Scholarly Writing

Scholarly writing is also known as academic writing. It is the genre of writing used in all academic fields. Scholarly writing is not better than journalism, fiction, or poetry; it is just a different category. Because most of us are not used to scholarly writing, it can feel unfamiliar and intimidating, but it is a skill that can be learned by immersing yourself in scholarly literature. During your studies at Walden, you will be reading, discussing, and producing scholarly writing in everything from discussion posts to dissertations. For Walden students, there are plenty of opportunities to practice this skill in a writing intensive environment.

Read on to learn about a few characteristics of scholarly writing!

Specialized Vocabulary

Scholarly authors assume that their audience is familiar with fundamental ideas and terms in their field, and they do not typically define them for the reader. Thus, the wording in scholarly writing is specialized, requiring previous knowledge on the part of the reader. You might not be able to pick up a scholarly journal in another field and easily understand its contents (although you should be able to follow the writing itself).

Take for example, the terms EMRs and end-stage renal disease in the medical field or the ideas of scaffolding  and differentiation in teaching. Perhaps readers outside of these fields may not be familiar with these terms. However, a reader of an article that contains these terms should still be able to understand the general flow of the writing itself.

 

Original Thought

Scholarly writing communicates original thought, whether through primary research or synthesis, that presents a unique perspective on previous research. In a scholarly work, the author is expected to have insights on the issue at hand, but those insights must be grounded in research, critical reading, and analysis rather than personal experience or opinion. Take a look at some examples below:

Needs Improvement: I think that childhood obesity needs to be prevented because it is bad and it causes health problems.
Better: I believe that childhood obesity must be prevented because it is linked to health problems and deaths in adults (McMillan, 2010).
Good: Georges (2002) explained that there "has never been a disease so devastating and yet so preventable as obesity" (p. 35). In fact, the number of deaths that can be linked to obesity are astounding. According to McMillan (2010), there is a direct correlation between childhood obesity and heart attacks later in their adult lives, and the American Heart Association's 2010 statistic sheet shows similar statistics: 49% of all heart attacks are preventable (AHA, 2010). Because of this correlation, childhood obesity is an issue that must be addressed and prevented to ensure the health of both children and adults.

Notice that the first example gives a personal opinion, but cites no sources or research. The second example gives a bit of research but still emphasizes the personal opinion. The third example, however, still gives the writer's opinion (that childhood obesity must be addressed), but it does so by synthesizing the information from multiple sources to help persuade the reader.

Careful Citation

Scholarly writing includes careful citation of sources and the presence of a bibliography or reference list. The writing is informed by and shows engagement with the larger body of literature on the topic at hand, and all assertions are supported by relevant sources.

Scholarly Tone

Formal language and tone are expected in scholarly writing, although the definition of formal varies over time and by field. Most current fields agree, however, that colloquialisms, slang, contractions, biased language, rhetorical questions, and second person pronouns should be avoided.

In formal writing, you must be cautious in your selection of scholarly language. Be aware that not all texts demonstrate good scholarly tone, even those that may be peer-reviewed.

Watch out for these writing temptations:

  • Using overly long or complex sentences: longer is not necessarily better. Instead, simplicity and directness should be the highest priority.
  • Using compound sentences that try to stretch themselves too far (e.g., run-on sentences)
  • Writing sentences that carry little information or structural purpose or those that point out the obvious.
  • Writing in an indirect fashion to sound more scholarly or formal (e.g., using passive voice)
  • Using "nice-sounding" words or phrases without fully understanding their specific meaning. (If you are unsure of a word's or phrase's definition or meaning, look it up in a dictionary or thesaurus, or find another word to use in its place.)
  • Using unneeded words to make a point.
  • Adding unnecessary ideas or phrases to lengthen your paragraphs and sentences.