelines for both citing sources in your paper and formatting a works cited list.

Voice and audience

One of the hardest things for first-year students to get a handle on is the proper voice for academic papers. You don't need to be overly stuffy, but your writing should be more formal and less conversational than the writing you do on your blog. Try to avoid sarcasm. Try not to be overly enthusiastic. Your goal is to present a credible and confident (but not arrogant) speaker who is talking with (rather than "to" or even worse "down to") your audience. Don't beg, don't demand. Reason with your audience. Try to anticipate objections and offer counter-arguments.

Its hard to describe who your audience is: but think of it this way. You are writing to a sophomore at another University. They have never taken a course at Purdue. They have never met you. They are educated, and willing to read your paper. They may or may not agree with your arguments, but they are certainly not hostile.

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