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Academic writing is conducted in several sets of forms and genres, normally in an impersonal and dispassionate tone, targeted for a critical and informed audience, based on closely investigated knowledge, and intended to reinforce or challenge concepts or arguments. It usually circulates within the academic world ('the academy'), but the academic writer may also find an audience outside via journalism, speeches, pamphlets, etc. Typically, scholarly writing has an objective stance, clearly states the significance of the topic, and is organized with adequate detail so that other scholars may try to replicate the results. Strong papers are not overly general and correctly utilize formal academic rhetoric.
This article provides a short summary of the full spectrum of critical and academic writing and lists the genres of academic writing. It does cover the variety of critical approaches that can be applied when one writes about a subject. However, as Harwood and Hadley (2004) and Hyland (2004) have pointed out, the amount of variation that exists between different disciplines may mean that we cannot refer to a single academic literacy. While academic writing consists of a number of text types and genres, what they have in common, the conventions that academic writers traditionally follow, has been a subject of debate. Many writers have called for conventions to be challenged, for example Pennycook (1997) and Ivanic (1998), while others suggest that some conventions should be maintained, for example Clark (1997, p136).
A discourse community is essentially a group of people that shares mutual interests and beliefs. "It establishes limits and regularities...who may speak, what may be spoken, and how it is to be said; in addition [rules] prescribe what is true and false, what is reasonable and what foolish, and what is meant and what not." (Porter, 39). People are generally involved in a variety of discourse communities within their private, social, and professional lives. Some discourse communities are very formal with well established boundaries, while others may have a more loose construction with greater freedom. Additionally, discourse communities have approved channels of communication in which members write or speak through. These channels can be a web page, a journal, a blog, or any other medium people use to communicate through. Examples of discourse communities may include but certainly not limited to:
The concept of a discourse community is vital to academic writers across nearly all disciplines, for the academic writer's purpose is to influence a discourse community to think differently. At the same time the discourse community does not expect to see any writing that appears too foreign. For this reason the academic writer must follow the constraints (see article section below) set by the discourse community so his or her ideas earn approval and respect.
Constraints are the discourse community's written and unwritten conventions about what a writer can say and how he or she can say it. They define what is an acceptable argument. Each discourse community expects to see a writer construct his or her argument using their conventional style of language and vocabulary, and they expect a writer to use the established intertext within the discourse community as the building blocks for his or her argument.
In order for a writer to become familiar with some of the constraints of the discourse community they are writing for, a useful tool for the academic writer is to analyze prior work from the discourse community. The writer should look at the textual 'moves' in these papers, focusing on how they are constructed. Across most discourses communities, writers will:
Each of the 'moves' listed above are constructed differently depending on the discourse community the writer is in. For example, the way a claim is made in a high school paper would look very different from the way a claim is made in a college composition class.  It is important for the academic writer to familiarize himself or herself with the conventions of the discourse community by reading and analyzing other works, so that the writer is best able to communicate his or her ideas. (Porter) Contrary to some beliefs, this is by no means plagiarism.
Writers should also be aware of other ways in which the discourse community shapes their writing. Other functions of the discourse community include determining what makes a novel argument and what a 'fact' is. The following sections elaborate on these functions.
It is important for any writer to distinguish between what is accepted as 'fact' and what is accepted as 'opinion'. Wikipedia's article Fact misguides writers in their interpretation of what a fact actually is. The article states that "A fact (derived from the Latin factum, see below) is something that has really occurred or is actually the case". But this is not how writers think of facts. Writing professionals hold that, "In a rhetorical argument, a fact is a claim that an audience will accept as being true without requiring proof".:76 Facts can be thought of merely as claims. The audience can be thought of as a discourse community, and a fact can suddenly change to become an opinion if stated in a different discourse community. This is how writers within discourse communities manage to present new ideas to their communities. Any new opinion would need to be proven by making a rhetorical argument, in which the writer would weave together what his or her intended audience will accept as 'facts' in a way that supports his or her idea. Therefore, knowing the intended discourse community is a very important part of writing.
Across discourse communities, what is considered factual may fluctuate across each community. As Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs wrote in their book Writing about Writing,:67 in reference to Margaret Kantz's article "Helping students use textual sources persuasively":
A key concept in this change is learning to recognize that facts aren't so much inherently true statements as they are claims-that is, assertions that most of a given audience has agreed are true because for that audience sufficient proof has already been given. You, like most people, would probably classify the statement "the Earth is round" as a "fact." Its status as a fact, however, depends on our mutual agreement that "round" is an adequate description of the Earth's actual, imperfectly spherical shape. What Kantz wants us to see is that what makes the statement a fact is not how "true" the statement is but that most people have agreed that it's true and treat it as true. Statements about which we haven't reached this consensus remain claims, statements that people argue about. Kantz's work here demonstrates why it's so important to read texts-even "factual" works like textbooks and encyclopedias-as consisting of claims, not facts.
