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Academic Writing: Overall Structure

The structure of Academic Writing tends to occur in 3's and in cycles. This post provides an introduction to Academic Writing structure by developing those 3's and cycles.

Academic Writing as a genre

First, let's begin by reminding ourselves that Academic Writing is just another type of writing (genre). There's nothing inherently better or worse about Academic Writing, but it's different than other types.

Where do you think the following excerpts are from? Match the genre to the excerpt.

Genres

  • Popular online science magazine
  • News report
  • scientific study from an academic journal
  • movie review from popular print magazine

Excerpts

A. There is no denying the reality of consciousness. For most of us, it is so self-evident that it requires no explanation. Your conscious self is the owner of your private reality, and your actions stem from conscious choice.
B. Why make a film of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”? Who at Warner Bros. flicked the switch when the project got the green light? The demographics do not bode well. Teen-agers at the multiplex, knowing nothing of the TV show, which ran from 1964 to 1968, will glance at the title and go blank. Those of us who do recall the original will brace ourselves for a travesty. We have suffered through movies based on “Bewitched,” “Get Smart,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Scooby-Doo,” and “The Flintstones,” so why should the alchemy work now? One answer, I guess, is “Mission: Impossible”—the brand that will not die. That alone gives hope to studio executives, convincing them that there is no straw, however flimsy or antique, that cannot be spun into gold.
C. Rabies is a fatal viral infection that can infect all mammals, but domestic dogs cause over 99% of all human deaths from rabies [1]. Human rabies can be prevented through prompt administration of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to victims of bites by rabid animals [2], and infection can be eliminated at source through sustained mass vaccination of reservoir populations
D. Former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle is expected to plead guilty to charges related to possession of child pornography, two law enforcement officials told CNN on Tuesday.
The sandwich chain suspended its relationship with Fogle earlier this year after investigators raided his Indiana home.


How did you know which one was the scientific study from an academic journal?


Check answers.

General Structure of Academic Writing

Academic Writing is generally broken into three parts: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Alternatively, they are sometimes called the beginning, middle, and end. In any case, there are three parts and each part contains specific functions (i.e. information that the audience expects to find).

Match the part with the function.

Part

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

Function

A. General introduction to the topic

B. Transition/topic sentence

C. Synthesis of main points

D. Narrow down to thesis statement

E. Concluding sentence(s)

F. Concluding statement


Can you think of any other functions? Where would they go?


Check answers.

Introduction

The introduction includes a general introduction to the topic and then narrows down to the thesis. The introduction is unique in its structure, but important since it guides the essay.

With our functions in mind, see if you can re-organize the introduction below back into its original ordering. 

Re-order sentences 1-5, so that they narrow to the thesis. The thesis is given to you at the end.

1. The differences in meaning suggest to Davis that the language is inherently biased against blacks.

2. The lists present clearly divergent sets of meanings associated with the two words.

3. White is associated with purity, cleanliness, and goodness.

4. In "The English Language is My Enemy," Ossie Davis argues that English is inherently racist by presenting the reader with two lists of synonyms for the words white and black.

5. Black is associated with evil, dirt, and death.

Thesis: While the differences in meaning are undeniable, these differences are more likely explained by the ability of humans to think metaphorically, not racism necessarily.


Check answers. 

Body

Paragraphs after the Introduction are called Body paragraphs, and these paragraphs develop the main ideas of the writing.  Body paragraphs begin with a topic sentence, and the topic sentence guides the rest of the paragraph. A topic sentences basically tells the reader what's inside the paragraph before the reader reads the paragraph.

Here's the topic sentence for the next three example paragraphs:
Colors create biological reactions in our bodies; these reactions, in turn, can change our behavior.
All of the sentences in a paragraph should relate to the topic sentence. If they do relate, the paragraph is said to have unity. If all the sentences do NOT relate, then the paragraph is said to lack unity. We'll discuss unity in a future post about paragraphs, but for now, just keep in mind lacking unity is a bad thing.

Paragraph 1 provides an example of a paragraph that lacks unity. As you can see, the sentences highlighted in yellow do NOT relate to the topic sentence.

