Types of Writing Assignments

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Academic writing is a type of writing that is often expected in college classes as well as in professional settings. Whether your goal is to obtain good grades in your classes, apply to graduate school, or build a successful career, understanding the nature of academic writing will help you succeed.

Although disciplines may vary in terms of particular writing requirements, the underlying purpose of academic writing assignments is usually for the writer to develop an argument, sometimes referred to as a thesis or main point, which will persuade informed, rational readers that its ideas are logically presented and worth considering. These ideas are supported by well-researched evidence based on credible sources, not simply on the author’s biases or preconceptions. These sources are cited within the text and listed at the end according to the citation guidelines required by a specific field or discipline. In terms of style, academic writing is characterized by logic, clarity, and precision, using formal language and avoiding an overly emotional tone or slang.

There are many different genres, both in school and professional settings, in which academic writing is expected. In undergraduate writing classes, the most common genre is the essay, which is a fairly short text (5–6 pages) that develops an argument, usually based on a question or writing prompt provided by an instructor. Another is the research paper, which is often based on a topic or question chosen by the student and involves more in-depth exploration of the topic and additional research. Also frequently assigned is the literary analysis, which is a genre that requires the writer to analyze a character, setting, or literary devices in a work of fiction, a poem, or a play. The literary analysis usually requires you to develop a thesis or main point about a literary work and argue in its support, using evidence from the text.

These genres—the essay, the research paper, and the literary analysis—usually require a main point or thesis. Other writing genres may require academic writing but may not require an explicitly stated main point. A literature review, for example, synthesizes existing research on a topic and is written to justify a piece of research, but may not include an easily identifiable thesis statement. A lab report recounts the aims, methods, results, and conclusions of a laboratory experiment and requires a specific form. An annotated bibliography is a list of sources that includes a brief description and sometimes an evaluation of each source, and a literacy narrative or literacy autoethnography discusses the struggle a writer may have had in learning English or adjusting to a new academic environment.

Before beginning to complete an academic writing assignment, it is important to understand the genre that is expected and the disciplinary requirements that characterize that genre. It is also important for you to understand that different fields and disciplines expect different genres of writing, which can vary in terms of purpose, form, length, style, and intended audience. Moreover, even those disciplines that specify the writing of an argument may define “argument” in different ways and utilize particular approaches, stylistic devices, and patterns. Thus, before beginning to complete an academic writing assignment, it is necessary to consider the disciplinary requirements for which the assignment is intended.

A picture shows a student writing on a blank notebook.

Source: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Suggested Reading
Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., Williams, J. M., Bizzup, J., & Fitzgerald, W. T.(2016). The craft of research (
4th ed.
). University of Chicago Press.
Clark, I. L.(2007). Writing the successful thesis and dissertation: Entering the conversation.Prentice Hall.
Clark, I. L.(2016). College arguments: Understanding the genres (
2nd ed.
). Kendall Hunt.
Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C.(2021). They say, I say: The moves that matter in academic writing (
5th ed.
). W.W. Norton.
Lunsford, A. A.(2021). Let’s talk: A pocket rhetoric.W.W. Norton.