APPENDICES: Academic Writing Basics
Writing in an academic context often entails writing about or responding to the words and ideas of other authors. Academic writing is often a “dialogue” or conversation between scholars. Scholarly research generally builds on or reacts to the work of previous scholars. As student writers, you often use the works of published scholars to support your arguments or provide a framework for your analysis. When you do this, you must cite and document your source; you may also need to identify the author and title that you are referring to. There are some basic conventions (rules) to adhere to when you do this.
Referring to Authors
The first time that you mention the author, use the full name (but no titles, such as Mr. Ms, or Dr.). If there are more than three authors, use the Latin abbreviated term et al. to refer to additional authors:
- William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in 1601.
- Sean Petty and Justin Trudeau argue that …
- Ross Phillips et al. recommend that….
Every time you refer to the author after the first time, use the last name only. Never refer to the author by the first name (William or Will) only. Always use the last name:
- Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most studied plays.
- Petty and Trudeau go on to describe the effects of …
- Phillips et al. suggest that….
Referring to Titles
When referring to titles, there are two distinct methods to indicate two types of works:
- The titles of shorter works that are published within a larger work (an article in a newspaper, an academic article in a periodical, a poem in an anthology, a chapter in a book) are enclosed in quotation marks:
- “The Case Against Bottled Water” is an editorial written by Justin Trudeau and Sean Petty, published in The Star, a Toronto newspaper.
- “People For Sale” is an magazine article in The Utne Reader written by E. Benjamin Skinner.
- “Bottled Water: The Pure Commodity in the Age of Branding” is an academic journal article by Richard Wilk, published in the Journal of Consumer Culture.
- When referring to titles of larger works, or works that have smaller articles published within them (newspapers, magazines, periodicals, movies, novels, etc.), use italics*:
- Trudeau and Petty’s article was published in The Star, a Toronto newspaper.
- Skinner published his article in The Utne Reader, an alternative magazine.
- Phillips et al published their academic article, “Risk compensation and bicycle helmets,” in the academic journal, Risk Analysis.
* Note: before computers, people underlined these kinds of titles, as this was the only option available on a typewriter; however, underlining is “so 20th century” and is no longer done unless you are writing by hand.
Using these conventions help the reader to know what kind of text you are writing about without you having to specify it. Like most specialized terminology or conventions, it offers a kind of short hand to avoid wordiness. If you do this incorrectly, you mislead and confuse the reader.
For example, if you are writing about William Blake’s poem, “The Lamb,” you must use quotation marks around the title. If you don’t use them, and simply write — the lamb — then you are referring to the animal, not the poem. If you italicize The Lamb, you are telling the reader that this is the title of a book (which is incorrect).
Questions for Review
- What is the difference between these two sentences discussing William Blake’s poem, “The Tyger”?
The Tyger is terrifying.
“The Tyger” is terrifying.
- Why is the following incorrect? What mistaken ideas does it give to the reader?
In The Case Against Bottled Water, Sean and Justin explain why bottled water is not as safe as tap water.
- S. Petty and J. Trudeau, "The case against bottled water," The Star, Aug. 11, 2008 [Online]. Available: https://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2008/08/11/the_case_against_bottled_water.html ↵
- B. Skinner, "People for sale," Utne Reader, July/Aug 2008 [Online]. Available: https://www.utne.com/politics/people-for-sale ↵
- R. Wilk, "Bottled water: The pure commodity in the age of branding," Journal of Consumer Culture, Nov. 2006, https://doi.org/10.1177/1469540506068681 ↵
- R.W. Phillips, A. Fyhyri, and F. Sagberg, "Risk compensation and bicycle helmets," Risk Analysis, vol. 31, no. 8, Aug. 2011, pp. 1187-1195 [Online]. Available: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01589.x ↵