Paragraph 1

Colors create biological reactions in our bodies; these reactions, in turn, can change our behavior. In one study, prisoners were put in a pink room in which they underwent a drastic and measurable decrease in muscle strength and hostility within 2.7 seconds. In another study, athletes needing short bursts of energy were exposed to red light. Their muscle strength increased by 13.5 percent, and electrical activity in their arm muscles increased by 5.8 percent. Athletes needing more endurance for longer performances responded best when exposed to blue light. Other studies have shown that the color green is calming. Green was a sacred color to the Egyptians, representing the hope and joy of spring. It is also a sacred color to Muslims. Many mosques and religious temples throughout the world use green (the color of renewal and growth) and blue (the color of heaven) to balance heavenly peace with spiritual growth. To sum up, color influences us in many ways (Daniels 10).


Which of the paragraphs below lacks unity?

Paragraph 2

Colors create biological reactions in our bodies; these reactions, in turn, can change our behavior. In one study, prisoners were put in a pink room in which they underwent a drastic and measurable decrease in muscle strength and hostility within 2.7 seconds. In another study, athletes needing short bursts of energy were exposed to red light. Their muscle strength increased by 13.5 percent, and electrical activity in their arm muscles increased by 5.8 percent. Athletes needing more endurance for longer performances responded best when exposed to blue light. Other studies have shown that the color green is calming. After London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge was painted green, the number of suicides decreased by only 34 percent. These and other studies clearly demonstrate that color affects not only our moods but our behavior as well (Daniels 10).

Paragraph 3

Colors create biological reactions in our bodies; these reactions, in turn, can change our behavior. In one study, prisoners were put in a pink room in which they underwent a drastic and measurable decrease in muscle strength and hostility within 2.7 seconds. In another study, athletes needing short bursts of energy were exposed to red light. Their muscle strength increased by 13.5 percent, and electrical activity in their arm muscles increased by 5.8 percent. Athletes needing more endurance for longer performances responded best when exposed to blue light. Blue is not a good color the dinnerware, however. Food looks less appetizing when it is served on blue plates, perhaps because very few foods in nature are of that color. Other studies have shown that the color green is calming. After London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge was painted green, the number of suicides decreased by only 34 percent. These and other studies clearly demonstrate that color affects not only our moods but our behavior as well (Daniels 10).


Check answers.  


A concluding sentence ends a body paragraph. We'll discuss concluding sentences in more detail in a future post, but for now examine the two concluding sentences from the example paragraphs above:

  • "These and other studies clearly demonstrate that color affects not only our moods but our behavior as well."
  • "To sum up, color influences us in many ways."
Both these sentences end the paragraph, but one is more specific with its information than the other. It should be obvious which concluding sentence is more specific. In Academic Writing, you always want to be more specific, not less.

Conclusion

A conclusions is the final paragraph or paragraphs of the writing, and it should include the synthesis of the main points and a concluding statement.

Let's discover how conclusions are written by reading two different conclusions and answering the questions below.

  • Which sentences provide the synthesis of the main points?
  • Which sentences provide the concluding statement?

Conclusion 1

So when Ossie Davis looks at the enormous number of unfavorable synonyms associated with the word darkness and concludes that "The English Language is My Enemy!" I do not explain that fact on the inherent racism that Davis believes pervades our thoughts. To me, that explanation of racism is both too simple and unjustified when one looks at the language in a larger perspective. Instead, I see the enormous number of unfavorable synonyms as a result of the way our minds organize our feelings about issues like knowledge & ignorance and known & unknown (the unknown is also dangerous).

However, do not misread me. Racism is a real issue in both society and language. One need only read the newspapers to learn of the growing numbers of hate crimes. One need only listen to the media to hear racial and ethnic slurs used thoughtlessly. Although Davis and I disagree about the origins of the unfavorable meanings associated with the synonyms for words referring to darkness, we do agree on an even more important issue: we must learn to control our minds and our tongues if we ever wish to control our destiny.



Check answers.

Final Thoughts

Academic writing happens in 3's and in cycles.

If we look at the overall structure, we see 3 parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. If we look at a body paragraph, we see 3 parts: topic sentence, development of the topic sentence, and concluding sentence.

If we look at the content, we see the cyclical pattern. In a body paragraph, a topic sentence introduces an idea, the following sentences develop that idea, and the concluding sentence returns to the idea and ends it. We also see this cyclical pattern in the overall structure: the introduction introduces an idea, the body paragraphs develop the idea, and the conclusion returns to the idea and ends the writing.

Now you're an expert on the structure of Academic Writing!

Of course, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them. 
















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