The term "scholarly writing" is somewhat misleading because writing as a scholar varies by disciplinary community and rhetorical situation. However, a few observations can be made about scholarly writing in general:
• Scholars write with evidence, and particular types of evidence are more acceptable in particular communities and situations.
• Scholarly writing tends to have a more transparent organizational structure and to be more explicit than other types of writing.
• Scholarly writing tends to be formal. • Scholarly communities have conventions, which are more comparable to etiquette than law. • Scholars use reading and writing to think.
Scholarly writing is the product of thought and analysis, and the act of writing can often uncover unanticipated insights and analysis that make a writer's work unique and valuable. This section compares and contrasts scholarly writing at the undergraduate and graduate levels, emphasizing the challenges and opportunities that graduate-level writing presents.
Undergraduates approach many of their courses as new scholarly readers, writers, and thinkers. Their challenge is to read critically; discover some of the major theories, concepts, and scholarship of various disciplines; analyze what they read and hear in class; and produce evidence of their mastery of facts, theories, methods, and academic genres.
Instructors ask them to write for many reasons. For example, undergraduates might be asked to: • Tie theory to practice, e.g., produce software documentation as part of a technical writing class.
• Learn about and use genres unique to a discipline, e.g., prepare a business plan for a new small business after learning the elements of business plans.
• Select a sub-topic and analyze it in depth, e.g., write an analytical paper about a particular formula for state funding of local school districts.
• Learn and apply research and library skills, e.g., prepare an annotated bibliography on the work of a particular psychologist.
• Learn by writing, e.g., keep an analytical journal throughout a group project for a course in project management.
• Learn and use new tools, e.g., develop, distribute, collect data, and analyze the results of a questionnaire.
• Develop an ethical sense, e.g., analyze a case study about an ethical dilemma faced by an accountant in a major corporation.
In summary, undergraduate students write to learn. Instructors use written assignments as tools that students use to increase their learning.
Graduate-level writers write for all the reasons mentioned above, and they have an added challenge. At the point of writing their dissertations, they are expected to do one or more of the following:
• Create new knowledge or make unique discoveries. • Develop a new theorem. • Develop a new theory or conceptual framework to explain a major phenomenon. • Work from an existing theory or framework to shed new light on a phenomenon. • Create a new research tool for use by other scholars or use an existing tool in a unique way. • Disprove a longstanding or widely believed idea, classification, or theory. • Explain a phenomenon that was considered inexplicable. • Synthesize existing knowledge or scholarship in a new way. • Discover new diagnoses, treatments, cures, or preventatives.
The purpose of graduate-level scholarship is ultimately to discover and communicate new truths that others in the field, or even beyond the field, will consider important.