3 Tutorials that teach Academic Research & Academic Writing
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Academic Research & Academic Writing

Academic Research & Academic Writing

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson defines academic writing, as well as identifies other kinds of writing.

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Source: Sistiaga A, Mallol C, Galván B, Summons RE (2014) The Neanderthal Meal: A New Perspective Using Faecal Biomarkers. PLoS ONE 9(6): e101045. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101045. Holme, Geoffrey. Masters of Water-Colour Painting. Project Gutenberg, Aug. 2007 (EBook #22379).

Video Transcription

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Hi, welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. So what are we going to learn today?

Today we're going to talk about academic research. What it is. What teachers and scholars mean when they say research, which isn't always the same as what students think it is. Then we'll look at how academic writing is both dependent on and the purpose behind research, why and how the two go together. And finally, we'll look at how introduction to English composition classes, like this one, can help you, a future academic writer and researcher.

Now, to understand how the academy works, you need to understand research. Academic research is a production of new knowledge that builds on and expands upon the existing knowledge that came before it. I find it easiest to think of the world of academic research and writing as a big party. Bear with me.

Imagine you walk into this party. And everywhere you look, you see groups of people talking about all kinds of things. Some you're interested in, and some you're not. Let's say you want to join into one of those conversations. What do you do?

First, you listen. You stand around and see what others are saying about the subject. You learn what others think. And you learn how your opinions fit with those of others, others who've been at the party longer than you.

And when, after a while, you think you're ready, you use some of your newfound knowledge to express that opinion and add your voice to those that came before you. And who knows, maybe sometime later in the night, after you've left the party, even, someone will pick up on what you said and use it to add their own voice to the conversation which is still going on.

This is basically what happens in every field of the academy, from math and the applied sciences, to literature and world history. You have academics reading the work of others intending to build upon and expand that existing knowledge.

For example, here is the beginning of a scientific article about Neanderthal poop. I won't go into much detail, in part because there's a lot of scientific jargon in this article that I don't understand having never studied anything remotely like this before. Pause the video here and take a moment to read it. The language is fairly complex. It should be able to get the gist of what the article is going to be about just from these first two sentences.

The blue icon in the middle of the text indicates that a source is being referenced. And I provided it below. This is part of the research the writer did-- an article that claims the dietary differences between humans and Neanderthals contributed to their disappearance. It provides the basis for the newer article.

And here are the opening lines for a book about art history. Take another moment to read this as well. And as you do, keep an eye out for any kind of subject-specific language.

This will tell you what kind of audience the piece was written for. Is it more or less accessible than the scientific article we just looked at? Why do you think that is? Here we don't have direct citations, most likely because the author considered these accepted facts, facts he needed to use to begin his exploration into the history of watercolor painting, but nothing he needed to back up with specific citations.

So as we can see from this text, you don't need to directly quote from or even cite a source of information in order to build on existing knowledge. Often sources like this one will rephrase or reinterpret what's assumed to be public knowledge. It's still open to interpretation.

As you can see, academic writing begins with research, but it goes beyond it. Economic writing is a presentation of the research the author has done. It presents any new knowledge the researcher's uncovered along with the writer's argument, which is interpretation of that information.

As you can see, it's more than just reporting on information you found over the course of your research. It must include some kind of argument, statement, or interpretation of that research. Without this, your writing won't be contributing anything new to the conversation, which is the whole point, right?

We've already looked at two texts that are examples of academic writing-- one article and one book. Both of which presented research that expanded on it, which is, if you remember, the very definition of academic research. So I will discuss help you.

One of the primary goals of any English composition course is to give its students an introduction to academic research and writing. The critical thinking and engaged reading skills they develop will allow you to enter into and eventually to contribute to whatever branch of the broader academic conversation you're drawn to, whether you're drawn there by your own personal interests or your chosen field of study. With research you'll be able to back up your arguments and ideas with evidence, which is the point of all this.

So what have we learned today? We learned about academic research, what it is, and what it's for. We talked about academic writing and how it both comes from and expands upon research. And finally, we discussed how an English composition class can help you enter into the conversation. My name is Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know
Academic Research

Research that intends to build on and expand existing knowledge.