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2.2 The ‘academic’ style

You might also be put off by the ‘academic’ style of writing. In everyday life, what you read is usually written to grab your attention and get a message across quickly before you ‘switch channels’. By contrast, academic texts often raise broad, abstract questions and are unconcerned about arriving at quick answers. For example, where a newspaper headline might say:

Layard actually says:

The headline makes its point quickly, but it says far less. It presents little basis for analysis and debate. You can agree or disagree, but you can't easily discuss the proposition. Layard carefully teases out a variety of issues, but the headline simplifies everything down to a well-established formula: free markets or public spending – which side are you on? Unlike general public debate, academic debate advances through finely tuned language and disciplined methods of argument. The Layard paragraph may be a lot longer than the headline, but it is not ‘wordy’ for the sake of it. It is very precisely argued; it would be quite difficult to cut out words without altering the meaning.

Box 2 Academic writing

Academic writers use cautious, considered language in an effort to be as exact as they can in their analysis. They try to say only what they mean and what they think can be justified. In daily life we cheerfully use language as a blunt instrument, to cudgel our way through the discussions that spring up around us. By contrast, academic writing uses language as a scalpel, to cut precisely between closely related arguments, so that they can be prised apart and analysed in detail. Learning how to read, think and write in this way is a central part of learning at degree level.


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