FROM THE EDITOR
In this Issue
Contributors
Letters to the Editor
Write to Us
Spread the Word
Back Issues

FEATURE
My Life-Long Love of the English
Language Business

Ken Wilson reflects on English
Language Teaching

COLUMNS
Language Interference
English Loan Words in Japanese
Read about the pitfalls of loan words and false friends in Japanese

Focus on Language
Awareness

Introduction
Academic Writing:
Writing an Essay — How to begin

UK version  US version

New word of the month
The Language of the Web

Read about the creation of new
words for the Internet

Top Tips for the CD-ROM
Find out how to practise
spelling with SoundSearch

onestopenglish.com

 

 

Academic Writing: How to begin
by Averil Coxhead

Academic Writing tasks aim to find out how well you can research a topic, argue a point of view, evaluate evidence, and organize your thinking. The pages in the next four issues of the MED Magazine will provide general advice about different aspects of academic writing and what resources you can use for more specific advice.

What should you do when you begin an essay?

Look at this economics essay topic:

Many countries implement minimum wage laws that prevent employers from paying less per hour than a certain wage determined by law. Discuss the benefits and drawbacks that occur as a result of minimum wage laws. Identify who the laws help and who the laws hurt. Explain any efficiency loss that might result.

The words in italics are the key words that tell you what you have to do. The words in blue are the content words that tell you what the essay topic is about. Here are a number of key words that you need to know well:

analyse
argue
assess
compare
contrast
define
describe
discuss
enumerate
evaluate
explain
illustrate
identify
interpret
justify
list
outline
prove
relate
review
show
state
summarize
trace

Identify the key words in the essay topic and ensure that you understand what you are being asked to do. Make sure that you cover the whole topic and that you do not deviate from it. Think about each section separately and break each section into several small questions. These questions provide a structure or framework for your essay. They also show you what you need to find out from your reading. Look at this example based on the essay topic above:

  • What are minimum wage laws?
  • What are the benefits of these laws?
  • What are the drawbacks of these laws?
  • Who do these laws help and how?
  • Who do these laws hurt and how?
  • What efficiency loss might come from these laws?

Look at this biology essay question and decide what you will have to do to answer it. When you have finished, look at the suggested answers.

Investigate and discuss the biology of 'handedness'. Describe the possible causes of right- vs left-handedness. Discuss the history of discrimination against left-handed people and, if possible, compare to discrimination generally against such groups as women, homosexuals, or ethnic minorities.

Answers

  • What is the biological definition of 'handedness'?
  • What are the possible causes of right-handedness?
  • What are the possible causes of left-handedness?
  • Are these causes the same or different?
  • What discrimination has there been historically towards left-handed people?
  • Is this discrimination similar to other kinds of discrimination?

Further reading

Here is a selection of websites and books that will tell you more about academic writing:

  • www.allenandunwin.com/eStudy/estudy.asp - Allen and Unwin eStudy Pages
  • Day, S.X., McMahan, E. and Funk, R. (1997) The Practical Writer's Guide. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Leki, I. (1995). Academic Writing (second edition). New York: St Martin's Press.
  • Rodrigues, D. and Tuman, M. (1996) Writing Essentials. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Wilhoit, S. (1997). A Brief Guide to Writing from Readings. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Usage Notes

You can find Usage Notes on Academic Writing at the following entries in the Macmillan English Dictionary:

cause example quote significant
compare list related summary
definite paraphrase

result

topic
evaluate prove

Next in the series

  • Identifying and evaluating resources
  • Avoiding plagiarism and quoting sources
  • Paraphrasing
  • Referencing in texts and bibliographies