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Does Popular Media Affect College Academic Writing?

by Andrew Aarons

For better or for worse, popular media has affected academic writing in many ways. While some things have changed, however, others have stayed the same. By making use of popular media, good academics will make their research available to more people, but they’ll remain true to the principles of strong scholarship. Conversely, when popular media seeps into academic writing, the tone and substance can become less rigorously academic.

Academic Writing Has Become More Current

The world moves much faster now than it used to, and some researchers have struggled to keep pace with it. Twitter and Facebook make more knowledge available to more people -- analysis may occur in real time long before peer-reviewed journals can comment. To catch up, many academics write blogs and contribute to online news sites, like on the "Guardian" and "New York Times" websites. This ensures that academic experts are included in important conversations, and that their research is readily available when it’s most relevant.

Academic Writing Has Become More Interesting

Much academic writing is still dry, stilted and written for a handful of other experts. But there is a strong -- if marginalized -- movement in academia to make academic language more interesting. Some scholars understand that they are competing for news space with skilled communicators, professional bloggers and journalists. If academic writing is incomprehensible, they won’t be asked to weigh in on the issues that matter, even if they know more about those issues than anyone else. It’s not always what you know -- it’s how you say it.

Wikipedia Is Still Not a Legitimate Source

Despite the rise of popular media, academia only accepts peer-reviewed research as a credible source. With good reason, academia remains very picky about what it considers legitimate scholarly tools. Wikipedia may be popular, and it may even be providing an invaluable service to humanity by making knowledge available to all, but it’s still not considered a legitimate source for academic papers. When researching or writing an academic paper, you might use Wikipedia as a starting point, but then track down primary sources to give your paper legitimacy.

Proper Citations Are Still Important

As academics become pundits in mainstream media, higher knowledge increasingly enters the realm of popular meda, but that doesn’t mean it’s become any less rigorous within academia. When academics write blog posts or tweets, or post on Facebook, they don't use footnotes. The shackles are off in the public realm. In the world of academia, however, the same rigorous standards of referencing and footnoting remain. When citing academic essays, journal articles and books, use footnotes. Check with your department for a style guide to know which format of footnoting and bibliography your school uses -- the style guide will also outline what is and isn't an appropriate source.

About the Author

Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.

Photo Credits

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