8 most common academic writing myths

A lot of students get intimidated as soon as they hear that they need to write an academic paper. All they think about are the rules. It is writing twisted and made more complicated by rules that just cannot be broken. The faulty education system has painted academic writing as a monster to be feared. These myths about academic writing hinder students from appreciating and mastering the art of academic writing.

1. There is no room for creativity in academic writing

Sure, you can’t fabricate details or data for a research paper. Neither can you write in narrative form or poetry. But academic writing is actually not completely devoid of creativity. Creativity is very much needed in finding or formulating a research question, how to best present data, and how you present your project. Essentially, analysis is a creative way of seeing and understanding a problem or topic.

Albert Einstein on creativity.

2. Academic writing is a linear process

Writers and professors often talk about the writing process. Some even have diagrams of the steps needed to complete a research paper. But students still get stumped at step 1. Why? Because writing—even academic writing—is not linear. The actual writing process involves jumping between the steps and the sections of your paper. This is not symptomatic of disorder. If you ever found yourself modifying your thesis statement midway through writing your main body, you are not alone. Writing simply is not linear.

3. You should know exactly what you want to say before writing

Naturally, you need to conduct some research before starting to write. You should also have done some analysis or reflection so you have an idea of what you want to say. Your ideas, however, don’t need to be final. A large part of writing involves discovery and exploration. Thus, you are free to explore the initial idea you have and change it as you please. You don’t need to brood on an idea until it becomes perfect. You can hone it while writing.

4. You need a black and white answer or explanation

We could not emphasize enough that the goal of academic writing is for students to explore ideas. The academe is not an authoritarian figure that always wants strict answers. Research, in particular, is conducted by students to find out the answer to a question. Students conduct experiments or research. More often than not, answers to questions don’t come in a box. Findings are messy and complicated, and the most any student can do is to try to find a way to make sense of it. Just because your research did not turn up with an easy yes or no answer does not mean that you failed. Take a deep breath and write your research paper as it is.

5. Only terrible writers get feedback

Everybody, and we mean everybody, needs feedback. Even professionals need feedback before they publish, and it’s no different for students. Professors try to find ways for your writing to improve so you can achieve your full potential. Don’t feel bad if your professor asks you to improve a lot of things. That is an opportunity for you to grow as a researcher.

6. Thesis statements can only be one sentence long

We have always been told that thesis statements should be specific and concise. However, conciseness seems to have been translated to one-sentence thesis statements. This is a dangerous myth. Some students have tried to too much information and ideas in one sentence, rendering that thesis statement incomprehensible. Simpler theses, of course, need only one sentence. But longer, more complex theses will need more than one. However, this doesn’t mean that your thesis statement can take up an entire paragraph!

7. Long, complex sentences means you’re smart

This is not always true, fortunately. Writing long sentences exclusively will only do two things to your essay: (1) it will be monotonous and (2) it will be hard to understand. Firstly, writers are advised to mix short and long sentences as much as possible to add some rhythm. This is the same reason why we use different sentence patterns. We want our readers to enjoy (or at least not fall asleep) while reading. Secondly, complex sentences will be hard to understand. This is counterproductive to the goal of writing anything which is to help others understand something. Focus on improving the depth and scope of your content and in writing clearly instead.

8. Never use the passive voice

This is an advice that can be found in almost every writing tip article. Even professors tell students not to use the passive voice in an attempt to sound more formal. And while that’s true, we shouldn’t take it to the superlative. The passive voice is discouraged because it is so often used to beat around the bush and add unnecessary words to the word count. The passive voice is not a grammatical error that needs to be eradicated. It is a style of writing that is useful in certain situations. For instance, the passive voice is useful when you want to put emphasis on the action rather than on the doer; or if the doer is actually irrelevant to your statement.

See? Academic writing is somewhat like Frankenstein’s misunderstood monster. It has been convoluted that students think it’s an impossible feat that only the truly gifted can accomplish. Perhaps that’s another myth we should have listed. Academic writing is a skill that anyone can master. Just keep writing and be open to feedback.