Academic Writing tips by Dartmouth College



2013516Dartmouth Writing Program


  • What is an academic paper?               什么是学术写作?

  • Coming up withyour topic                构思

  • Researching your topic                   与主题相关的调查研究

  • Developing your thesis                   发展成文

  • Writing: considering structure& organization


  • Revision: cultivating a criticaleye      修改:培养批判性思维

  • Logic and argument                       逻辑和论证

  • Attending to grammar                     关注语法

  • Attending to style                       关注写作风格

  • Students' Advice for Students            学生对学生的建议


Coming up with your topic构思

  • Reading to Write                    为写作而阅读(本期连载内容)

  • Using Critical Theory


  • Informal Strategies for Invention        寻找灵感的非正式策略

  • Formal Strategies for Invention          寻找灵感的正式策略             

  • Focusing Your Ideal                       集中你的想法   

  • Broadening Your Topic


  • Narrowing Your Topic                     缩小你的观点





People read differently for different purposes. When youread in order to cram for a quiz, you might scan only the first line of everyparagraph of a text. When you read for pleasure, you might permit yourself tolinger for a long while over a particular phrase or image that you findappealing. It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that when you read in orderto write a paper, you must adopt certain strategies if you expect your effortsto be fruitful and efficient.



Read Actively


When you know that you are going to write a paper about abook or article, prepare yourself to read actively. Don't read a text simply toget its information. This method of reading is passive: you "receive"the text as you read, and you hold off making any intellectual response to thetext until after you've finished reading it.


This way of reading doesn't get you very far. Whilereading passively might enable you to understand the gist of the argument,you'll probably forget the many twists and turns that the argument took on theway to making its point. Can you, without a struggle, recall the structure ofthe argument? Its use of language? Its wealth details?


Probably not. And so you have to read the book again,this time making notes to yourself about the argument and its development.While a second - or third or fourth - reading of a text is always a good idea,it's certainly better to read well the first time through. You can then ensurethat your subsequent readings will take you deeper and farther than you mightotherwise have gone.


But how do you become an active reader?



Break the Linear Tradition


To become an active reader, you haveto rid yourself of the idea that reading is the first of three steps in alinear writing process. Maybe you believe that the most efficient way to writea paper is to read first, think later, and write last of all. In talking withstudents, we've found that they rarely write as they read. Sometimes, theydon't even think as they read. When you read, do you stop to ask questions? Doyou challenge the writer? Do you search your soul for what you really believeabout the topic at hand? And once you've begun writing, do you ever go back tothe text? Maybe you go back to find a piece of evidence that will support yourclaims, but do you ever do the kind of re-reading that will force you toreconsider the text and your own position on it? If you answered "no"to most or all of these questions, then perhaps you are reading passively. Yourthinking will not go as far as it might, and your papers will sufferaccordingly.



Trust Your Gut


Once you understand that you ought to be thinkingactively as you read, you'll begin to pay more attention to your reactions tothe text. It's not a bad idea to keep track of how a text makes you feel whileyou are reading it. If you find yourself getting angry or growing bored, askyourself why. Is the argument coming apart? Are there too many details? Notenough? Is the writer a misogynist? bigot? liberal? conservative? jerk? Payattention to your own responses. They might be the seeds for your paper.


It's possible, too, that you'll find yourself"wowed" by a text. Or that some particular detail, which the authortouches on in passing, seems to you to hold the key to a problem that you'vebeen thinking about for a long time. Again, pay attention to yourself as youread. Monitor your reactions. Interrogate them. They might lead you to an interestingpaper topic.



Enter the Conversation


When a writer writes a book she is, in a sense,inviting you into an ongoing conversation. She is taking a position in thegreat human debate, and she is asking you to take yours. When you write a paperin college, you are entering this conversation.


Understand that scholarship is the written exchangeof a particular community - in this case, the academic community. As a student,you have joined this community, attending it like you might attend a cocktailparty that has the peculiar quality of going on for four years. In essence,what is expected of you as a student isn't far different from what is expectedfrom you as a party-goer. As is true of any party, there are rules that governyour behavior - rules that tell you what you might and might not say, and howyou might or might not say it. But the basic rules of conversation are the samein the academy as they are at the cocktail party: you must listen well, youmust think on your feet, and you must contribute to the conversation in a waythat is relevant, thoughtful, and interesting.