Within discourse communities, writers build on top of the ideas established by previous writers. One of the most common misconceptions about writing is the idea of the 'lonely writer'; that great writers' papers are filled almost entirely with original ideas and messages. But this is simply not the case. Discourse communities introduce new ideas and claims, and from these, writers expand on them. James Porter, a scholar of Rhetoric at Indiana University, uses The Declaration of Independence as an example to illustrate this point. Porter points out that Jefferson merely pulled the phrase "That all men are created equal" straight from his commonplace book he made as a boy. Porter also points out that, "'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness'" was a cliche of the times, appearing in numerous political documents." In fact, according to Porter, almost nothing in the Declaration of Independence was written originally by Jefferson. Jefferson wrote this great work by weaving together the intertext of his discourse community. As Greene describes in his article, "Argument as Conversation", academic writing can be thought of metaphorically as a conversation between those in the discourse community. "The metaphor of conversation emphasizes the social nature of writing" (Greene). Just like in a conversation when you listen to the ideas of the others who are involved and formulate your own opinion on the topic, a writer may be reading a paper done by another writer in the discourse community and from this paper, the scholar may obtain inspiration to expand the claims expressed in the paper or address them from other angles. "Like the verbal conversations you have with others,' effective arguments never take place in a vacuum; they take into account previous conversations that have taken place about the subject under discussion" (Greene). Good academic writers know the importance of researching previous work from within the discourse community and using this work to build their own claims. By taking these ideas and expanding upon them or applying them in a new way, a writer is able to make their novel argument.
Intertextuality is the combining of past writings into original, new pieces of text. The term intertextuality was coined in 1966 by Julia Kristeva. All texts are necessarily related to prior texts through a network of links, writers (often unwittingly) make use of what has previously been written and thus some degree of borrowing is inevitable. This generally occurs within a specific discourse community.
Factoring in intertextuality, the goal of academic writing is not simply creating new ideas, but to offer a new perspective and link between already established ideas. This is why gathering background information and having past knowledge is so important in academic writing. A common metaphor used to describe academic writing is "entering the conversation", a conversation that began long before you got there and will continue long after you leave. A quote from Kenneth Burke encapsulates this metaphor:
"Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress."
Intertextuality plays into this because without it there would be no conversations, just hundreds of thousands of writings not connected or able to build on each other. The listening until you can join the conversation can be seen as doing research. All of the research you read, is built on research instead of self-knowledge. This can be connected to the part of the metaphor where no one in the parlor is qualified to bring you up to speed, just as the papers your researched were researched also.
Porter inspirationally explores the essence of intertextuality in one of his articles (Intertextuality and the Discourse Community):
"When we teach writing only as the act of "bringing out what is within," we risk undermining our own efforts. Intertextuality reminds us that "carrying out ritual activities" is also part of the writing process. Barthes reminds us that "the 'I' which approaches the text is already itself a plurality of other texts, of codes which are infinite".
This idea of 'I' being plurality of other texts is one of the reasons, why teachers in Spain often use the expression/metaphor: "Yo no existo cuando escribo un texto académico y tú no existes tampoco" which translates to: "I do not exist when I write academic text and you do not exist too". The power of this statement is the idea that one can turn intertextuality into ones own favor only once one "does not exist" when writing academic text and only once one realizes that there is no universal reader to which the text can be attributed to. The text lives its own life with its own purpose and the author is not the actual creator of the text. The author is simply translating meaning (assignment) into non-existent code, forming non-existent "I" which is intended for non-existent reader (it is rather series of different readers, often with various opinions on the text). So what is academic writing about? In essence, it's about nothing. It is an imperfect conventional form of code created by few people whom we do not know and it is surrounded by non-existent concepts. It is inherited from imperfect teachers and is bound to reveal only very small portion of all the possible infinite codes. However, this small portion can be unique. As long as it is, it provides us with new combination of codes and an opportunity to find our own existence in the nothingness which surrounds us, either through the eyes of the machine or through the eyes of our own. What is important, is our ability to recognize which former codes and which texts of the past can help us find our existence and which codes are irrelevant. As long as we are consciously aware of what we are translating from, we are not forced to shift the meaning involuntarily. Therefore, we create an opportunity for people to base their opinion on the actual meaning of the text and enable them to continue creating the non-existent, with a sense of understanding.
There are two distinct types of intertextuality as defined by Porter:
Iterability is the capability of a text to be reiterated and repeated in various contexts. Iterability is explicitly seen in texts, as opposed to presupposition, which refers to assumptions a text makes. One such example of this concept from Porter is the Declaration of Independence. Many texts and ideas of different centuries were integrated into the one document. Jefferson took the idea of John Locke's social contract theory, the Declaration of Rights for Virginia by George Mason, and the form of the English Bill of Rights in 1689 into the Declaration of Independence. Some claimed that this was blatant plagiarism but others say it was iterability. He used the form of a list of grievances as used in the English Bill of Rights and this example proves that not only direct quotes can be reiterated but also the form of a text. When Thomas Jefferson proposed the Declaration to congress, they made 86 changes to his actual original ideas because they were so farfetched from the current discourse community. This is an example of the constraint a discourse community can place on a text.
Presupposition is the process by which implications are made without being specifically stated or explained within text. These assumptions are usually extremely basic thoughts made by a vast majority of the audience; such thoughts may be considered "common sense" or otherwise obvious to anyone who reads the text. Example: "Rodrigo rode his bike to his friend's house."
Example: "It was a dark and stormy night."
The most common disposition standard in the academic world is the IMRAD method, stating that an academic document should consist of sections in the following order:
Other common sections in academic documents are:
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