10.3: Being objective

In moving from the technical and tangible aspects of academic writing style to the more intangible aspects, it is now time to look at how to be objective in your essay so that you avoid bias language, use clear and specific language, cut the fluff and stick to the facts. Being objective is so critical to successful academic writing because you are trying to present evidence in a way that influences and convinces the reader. While it is good to have beliefs or opinions, these can often be construed as prejudice and take away from finding and sharing a balanced perspective on an issue or problem.

Chapter 10 Pt 3 contents:

  • Chapter 10: Summary
  • 10.3: Being objective

    10.3.1: How to avoid bias language

    As previously noted, language changes over time and more cultures are sharing their texts and research, which can lead to some different types of problems. For example, certain words that used to be commonly used in society, such as "handicapped" and even "blacks" and "whites" are now thought to be highly offensive but may still show up in older texts or in certain cultures.

    You need to be aware of how language has changed and what is considered acceptable now so that you avoid offending anyone or appearing prejudice. Now, you need to use words and phrases like "person with disability," "black people," and "white people." This change of perspective also includes not using gender-biased language, such as fireman and mankind, but now switching to gender neutral language like firefighter and humanity. And, because language continues to change or people in specific areas of the world have certain preferences and you may not be familiar with them, it doesn't hurt to check with your tutor on the preferred terms to use in your essay.

    The intent is to aim for being objective rather than personal, so there is a need to neutralise all language within an essay except if you are using older texts and quoting them directly. When you avoid using language that appears biased, then the reader can focus on the information, facts, and the evidence rather than being distracted by what they may view as your personal opinion. And, while you may believe that the world has become so politically correct that it feels like every word is now off-limits, just be prepared to accept that fact at least while you are writing your essays.

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    10.3.2: Clarity and specific language

    Although every chapter seems to come back to the idea of being clear and specific, it is because it is one of the most important aspects of essay writing and academic writing style. The other reason we bring it up again is that, when students think about academic writing, the words that come to mind are "complicated" and "dry" (aka, boring). The result is that these students then stuff their essays full of long sentences, fluffy words, and confusing phrases in an attempt to create what they believe is the academic writing style. Massive fail!

    Here are some tips on keeping your sentences clear and specific:

    • Break longer sentences into two shorter ones.
    • Avoid double negatives in your sentences as this only confuses the main message.
    • Don't overload your sentences with extra words. See the next section on how to trim the fat and lose the fluff.
    • Keep to one main idea per sentence.
    • Read each sentence out loud and see if it makes sense to you or if you get lost along the way.

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    10.3.3: Cutting the fat

    One of the best ways to focus on clear and specific language is to lose all the unnecessary words - the stuffing, the fluff, the filler, etc. All of us tend to use way too many words in the process of trying to explain what we mean. While that can be somewhat tolerable when talking, it is a significant issue when it comes to writing. After all, an essay is usually limited in word count and even if it seems like a large number, every word must count.

    In essays, there are many ways that too many words get used ineffectively:

    • You use tautologies, which are two words that essentially mean the same thing and placed right next to each other, such as "revert back," "join together," "regular routine" and "difficult problem." You are repeating what you have already said and this is unnecessary.
    • You use pleonasms, which is the use of excess words like "new innovation" and "please repeat that again."
    • You use redundancies, which is essentially more of something than you need, such as "incredibly unbelievable" and "please also bring as well."
    • You pad our writing with superfluous words that can be taken out without losing the meaning. Usually, these are adjectives or intensifiers that add nothing but colour, which is not part of academic writing. An excellent essay does not just fill an essay with words to meet a certain word count; everything has to have meaning. This includes leaving out phrases like "it is important to say" or "it may be considered that." It does nothing to further the argument and there can be shorter phrases to use as transitional statements. You also don't need fillers like "kind of," "is the kind of," and "sort of."

    To help you sort out how to trim those fatty words, you can use the "who does what" technique so you figure out the subject, what the subject is doing, and what the other subject is in the sentence. By focusing on these three areas, you realise which words are no longer necessary to knowing those three primary components of a sentence.

    Look at how many lines in your essay your sentence takes up. You do not need sentences that go on for more than at least a line and a half. After that, it's time to edit and trim to make each one lean and mean. Of course, you do not want to make your essay anorexic either by taking out so much that it is stiff and choppy.

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    10.3.4: Stating the facts

    Your essay is about stating facts, not questioning them. Therefore, you want to avoid writing questions because you no longer are making points and proving them; instead, you are questioning your own logic, which the reader will then do as well. If you do find that you have written questions into your essay, look at how to turn them all into statements so you can link the facts and evidence to these statements.

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    10.4: Creating your own academic voice

    Once you begin to get this framework of academic writing style down, you can work toward finding your own academic voice. It is not the same voice you use with your friends, co-workers, or family. It is not how you write an email, a status update, or a text message. Your academic voice is different and reflects logic, objectivity, and knowledge. Of course, it does not come overnight and does require a lot of effort, but if you are patient and practice, it will come.

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    Chapter 10: In summary

    All writing is a process, which means that it keeps going and keeps changing over time. It's not a static skill but one developed and crafted over time. Academic writing is definitely one of the more challenging writing processes to take on but you have the time over the course of your academic career to practice a lot! Your instructors realise that so the academic writing and degree of difficulty to the essays is increased in stepwise fashion from your entry level year up through postgraduate degrees.

    As part of the process, here are some other things that can help develop your voice and academic writing ability:

    • Work on increasing your vocabulary by reading more, looking words up, and playing word games.
    • Spend time outside regular coursework getting to know your area of study a bit more, including talking to those in research or in real-world jobs.

    Lastly, it is best to work with feedback as you strive to improve your academic writing process as this can help guide improvements to what you are trying to do with your essay assignments. Here's what you can do:

    • Meet with your tutor and get their input.
    • Share your essay with other students and get their opinion.
    • Take a writing course or seminar.
    • Practice by writing more often besides just for an assignment.

    In Summary

    Answer these questions:

    • What defines the academic style?
    • Who is your audience?
    • What do you have to balance in your tone and attitude and how can you do that?
    • Can you use first person or must it always be third person?
    • Which is better: active or passive voice?
    • Should you use contractions?
    • What are overstatements and clich├ęs?
    • Is it okay to use slang words?
    • How can you diversify your language?
    • What are some grammar no-no's?
    • How do you trim the fat in your writing?
    • How can you stay objective?

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