As academic writers, we tend to take for granted the features of writing that are peculiarly academic. Yet that is what we as Precept instructors should be introducing to our students. Much of what high school students write could be categorized as “school” discourse, a genre which differs markedly in purpose from the scholarly discourse genres of academia. While it is not the goal of Precept to teach any one particular disciplinary form of discourse, we can emphasize some of the features of academic writing that tend to be common to most of them.
- In academic writing, the writer makes a claim to new knowledge. The purpose of writing is to present new information or a new interpretation to readers.
- The academic writer’s claim is normally grounded upon and situated within previous scholarship on the topic. Academic writing seldom stands alone. It is based on an ongoing conversation among scholars on a given topic, and the writer’s claim makes explicit reference to previous claims or knowledge presented by other writers.
- The purpose of academic writing is to persuade readers of the credibility of the new claim. Writing takes the form of argument. (Many high school writers are more accustomed to writing in order to present information rather than to formulate arguments.)
- Credibility is achieved through evidence and reasoning.
- Academic writing is usually hierarchically structured, with a central focus supported by subordinate reasoning. The organization is usually explicitly signposted, making clear to readers how various parts of the text are related.
- The knowledge of others is mentioned explicitly and cited and/or referenced, so that readers can find and evaluate the knowledge sources.
- Conventions or standards set by the discipline are followed regarding use of evidence, organization of information, documentation of sources, style, format, etc.
In Precept, students are more likely to be writing to present an interpretation rather than new information. We may not ask them to situate their claims within previous scholarship on the topic, but we can ask students to write to persuade readers (possibly an audience of interested peers who are familiar with the texts) of the credibility of their interpretation based on its reasoning and evidence. We can also ask students to structure their papers hierarchically, to cite the texts they write about, and to use appropriate conventions of writing in order to enhance their own credibility as writers and to demonstrate an understanding of the needs of readers.