Good Academic Writing

What I’ve been told it is:

1. My inevitable objective to be successful 

Teachers have always stressed throughout high school that we were going to have to learn to write very professionally. One of my middle school teachers even told me we were only going to be allowed to write in cursive.

2. T.E.D.D.A

Possibly the most dreadfully restrictive writing outline ever. All essays were required to be written in the TEDDA format throughout high school.

3. Professional level writing

It is how most textbooks are expected to be written. No grammatical mistakes, good vocabulary, and a well of knowledge.

What I think it is:

1. Knowing your topic

Good academic writing should mean that the Author knows the topic they are writing about.   

If you hastily skim a few pages about something abstract to you and write a paper then people will know that even you don’t know what you are talking about.

2. Caring about the topic

The author has to actually care about what they write about. If it is forced then you can always tell that it isn’t particularly stimulating. If it isn’t for them then how can it be for the reader?

3. The writing has to flow seamlessly

There has to be a flow of events to the writing, whatever the writing may be. You need some kind of introduction where you announce the topic. State your opinion if you have one and back it up. 

Then you enter the meat of the paper where you go into detail, fleshing out everything you know and want to discuss about the topic. This is where you try and prove your point or guide the reader in the path of your choosing.

Then you wrap up your story or discussion and end with some kind of finale. 

Don’t write professionally. Write artistically.

The secret of good academic writing – the type you often have to do for history, psychology, and other courses – is the assumptions you make about the person reading your paper. In academic writing, it’s best to assume that the person reading and grading your paper is not your real teacher but is someone we’ll call your teacher’s twin. Not only does your teacher’s twin not know who you are, he or she also:

1. Is impressed by new, original ideas and is turned off by mere summary of what’s been said in
class or what the book itself says. (The exception to this is if your teacher has specifically asked
for a summary.)
2. Initially disagrees with your ideas/interpretations/reactions.
3. Can be persuaded to agree with you if you give enough evidence and explain logically enough.
4. Resents being told to take your word for anything – and so expects precise, detailed proof,
often including page references and enough documentation (title of book, author, etc.) so
he/she can look things up for him/herself.
5. Is insulted if you do not anticipate and answer his/her intelligent questions and objections.


I found this bit pretty amusing. Of course you have to know that in most academic writing you will have someone reading and grading it. One line hit me though and that was assuming that the reader isn’t the teacher. I think there is truth to that in some classes. The five steps that listed are a pretty solid guideline to think about when writing the paper. If they disagree with you and fail to be persuaded, it is either because you did a bad job or the reader is abjectly biased. In either case, your grade suffers. You have to make sure that all of your points are solid, hard to counter, and not completely obvious. If you think the reader could raise an objection to any of your evidence, then it would be in your best interest to have something in the paper answering that objection. The most important thing to me is that the topic is interesting. If the subject is a complete anathema then no one will care and you will be shot down.


4 Responses to “Good Academic Writing”

  1. What do you mean by, “Don’t write professionally. Write artistically” in an academic context? What might that look like? Can one be too artistic? If so, how do we, as writers in academic contexts, find a balance?

    • Think of the stigmas of a high school science textbook. They are generally thought of as thick, dull, emotionless books walled with text written by a “professional” that you can’t imagine that you’ll ever equate to. I could never, no matter how knowledgeable, bring myself to write that. To write artistically in an academic context would mean that you are able make your point while maintaining several things.

      A sense of emotion towards the topic is one. Brannon did this in her article. She indirectly got her argument across while maintaining an academic context. Another would be use of story telling elements to supplement explanations. My Biology 1101 book manages to tie almost every subject it teaches into some kind of real life scenario or reference. Personal experience always works best but is not frequently appropriate in academic writing unless the author was part of a study. A third is how you conclude each chapter or section. I used finale because that is exactly how it should feel. Some kind of call to arms or statement that gives meaning to everything you read. If they never offer a purpose then you have the feeling of “when will I ever use this / why did I learn this.”

      Of course you can be too artistic because then it becomes a narrative rather than an academic text. To balance it would mean to try and keep the artistic side subliminal. Professionals in a subject aren’t exactly in need of reading an academic text from another professional of that subject as they are already “professionals.” Most of the readers of academic texts are those, such as us, trying to further their learning to become the professional. We don’t benefit much from boring walls of text. Because of this, artistic professionals will, to me, always outshine the textbook professional that we all know and whose life we pity.

  2. Wow. That is funny because I remember my middle school teacher also told me that we would only be allowed to write in cursive at some point. What exactly is T.E.D.D.A.?
    I like how you compared professional writing to the format of most textbooks. I think I can agree with that. I also like the unique point you made in that you must actually care about the topic you are writing on. It makes perfect sense to me.
    I actually used the same link in my post and also pointed out how they explained that you kind of have to replace your teacher and assume it is someone else that will be reading your work. So I totally agree with you on that as well.

    • TEDDA is how we had to format each paragraph. Sentence 1: Topic, Sentence 2: Example, Sentence 3: Detail, Sentence 4: Detail, Sentence 5: Analysis/Conclusion.

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