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How to write an assignment

What is academic writing style?

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Essays, reports, scientific writing, dissertations, theses and other pieces of formal writing should all be written in an academic writing style - in fact, virtually all written assignments at university should be written in an academic style. The easiest way to demonstrate academic writing style is to use an example...

This infamous poem is obviously not written in an academic style:

Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, And so are you!

However, if it was written in an academic style, it would read like this:

Recent studies have shown that although many roses are indeed red, they can be found in a variety of colours including, pink, yellow and and orange (Dimmick et al, 2005, Bill and Ben, 2006). Violets, however, have been shown to be almost always blue, with some exceptions noted in the excellent work carried out by Titchmarch et al (2008). In addition, but not directly related to this, sucrose has been shown to produce a sweet flavour when consumed my most adults (S. Martie at el 2001, M. Asrbar 1996). Although one would describe the subject in question as a 'sweet', this is not scientifically sound as the subject is not, of course, an item of confectionery.

Activity: The importance of academic writing style - 10 minutes

Read the two research paper extracts below and consider the following questions:

  • What impression does each extract give of the author?
  • Which extract would you rather reference in your own work?
  • Which author would you employ on the basis of their research paper?
  • If you were the editor of a scientific journal, which one of these papers would you publish?
  • If you were a professor marking these papers, who would you give the better mark to?

Extract 1

According to recent research by the Mauna Loa Observatory, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached all time high. Following extensive research, scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory concluded that CO2 levels in the atmosphere is now 387 parts per million (ppm), that is a rise of almost 40% since the industrial revolution and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years. The research, published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also confirms that carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere faster than originally expected. The annual mean growth rate for 2007 was 2.14ppm, - the fourth year in six to see an annual rise greater then 2ppm. From 1970 to 2000, the concentration rose by about 1.5ppm each year but since 2000 the annual rise has leapt to an average 2.1ppm.

Extract 2

The amount of carbon dioxide in the world's atmosphere is really high, I think that this is very worrying for scientists and the general population. Apparently, CO2 levels in the atmosphere is now 387 parts per million (ppm), that is a really big rise of almost 40% and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years! This research was published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These people also confirm that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's accumulating faster than they thought it would. The annual mean growth rate for 2007 was 2.14ppm, this is happening all the time now, it the fourth year recently to see an annual rise greater then 2ppm. From 1970 to 2000, the concentration rose by about 1.5ppm each year but since 2000 the annual rise has gone up to an average 2.1ppm.

Can you see how much influence the style of a written piece can have on the reader irrespective of the content?

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