In order to enter the conversation fully as awriter, you must first enter the conversation fully as a reader. Pay attentionto the text. Take note of how you feel about what the author is saying. Thenconsider the argument that she is presenting to you. Are there gaps in herargument? Do you want to challenge these gaps? Do you want to fill them in? Doyou want to acknowledge the validity of her argument and then apply it tothings that she hasn't seemed to consider?


All of these questions move you beyondyour own reactions to a consideration of the argument. Your conversation withthe writer has begun.



Use the Margins


Maybe the best practical advice we can give youabout reading more actively is to make use of the margins. An unmarked book isan unread book. Marking a text as you read it ensures that you are readingactively. Even the simple act of underlining a passage requires you to askyourself what is most important in a text. The act of weighing importance isone way of breaking the habit of passive reading.


But you can do much more in the margins than simplymake note of important passages. You can ask questions in the margins. You candraw arrows, establishing obscure connections in the text. You can notepatterns of imagery or language as you see them. You can locate contradictions.You can get feisty, even, and call the author out for a debate.


You also might find that you can demystify a text bywriting in it. After all, reading Socrates or Freud or Marx or Einstein mightleave you feeling unsettled, intimidated even. These minds seem so original, soperfect in their way, that it seems impossible at first that your professor isasking you to make some comment on them. Even when you read unknown writers youmight feel intimidated. After all, they are published. Their work is deemedgood enough to find its way into print. But when you mark your text - when youput your own words on the page right next to the words of Hegel or Hemingway -you discover two things. First is that there is "room" for you on thepage. Neither Hegel nor Hemingway has the last word on any subject. Second, youcome to see that your process is not so much different from theirs. They readtexts and they responded to them by writing. Now you are, too.



Moving Outside the Text


One important idea to understand when you read isthat every text has a context. Remember that every writer is in conversation:with other writers, with history, with the forces of her culture, with theevents of his time. It is helpful, for example, to read Karl Marx or SigmundFreud with some knowledge of their moment in history. Virginia Woolf and SimonedeBeauvoir were responding to writers and events in their cultures, too. Whenyou understand the context of a work, you can better see the forces that movedthe author to write that work. You will gain clarity about what and why thewriter was writing. You may even gain clarity about what you yourself wouldlike to say.


But how do you place a work in context if you knownothing about the historical time in which it was written? You might take atrip to the library or do some on-line research. Perhaps your professor hasreserved some books on the subject. Maybe she has discussed the context of aparticular book in class.


Even if you know nothing about thecontext of a particular book or writer, you know a lot about the context of aparticular reader: you. You are a member of a complex culture thatprovides you with a particular context for your reading experience. Yourgender, race, and socio-economic class provide context(s) for yourunderstanding of a text. You bring your own context(s) with you when you readtexts as diverse as the Declaration of Independence, the Koran, thefilms of Fellini, and the transcriptions of the Watergate tapes.

即使你对于书或这个作者的背景一无所知,你了解很多关于读者-你的背景。你是丰富多样的文化中的一员,你也的阅读经历带着自己的背景。你的性别,种族和社会经济等级也让你在了解一篇文章时有自己的语境。你带着你的语境阅读多样的内容像独立宣言, 可兰经,费里尼的电影,和水门事件。


ReadingDifferently in the Disciplines


Each of the different academicdisciplines - English, History, Sociology, Psychology, Biology, and so on -asks you to read differently. Sometimes, in fact, they ask you to"read" things that you wouldn't normally consider as"text." For example, in a Sociology class, you might be asked to"read" the behaviors of a particular group of people. In a Historyclass, you might be asked to "read" a sequence of events. In aGeography class, you might be asked to "read" a certain space. Youmight, in the course of your college career, be asked to "read" apainting, a film, an advertisement, an event, a laboratory experiment, or anynumber of fascinating things.


Before you take on the task of readingany sort of text, you'll want to make sure that you understand the practices ofthe discipline and the requirements of the assignment. Are you being asked toobserve? To argue? To compare? Is there some requirement that you order yourobservations temporally? Spatially? Logically? What are the conventions forreading, writing, and thinking in this particular discipline?

For more information on writing in thedifferent disciplines, see: Writing in the Humanities, Writing in the SocialSciences, or Writing in the Sciences.




Resources forImproving Reading


Some students have other, more generalproblems with reading. Perhaps they read too slowly, or they have a problemwith retention. If you feel that you are one of these students, or if yousimply want to learn strategies for reading more effectively, contact theAcademic Skills Center for information about their workshops and otherresources.