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: “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