Academic vs. Web Writing

All writing can put you to sleep if it's not insightful.

First of all, let me apologize to you guys, myself, and the Blogging Gods for falling off the face of the Earth for the past few days. I started off my venture using the Daily Post’s Blogging 101 assignments using a “no excuses” mantra, so I’ll just admit that I haven’t exactly been making the most of my time over the past week, and let valuable blogging time slip away because of it.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for my next post (just keep telling yourself that, Matt!), so without further ado, I want to dive in right where I left off: Getting inspired by my neighbors.

In an earlier post in which I discussed the importance of reading as much (if not more) than you actually write as a blogger, I mentioned a handful of blog posts that really struck a chord with me. One such article, written by The Judgmental Observer, argued in defense of academic writing (something I had argued against early on in my blog’s lifetime).

Although I’ve already admitted I was a bit misguided in my initial approach, I feel like I owe it to Amanda Klein (the Judgmental Observer herself) to unpack my thoughts a little further.

What the Reader Wants

One thing we can all agree on is the fact that the Internet offers something for everyone. No matter your purpose for logging onto the Web, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for within minutes (possibly even seconds).

That being said, in addition to the fact that roughly three billion people have access to the Internet, it’d be an incredible oversight to write something such as academic writing off as “dying” or “dead.” Longform, in-depth articles might not exactly be the most-clicked stories on the web, but that doesn’t mean absolutely nobody is interested in them.

Depending on a reader’s purpose, both academic and web writing have their merits.

Why pick up a book if you don't want to read it?
Why pick up a book if you don’t want to read it?

If you’ve sat down with the intent of finding hard-hitting, insightful prose which gets to the heart of a certain topic – and makes you question your foundational values at the same time – which type of article would you seek out? A longform academic piece will be much more effective in discussing complex issues than an article titled, oh, I don’t know, “Ten Reasons Racism is Alive and Well in Today’s Society.” A quickly- (and probably poorly-) written listicle discussing such a deep topic would be nothing short of insulting. Obviously, complex issues that stretch to comprehend ideas woven into the fabric of society need more time and focus to be impactful. No reader seeking enlightenment would click on a 400-word article claiming to have solved some major world issue thinking they’d be getting what they wanted.

On the other hand, readers aren’t always looking for a challenge, so it makes sense that not everything out there is of academic quality. Even if a reader is looking to learn something, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to wade through lines of long-winded prose to get there. Web writing can, and often does, offer insightful advice while cutting out all the wordiness of academic writing. Read any post by Neil Patel and tell me you didn’t learn something. But notice the difference between his writing and an article you’ll find on Longform: While you may read longform articles to seek abstract enlightenment or intellectual growth, you’d read Patel’s blog posts looking to learn new skills and take immediate action.

Simply put, the purpose of reading longform articles is to enjoy the journey, while reading web writing is all about getting to a new destination.

What the Writer Wants

The writer should have SOME input, right?
The writer should have SOME input, right?

Okay, so when a writer puts words on a page, his audience is in mind at all times. But that doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to do what he wants, right?

When an academic writer sits down to pen an op-ed piece, he does so with the intention of getting out everything that’s on his mind, no matter how long it takes. Since he knows his audience will be prepared to hunker down and dive into a longform piece, he can be comfortable writing without urgency (while also being careful not to go off topic). It makes sense: No reader is going to seek out a longform article only to click away from it because it’s too long. That’d be pretty counterintuitive, wouldn’t it?

On the other hand, someone like Brian Dean isn’t trying to shake up the fabric of society with his writing; he simply wants to offer advice, and get his services noticed in the process. If you check out his blog, you’ll notice he doesn’t beat around the bush. Every single word in each of his blog posts serves a single function; there’s no wasted space. Brian doesn’t have to use long-winded prose to convince you of some abstract ideal; he hits his audience with a barrage of statistics, facts, and actionable advice, and lets his readers do with it what they will.

Hoping for a Similar Outcome

Through two completely different methods, both academic and web writers actually aim at having a similar effect on their audience.

Simply put: All writers write because they want to improve their audience’s lives in some way. Why would they publish their words on the Internet if they didn’t want others to be affected by them in some way?

Actually, this may be the reason web writers can get right to the point while academics need more room to get their ideas out.

Web writers can work under the assumption that their readers already agrees with them, and are looking for actionable advice on how to move forward. They don’t need to spend time convincing their readers that such and such a method is the way to go, so they can dive right in and start helping their audience improve their skills and abilities – and their lives as a whole.

On the other hand, many – if not most – academic writers have some persuading to do in their writing. They not only have to present facts that support their perspective, but they also have to weave a story that convinces others that their point of view is correct. They have to appeal not only to their readers’ intellect, but also to their emotions as well.

In both cases, the writer’s overall goal is the same: Provide information that leaves their audiences changed in a positive way.


 

Again, I’ll admit I took a black-and-white stance on an issue that clearly has many grey areas. Lesson learned!

Is there anything else to add about the value of either academic or web writing? As always, I’d like to think I covered it all, but if I missed anything, be sure to let me know down below!

 

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2 thoughts on “Academic vs. Web Writing”

  1. One more difference between academic and web writing is that when you write a long winded academic article or research paper, you have to do some extensive research, whereas, you can write a web article by using sources you find from a basic search engine. That being said, when you write an academic article, you are not allowed to use wikipedia, but you can if you’re writing simple web content. Academic writing styles conform to specific guidelines, where web writing is not quite so stringent. These are just a few differences I learned durnig my college courses, and from my freelance work.

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    1. Wellll, I do and don’t agree with this =) You can find SO MUCH on Google, but, of course, only a fraction of what you find is actually true…so it’s good to dig a little deeper into your sources if you want to be trusted and respected in either academia or the online community.

      I think both forms of writing have a LOT of research and background work put into them. The research is more evident in academic pieces because, well, when you’re actually writing for a class it’s a requirement (I remember thinking “Ugh, okay I need to fit one more source in here somewhere!”). But when you’re writing for the web, you actually WANT to include more sources. And you want those sources to be trusted. I would advise not using Wikipedia as a main source…if you notice, any important information, statistic, or quote usually has a link to a primary source at the bottom of the Wiki page. THOSE are the sites you should use when citing information in a web piece =)

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