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Writing Critically for Academic Purpose – for Sophomores – Dr. S Shyam Prasad

March 03,2022.


First thing first. The title. What is academic writing, what is critically writing and who are Sophomores? First, let me explain the term sophomores. Sophomores are those in their second year of university study and more importantly, sophomoric means “conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature” as per Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. It nearly describes the senior students who have gained some knowledge and yet have not mastered the art. Hence, I thought the word is appropriate and I choose to address them. This writing can be used in Business Communication (writing) course or during the briefing of the dissertation class on how to write a report.

Academic writing

Academic writing is a formal way of writing and has certain conventions to be followed. In terms of content, structure and style it has its norms. Examples of academic writings are journal articles and textbooks. Students in the university are expected to be well versed in academic writing as they are required to write their essays, research reports, assignments and dissertation in the academic style.

The writing will vary depending on the requirements of different fields. For example, if one is writing a scientific document, the focus is to precisely report the experimental methods adopted and their results. However, in humanities, the crucial aspect is to develop and write convincing arguments albeit with evidence. In social science, it is a combination of both i.e. the research method needs to be clearly and accurately reported and the writing has to be convincing using cited sources.  Academic writing follows certain principles to inform the reader effectively in an efficient manner. 

Academic writings are

  1. Formal and unbiased
  2. Clear and precise
  3. Focused and well structured
  4. Well cited
  5. Correct and consistent

Many think that academic writing has to be highly sophisticated, complicated and long-winded. But, this is not correct. Good writing should use words appropriate for the audience the writing is addressed to and should be as concise and direct as possible. If one can do without using a certain term, it is better not to.  Also, use one-word equivalents to long phrases. Few examples are given below:

Avoid theseOne can use the following instead
as well asand
regardless of the fact thatalthough
on the grounds thatbecause
give consideration toconsider
put the emphasis onemphasize

Source: (TAMUG Writing Lab, 2021)

Also one should avoid using apostrophes and contractions such as “it’s” and “couldn’t”. Instead, in formal writing one should use “it is” and “could not”.

Further, unlike literary work or a marketing text, one should avoid emotive or subjective language. One can be persuasive in academic writing too but the styles differ. Appealing directly or using hyperbole is inappropriate. For example, read the following sentences:

  1. This horrible tragedy was obviously one of the worst catastrophes in construction history.
  2. The injury and mortality rates of this accident were among the highest in construction history.

The first one is journalistic style whereas the second one is academic writing of the same incidence.

Critical writing[1]

Having understood academic writing, let us look at critically writing. This is a step higher than plain academic writing. Writing critically is more formal and requires greater effort and training. It needs a specific set of skills and good command of English. But both these things can be learnt. Writing critically means that one has a good understanding of the following three things:

  1. The importance of an argument or perspective
  2. The relevance of evidence and
  3. The strength of the conclusions made.

One of the skills and abilities required in critical writing is that it should avoid raising the doubt of bias or unable to provide complete evidence or vague. Once one masters critical writing skills, one could produce well-reasoned arguments for reports, assignments and examination questions. One of the keys to learning to write critically is to understand the purpose of others writing. One example for trial is given below; read the paragraph and match the following table. Correct answers are given at the end of this write-up.

One of the themes in contemporary social science is that dominant ideas—whether scientific or not—serve a social function that is never neutral in its effects. Placing humans high up in the creator’s chain enabled them to be defined as having a special status and thereby to justify their domination over other creatures. This is an example of a political perspective: it understands the history of human nature in the light of theories about power relations. We shall take up this theme in the following section where we see that only some people—European men of the “rational” kind—were thought to qualify as having reached the heights of humankind.   

Quiz 1

What is the topic?   Explaining an idea
Who wrote this text?   Course material
What type of text is it?   Students
What is it doing?   Academic/Lecturer
Who was it written for?   Political perspective on social attitudes

The basis for good writing can be succinctly put as “Structure,” “Tone,” “Audience,” and “Relevance”. This is abbreviated as “STAR”.  The target audience determines the style of writing and hence they play an important role. Specialist audiences require a formal style and structure; specialized and technical language can be used. In contrast, writing for the general public should be informal and less use technical terms. 

Below is the table that describes the differences between critical writing and descriptive writing

Most of the students often do not understand the difference between reports and essays. Essays, though academic work, it does not follow any strict structure whereas reports have a specific structure, organisation and very formal language. One would be required to describe, explain and analyze while writing a report.


One basic requirement for good writing and proficiency in the language. The second most important is understanding what others have written. This is important to avoid plagiarism. It is quite often we take the information or idea from others and acknowledge them in our writing. However, one cannot use the same language as the original writer. For this to happen, one should understand and reproduce it in one’s language. The third requirement is undoubtedly reading plenty. There would be also other requirements such as ethics, time management etc. But they are out of the scope of this write-up.

Answers to quiz 1

What is the topic?   Political perspective on social attitudes
Who wrote this text?   Academic/Lecturer
What type of text is it?   Course material
What is it doing?   Explaining an idea
Who was it written for?   Students
  1. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary

Retrieved from

  • Sage Campus – Sage Publishing
  • TAMUG Writing Lab. (2021). Condense Long-winded Expressions.

Retrieved from Texas A&M University at Galveston :

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