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Academic writing styles: Analytical academic writing

Academic writing is far from a one-size-fits-all genre. Applicable to the broad variety of academic disciplines and their unique approaches to conducting and documenting research efforts in the field, one might find it challenging to identify clearly what constitutes academic writing.

In our latest series of #AcWriChat TweetChat events on Twitter, we have begun exploring four commonly accepted academic writing styles: descriptive, analytical, persuasive, and critical. This article focuses on the discussion about the second of those four styles – analytical academic writing.

How it increases and shares understanding of a subject

We began the discussion with a question, “What is analytical academic writing?” Eric Schmieder stated, “Analytical writing is writing that focuses on a deeper understanding of how or why something exists or works.” Twitter user Aemidr commented on this statement saying, “I would have thought this is something strictly for the pure science folks” so Schmieder added, “While I think there is a lot of application in the science disciplines, analysis can be done on arts such as poetry, music, etc. as well.”

According to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab, “An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.” In Chapter 1 of their book, Writing Analytically, 5th Ed., Rosenwasser and Stephen note, “If we break things down as we analyze, we do so to search for meaningful patterns…or just to understand more closely how and why the separate parts work as they do.”

In response to the chat question, “How can analytical writing be used to share that understanding in academic papers?”, Schmieder stated, “analytical writing can be used to share greater insight into information presented in a literature review, to explain connections between data, and to suggest areas for further research.”

The UNC Writing Center reminds us that audience matters stating, “Keeping your audience in mind while you write can help you make good decisions about what material to include, how to organize your ideas, and how best to support your argument.”

The answers to questions throughout the manuscript and disciplines

We then asked chat participants, “What types of questions are answered with analytical writing?” Schmieder stated, “I think the biggest questions answered with analytical writing are ‘how’ and ‘why’ – by dissecting and analyzing a topic we have answers to how it is composed. In some cases, the ‘why’ may become clear – in others it may be called into question through analysis”. An online resource from the University of Washington provides a list of general analytical questions for consideration when writing an analytical essay.

Our next question asked where analytical writing might appear in a typical journal article or thesis. A resource from the United Nations University titled, “Analysis, presentation, and implementation of findings” illustrated the use of analytical writing in the introductory sections, results section, interpretation, judgement, and recommendations elements of larger works. Schmieder added to this saying, “I think the analysis is most commonly found in the discussion/conclusions, although it may be used in the introduction to add understanding to the thesis, or in the methodology to add understanding to the process.”

With an idea of how analytical writing can be found in different places within a manuscript, we then asked, “How do disciplines affect the type of analysis used?” An online resource from states, “Academic writing in a college setting can generally be divided into three main categories or genres: writing in the humanities, writing in the sciences, and writing in business. Each genre has its own specific requirements in terms of style, content, and format.”

A resource on writing in the disciplines from The Writing Center at The University of Tennessee Knoxville echoes that claim stating, “While many academic papers may share similar goals, … each discipline has unique expectations and requirements for successful writing.”

Schmieder added to the discussion by referring to previously mentioned chat comments saying, “@aemidr alluded to this earlier with the statement regarding science application. In those disciplines, the analysis may be true dissection of objects for further study. In arts, it may be more theoretical dissection or comparison to understand the components.”

Incorporating theories and alternative perspectives

With an understanding of how analytical writing is used to better understand and share understanding of a subject as well as where that commonly happens in both manuscripts and disciplines, we closed the discussion with questions of how theories and alternative perspectives affect analytical writing processes.

According to the University of Washington Sociology Writing Center, “Theory application assignments are a common type of analytical writing.” Schmieder noted that in his mathematics studies, “theories were essential components to analytical processes that focused on testing those theories.” Applying, testing, and challenging theories requires analysis and results in analytical writing to document those processes. Those results may also be faced with alternative perspectives or challenge the status quo.

Therefore, for our final question of the TweetChat event, we asked, “How can alternative perspectives influence your analytical writing?” A research guide from the University of Southern California Libraries on citing sources shared that “If you disagree with a researcher’s ideas or you believe there is a gap in understanding the research problem, your citations can serve as sources from which to argue an alternative viewpoint.”

Schmieder added, “Alternative perspectives help us to challenge our own thinking and assumptions relying more heavily on true analysis of what is rather than what we believe to be in a situation. They can also be the target audience for our writing if analysis shows them inaccurate.”

The next article in this series will focus on our third academic writing style, persuasive academic writing.