3.2.3 Integrating Theory and Personal Understanding: The Difference Between Academic Writing and Reflective Writing
One of the aims of Unit 3 is to help you to bring academic theory and personal understanding together in interesting and enriching ways. This, in turn, will require you to produce different types of writing. To do this, you will need to draw on a skill that you probably already have. This is the skill of adapting communication (in this case your written communication) so that it achieves its purpose. You have already made a start on doing this in Activities 3.8 and 3.9, which required you to bring together academic theory and personal experience. The first part of Activity 3.8 required you use an academic writing style when outlining the main points in “An Overview of Learning Theories,” discussing something external to yourself (the learning theories). The second part of Activity 3.8, together with Activity 3.9, required you to adopt a more personal style, sometimes known as “reflective writing.”
Learning theories are often found in books or journal articles that are read by other academics. These books, articles, and journals can be written in an unfamiliar academic style of writing with particular “rules,” and this can sometimes be offputting at first. The rules include using referencing to say where the information in the article comes from. Other rules can be less obvious, but they often include the need to avoid personal comments. For example, it would be seen as strange if an academic author were to say (in the middle of an article): “I don’t think I have explained that very well. It was because I was worried about my pet hamster.” This would be seen as being outside the usual style of academic writing for two reasons:
- Personal issues and concerns are supposed to be separate from academic thinking, which is supposed to represent a sifting and filtering of the relevant information in a balanced and unbiased way.
- It would be unusual to own up to personal issues and then blame these for some problem with the writing.
The difference between academic writing and reflective writing can be summed up by thinking about “I.” When you are asked to use an academic approach, it is likely that using “I” in your writing will be less appropriate. However, it is acceptable to use “I” when you engage in personal reflection. Indeed, it is almost impossible to reflect without using “I.”
You may think that whether or not you use “I” is only a small point. By itself, that would be true, but there are some wider effects. Using “I” gives your writing a very personal “voice.” It also is likely to suggest that you are focusing on your own thoughts, feelings, or actions. For example, you might write: “I felt confident about asking Joanna for feedback.” By contrast, academic writing aims to develop a more detached view of what is being discussed. So you might write: “This assignment considers different ideas about learning.” To put it simply, if you use “I” in this context, it can make it harder to sound “academic.”