Academic writing  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In academia, writing and publishing is conducted in several sets of forms and genres. This is a list of genres of academic writing. It is a short summary of the full spectrum of critical & academic writing. It does not cover the variety of critical approaches that can be applied when writing about a subject.

Writing in these forms or styles is usually serious, intended for a critical and informed audience, based on closely-investigated knowledge, and posits ideas or arguments. It usually circulates within the academic world ('the academy'), but the academic writer may also find an audience outside via journalism, speeches, pamphlets, etc.

Typically scholarly writing has an objective stance, clearly states the significance of the topic, and is organized with adequate detail so that other scholars could try to reproduce the results. Strong papers are not overly general and correctly utilize formal academic rhetoric.


Standard forms

  • Essay; usually short, between 1,500 and 6,000 words in length.
  • Research Paper; longer essay involving library research, 3000 to 6000 words in length.
  • Dissertation; usually between 6,000 and 20,000 words in length.
  • Thesis; completed over a number of years, often in excess of 20,000 words in length.
  • Book, in many types and varieties.
  • Explication; usually a short factual note explaining some obscure part of a particular work; e.g. its terminology, dialect, allusions or coded references.

For students

Summaries of knowledge

  • Magazine article (e.g. History Today); usually presenting a digest of recent research.
  • Creating a timeline or chronological plan. There will often be a 'key' or written work incorporated with the final work.
  • Creating a simplified graphical representation of knowledge; e.g. a map, or refining a display generated from a database. There will often be a 'key' or written work incorporated with the final work.
  • Annotated catalogue, often of an individual or group's papers and/or library.
  • Literature review; a summary and careful comparison of previous academic work published on a specific topic.

Collating the work of others

  • Anthology; collection, collation, ordering and editing of the work of others.
  • Collected works; often referred to as the 'critical edition'. The definitive collection of the work of a single writer or poet, in book form, carefully purged of publishers errors and later forgeries, etc.
  • Monograph or exhibition catalog; usually containing exemplary works, and a scholarly essay. Sometime contains new work by a creative writer, responding to the work.

Research & planning

Disseminating knowledge outside the academy

  • Review of a book, film, exhibition, event, etc.
  • Opinion; an academic may sometimes be asked to give an expert written opinion, for use in a legal case before a court of law.

Technical or administrative forms

  • White paper; detailed technical specifications and/or performance report.

Personal forms

These are acceptable to some academic disciplines, e.g. Cultural studies, Fine art, Feminist studies, Queer theory, Literary studies.

  • Memoire; usually a short work, giving one's own memories of a famous person or event.
  • Belle-lettres; stylish or aesthetic writing on serious subjects, often with reference to one's personal experience.

Newer forms

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Academic writing" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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