Academic Writing: A Time to be Thor, not Iron Man

A good lesson in academic writing must begin with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Specifically, we should consider the two vastly different characters: Tony Stark, AKA, Iron Man, and Thor, God of Thunder. If you’re a Marvel connoisseur like me, you probably already know where this is going. For you non-Marvel fans, here’s the only conversation you really need in order to understand the contrast between the two, per their first meeting in the movie The Avengers:

thor and iron man

Thor: “Do not touch me again!”
Iron Man: “Then don’t take my stuff.”
Thor: “You have no idea what you are dealing with.”
Iron Man: “Uh, Shakespeare in the Park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”
Thor: “This is beyond you, metal man. Loki will face Asgardian justice.”
Iron Man: “He gives up the Cube
, he’s all yours. Until then, stay out of the way. Tourist.”

Thor is not from around here, and it’s safe to say he is somewhat unfamiliar with Earth culture and the regular use of the English language. His speech is characterized by an air of formality (“do not touch me”) and blunt directness (“This is beyond you, metal man”). Stark is essentially the exact opposite. He is as informal as possible (don’t take my stuff) and communicates in an indirect, illustrative way (“Uh, Shakespeare in the Park?”).

In short, Thor represents academic writing, and Tony Stark is pretty much everything else. Advertisements, magazine articles, everyday conversations, and this blog: most of the world communicates in Iron Man fashion with contractions, figures of speech, slang phrases, pop culture references, first person language, and a slew of “normal” language devices that keep language interesting. Academic writing is, if you will, the Thor of the writing world; it does not make use of the fun and creative phrases people use most everywhere else. However, that does not necessarily mean academic writing has to be boring. The following examples address three of the most common academic language errors and some not-too-dull ways to revise them.

First or Second Person Language: Words such as I, we, my, us, our, you, and the like are never acceptable, which can be challenging when writing an opinion based essay, but certainly not impossible.

Iron Man Version: Throughout my research, I was unsurprised to discover that New York has a higher risk for alien invasion than any other American city.

Thor Version: Extensive research has proven what many people assume to be true: New York has a higher risk for alien invasion than any other American city.

Contractions: I know. Your fourth grade teacher forced you to learn all of these, and now I’m telling you they aren’t acceptable in academic writing…despite the fact I used two in this sentence alone. Spelling out words can feel uncomfortable when you are used to the shortened version, but it is not as hard to transition as you might imagine.

Iron Man Version: Scholars don’t consider Spider-Man a contender for the title “Strongest Avenger,” but many citizens can’t imagine why this is the case.

Thor Version: Scholars do not consider Spider-Man a contender for the title “Strongest Avenger,” but many citizens find it difficult to understand why he has never been considered for the position.

Slang Phrases: This includes a host of different sayings such as clichés (blind as a bat), idioms (it will be a piece of cake), and colloquial words (lit, very). Slang is one of the trickiest mistakes to avoid, but an easy way to spot it is to ask yourself: if someone was new to the English language, would he or she know what this phrase or word means?

Iron Man Version: Research pinpoints the start of the Avenger’s Civil War to the fact that Captain America got bent out of shape over the Sokovia Accords, and he refused to put his John Hancock on the document.

Thor Version: Researchers attribute the start of the Avenger’s Civil War to Captain America’s indignation over the Sokovia Accords and his refusal to sign the document.

When in doubt, remember that, as wonderful as Tony Stark may be, writing academic papers is a time to be Thor, not Iron Man. Because that’s what heroes do.

Written by Savanna

For more information on academic writing and other writing subjects, check out our Characteristics of Formal Academic Writing handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

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I Thought I Was a Good Writer

Do you have one of those things, perhaps a skill, fun physical quirk, or personality trait that you can always fall back on to say, “well, at least I have that?” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think of one thing that allows you to confidently say, “yes, I can do that” or, “yes, I am that.” For me, my “thing” has pretty much always been that I am a good writer. “Writer” is a title I can claim with confidence because, well, I wouldn’t be working in a writing center if I couldn’t write well. When friends or family ask me to give them writing advice or simply say, “Hey, can I read this to you?” it makes me feel good. While it is not at all a bad thing to take pride in our abilities, as with any label, it can become a treacherous thing to uphold too highly. This occurred to me on the first school day of my senior year when I realized I am not a good writer.

Okay, let me be clear: I am a good academic writer and a decent creative writer, but those two forms just scratch the surface of all the different writing mediums that consumers enjoy. There’s technical writing, newswriting, screenwriting, business writing, social media writing, and more, I’m sure, that I simply haven’t learned about yet. For my whole college career, knowing how to write academically was all I needed to know how to do. As it happens, every writing-related class I’m enrolled in this semester, (there are three,) requires the opposite of academic writing. Academic writing generally spans many pages, and the greater number of three syllable-plus-words you can throw in, the better. English and history professors drool over an artistic and catchy introduction with ten luscious body paragraphs following. That kind of writing I can do. But what do my professors want this semester? Every creative writer’s worst nightmare: short written responses. The shorter the better. Simple words like “lively” in place of long, pretty ones such as “effervescent” are not only unnecessary in these types of messages, but frowned upon. Some students groan about ten page papers, but I can promise them that communicating a big idea in one page or less is far more arduous. If this blog were for one of my classes, I wouldn’t be allowed to say arduous; I would replace that word with “hard.” Ugh, how boring!

The realization that I am only skilled in one type of writing was a bit alarming. However, as I continued to go to class and face assignments where I was challenged to say so much in so few words, it became readily apparent how married I am to my title of “writer.” When folks hear that you are a writer, many of them think you’re smart. And if you’re like me, you just smile, take the compliment, and not let them know how ordinary you really are. Because too many people consider writing to be a great, mysterious art form, those who do know how to do it become a necessary commodity to society. Rather than feeling discouraged that I’m not as great or prolific a writer as I once thought I was, I discovered excitement waiting for me in the unknown.

If I am to be a writer for life as I desire to be, I want to always be learning and mastering new writing skills. If academic writing were my whole future and career, I’d have a pretty limited skill set to offer the world, and a repetitive job at that. Now, I feel as though my writing journey is being reborn, in a way. I’m a baby in newswriting and business writing, and it can be pretty uncomfortable to go back to wearing diapers in the play pen when you’ve been riding a unicycle in your trousers for so long. If anything, I know that for the rest of my life, my passion will not only enrich me but surprise me with its ever-changing nature. All writers know that you learn to write by writing, and with the myriad of mediums that await my eager fingers, I’ll be learning to write for the rest of my life. Whatever your thing may be, when the day comes and you realize you aren’t the best at it, or even as skilled as you thought you were, ask yourself: “How fulfilling is a skill if I can never get better at it?” Find your avenue, memorize its path, and walk boldly onto the next fork that comes your way.

Written by Karoline

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