Academics write a lot, but not all of their writing is the same. In fact, on a given day academics can write in two or three different styles. You might work on a peer-review of an article, then shift to your own article manuscript. Then, you might edit a grant proposal with an impending deadline. For each of these projects, you’re doing different but similar work. How can you compare these different types of work productively, so that you can understand the expectations and write efficiently?
In this post, you’ll learn about genres of academic writing. What is genre? Most simply, it’s a category of writing. Some academics hesitate to use the word genre when describing their writing, because they think it’s a term intended for creative pursuits. Well, academic writing is creative. Authors create new and original ideas. One doesn’t need a paintbrush or prose written in verse to be considered creative.
This is the first post in a series devoted to understanding genres of academic writing. The purpose of this series is twofold. First, it’s to help you understand the expectations given to different types of writing. Second, it’s to help you write across genres, and provide you with the clarity you need to write with more confidence.
Is academic writing a genre?
When you hear “genres of academic writing,” do you think that there’s more than just one? Academic writing is a genre akin to fiction, in which there are many sub-genres, so to speak. Just as fantasy and romance exist under the broad category of fiction, so too do the genres we’ll discuss fit under the broader category of academic writing.
Even though there are different genres of academic writing, all academic writing shares some characteristics. First, it’s peer-reviewed or subject to scholarly critique. Academic writing also utilizes expert language (or what some would call jargon). It relies on originality of data collection and analysis. Finally, scholarly writing is a conversation — it’s required to acknowledge scholarly traditions and current trends to be taken seriously. One can’t (and shouldn’t) write in isolation. There are meticulous citations and a politics of citation — often hotly contested — that other genres just don’t have.
Why is genre so important?
Usually, scholars are working across multiple genres of academic writing. You’re writing a book review while you’re finishing an article. Or you’re applying for a grant with its requisite proposal but also working on a chapter in an edited volume. It’s important to know the characteristics and the stakes of these respective projects so you can move more seamlessly between them.
Indeed, each genre is different. There are a variety of goals, formats, expectations, and concerns. They will surely possess different values in your tenure and promotion portfolio. When you understand these differences you can eliminate a lot of inefficiencies in your writing process.
The differences between genres of academic writing are often taken for granted. It’s expected that scholars “just know them.” The purpose of this series is to make the distinctions explicit. We will discuss the most typical genres of academic writing (in our experience as humanists and social scientists). We’ll tell you what’s distinctive about each genre, and what the genres have in common. You’ll also learn what you must do to write successfully in each genre. Next, we’ll discuss some overlooked genres and how they fit into broader intellectual conversations.
If you have any questions about genre, please post them in the comments! We’d love to be able to incorporate them in a future post or share a quick answer in the newsletter (Are you reading it? Click here to subscribe) or on social media (follow on Instagram @janejoannphd).
P.S: We’re not using the royal we in this post! It’s co-written by Jane and Kali Handelman, who is our resident developmental editor in the Elevate program. Participants love her “bomb feedback” and meticulous attention to footnotes, along with her other amazing editorial skills.
I would love to hear more about similarities and differences between a journal article and a chapter in an edited volume.