Academic Writing: Experience and Intuition

Anyone who writes a text about a scientific topic not only provides initiates with factual information, but also reveals much about their personal relationship to the topic.

A scientific text can be written in many ways, but also read and interpreted. Especially professors, who often deal with such texts, should have the necessary experience to assess the level of knowledge of the author and to read a personal note.

Because between the lines often hide as much information as in them: Just the way in which quotes are used and incorporated into the conceptual context of the work, reveals much about the author:

  • Does this master his topic confidently or does he cautiously move from one quote to the next without taking a clear stand and without demonstrating his ability to abstract and judge?
  • How extensive and how appropriate is the literature used? At first glance, flawless text can, on closer inspection, completely ignore the topic – for example, because the most important sources on the topic were simply ignored.
  • How are scientific discussions and contradictions presented? Is it merely a description or is there an effort to understand the different points of view and to find a justification for the differences?
  • How to deal with topics that are not directly related to your own discipline – but to the question of the work?
  • Is the use of quotes an end in itself or is it part of the author’s argument?

The list goes on. Especially students in the first semester often fall into such traps. This can be avoided by spending enough time in the preparatory work: the topic should not be discovered and understood during the writing process, but long before that. Only when the key points, the definitions and the positions of the most important authors have been recorded, the work will have the necessary richness of detail and convince even expert readers.

Scientific approaches, one might think, are irrefutable. At the same time, a major change has taken place in recent years.

Those who wrote their dissertation before the advent of computers were accustomed to spend days in the library or behind Bergen borrowed books and to write his texts either on the typewriter or even handwritten. Frequently well-versed high-speed writers earned something to type out the notes of their classmates and thus bring in a presentable form. If a piece of text had to be inserted, a paragraph or a page assignment slipped, then the problem could only be remedied by clever use of tippex, scissors and copier.

However, the advent of computer technology has not only solved these technical problems (and created many new ones for that!), But has also led to cultural change and rethinking in many areas:

  • The pressure to describe all specialist concepts or special expressions in detail in the text has diminished, as much information is quickly available on the Internet.
  • The literature collection of most works is likely to play today on the hard drive or SSD rather than in the library. This is especially true for departments that need to respond quickly to change.
  • Plagiarism can be made more easily in view of the variety of information, but also easier to track down.
  • The literature situation has in many cases become more confusing: while the renowned scientific publishers strive to establish their own “standard works”, new players are pushing for the market, with analogous open-source software also establishing an open-data science.
  • The era of the “uomo universale” seems to be over, especially in times of extreme scientific differentiation and accelerated knowledge growth, the overview of developments is lost.
  • The pressure of competition within the sciences is increasing and is forcing even wordless contemporaries to more and more new publications.

The changes mentioned here mean that today different standards have to be applied for the evaluation of scientific papers: So today it is less important to find the relevant information than to determine it, to select it from the confusing database and into one to bring meaningful context. In addition, looking beyond the box of one’s own subject seems easier – and should therefore be used accordingly. It is to be hoped that, given this change, universities will also draw the right conclusions in their assessment practice.