Today I started my Spring teaching semester. I teach academic writing at Cal State Fullerton and Fullerton College. I like to begin the first day by having students do some writing. Today, I asked them to write in response to the following two questions: What is academic writing and why is it important? As usual, I did the same activity. Here's what I came up with:
One time I got to interview Mark Mothersbaugh, the frontman of the band DEVO, and he was talking about music online. He said, "You have to swim though a lot of shit to find the diamonds." The same goes for academic writing. To find the diamond of truth, you have to swim through a lot of bullshit, lies, advertisements, corporate-backed PR campaigns, and opinions. The skills we learn in an academic writing class are essential for people to be able to find, understand, and communicate the complex truth of reality.
A major distinction of academic writing is that it is based on research, on evidence and credible sources. Academic writing is interested in the truth of things, whether in the realm of science, social problems, politics, history, etc. Academic writing strives to be fair-minded, unbiased, objective, and rigorous, involving serious critical thinking.
These elements distinguish it from much of the writing and media we encounter on a day-to-day basis--on blogs, web sites, ads, facebook, television, political campaigns, etc. So much writing is meant to influence us to buy something or to think in a certain way.
What makes academic writing important in society is that it seeks truth, unburdened by economic or political agendas. While it is impossible for any writer, even an academic one, to be completely free from bias, academic writing has established standards and demands credible evidence for its claims. This distinguishes it from much of the stuff we encounter in our day-to-day lives.
We live in an increasingly information-saturated society, and the ability to distinguish well-researched, credible information from unsupported opinion or propaganda is very important and useful for a free-thinking citizen.
For these reasons, academic writing is both empowering and liberating.