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What is the Academic Writing Style?

One of the goals of bilingual education in the United States is to support the learning of English by students who come from homes where other languages are spoken. A concern with student performance in mainstream classes following their transfer from bilingual education programs has prompted educators to focus on the types of English skills needed for success in academic work in which the home language is no longer used.

This variety of English has been labeled academic English. The context in which educational English is used and the features of the text define the form that academic writing will take. This entry briefly explains both text and context and discusses broader implications of educational English for education programs. In the view of the public, academic English is often regarded as the “best” form of that language and therefore the form schools should concentrate on developing in students. Professionals of various disciplines tend to define academic English relative to the language requirements of a particular discipline.

Often, English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers working with English language learners and English educators who teach native speakers of English have different goals for academic English. This distinction exemplifies how academic English is defined differently in various contexts. Background: An increasing focus on academic English can be traced historically to the mid-19th century, when books and other printed materials first became widely available. Newspapers and scientific tracts called for different forms of the language for different purposes.

Looking at the history of the functions of writing in America, Shirley Brice Heath observed a shift from the simple conversational style used during the colonial period toward a growing attention to form near the middle of the 19th century. One aspect of this shift was a change in grammatical person. Whereas writers were once encouraged to use the first person and emphasize an equality of status between readers and writers, following the colonial period, a more impersonal writing style emerged. This new form was characterized by more prescribed and formal criteria.

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