What to Expect When You're Expressing: U.S. Academic Writing Norms -->

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What to Expect When You're Expressing: U.S. Academic Writing Norms

You’ve likely noticed that here at Walden, you have needed to adjust your writing style to meet your assignment requirements and your instructors’ expectations. Many of the norms of scholarly writing, while not always simple, are at least likely familiar to you: Students must cite sources in APA style, follow specific formatting requirements (as modeled in our templates), and maintain scholarly voice. Most of the questions we receive in the Writing Center relate to such issues.

U.S. writing expectations
American schools generally teach Standard American English, a form of English with specific requirements and expectations.
Some expectations of scholarly writing, however, are a bit more subtle and less often discussed. Here are a few specific expectations to keep in mind in your writing assignments:

1. Include an introduction and conclusion

For course papers, these are typically one paragraph each. Think of these as bookends for your paper: They hold the body of your draft together. For some great information on writing an introduction and conclusion, see our webinar titled “Beginnings and Endings: Introduce and Conclude Your Writing.”

2. State the main point of your paper in your introduction

Readers expect you to tell them right off the bat why you are writing the paper: What are you arguing? Why is your paper topic important? Some writers—particularly those who are less familiar with the U.S. writing tradition—are accustomed to building up to their main point throughout a paper and then ending the paper with their argument. At Walden, however, you are expected to state your main idea right away. This is why thesis statements—sentences that encompass your central argument—belong in your introductory paragraph (typically as the last sentence of the paragraph).

3. Use a linear organization

U.S. scholarly writing favors a linear progression of ideas, which means that each paragraph must clearly follow from the previous paragraph and must also relate to the paper’s central argument (expressed in the thesis statement). Writing an outline is often a helpful way to clarify your organization. For example, say that I’m arguing for the addition of professional development opportunities at a local school. My outline might look like this:

I. Introduction
II. Background
     a. Current professional development offerings
     b. Why current offerings are insufficient
IIIIntroduction of recommended professional development opportunities
IV. Benefits to these opportunities
V. Potential challenges to implementing professional development
VI. Suggestions for overcoming these challenges
VII. Conclusion

An outline like this helps ensure that each new paragraph follows logically and linearly from the previous paragraph.

4. Demonstrate critical thinking

Readers of American scholarly writing expect writers not only to research a topic, but also to make arguments based on that research. They expect writers to summarize but also to analyze, which often means that you will need to argue against another scholar’s ideas. This practice can be intimidating, but just remember that such arguments are essential to the creation of new knowledge. Our webinar titled “Demonstrating Critical Thinking in WritingAssignments” can help you develop this skill.

5. Analyze your evidence for your reader

In other words, you’ll want to help your reader interpret the evidence you use and cite. Say that you are using this statistic: “The graduating class of 2012 had a 23% dropout rate, an increase of 5% from the class of 2007 (citation).” Instead of just including that statistic and moving on, take some time to explain to your reader what that information means: “This trend reveals a need for immediate action on the part of administrators, teachers, and parents to encourage high school completion.” It may seem like stating the obvious, but this kind of analysis helps to ensure that you and your reader are on the same page.

What other scholarly writing expectations have you encountered at Walden, or at your school? Are there others we left out? Let us know in the comments!

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Other posts you might like:

WriteCast Episode 002: Thesis Statements

Argue is Not a Dirty Word: Taking a Stand in your Thesis Statement

You're the Navigator! On Introductory Paragraphs and Topic Sentences

Calling All International and Multilingual Students!

Kayla Skarbakka is a writing instructor and coordinator of international writing instruction and support. She lives in Dallas, Texas, where she enjoys hiking, knitting, and making candy.