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Non-academic writing may be considered that writing which is personal, emotional, impressionistic, or subjective in nature. Such writing is often found in personal journal entries, reader response writing, memoirs, any kind of autobiographical writing, and letters, e-mails, and text messages. And, since this writing is of a personal nature, the level of language used is often informal and more conversational. Such constructions as contractions and idiomatic expressions, colloquialisms, even slang may be evident in non-academic writing. Usually, the first or second person is employed, a point of view that is inappropriate to academic writing.
The sentence structure and organization of ideas is also informal in non-academic writing. Fewer transitions are probably used and simpler, less formalized sentences are written. Dialogue may even find its way into non-academic writing. Certainly, creative fiction falls into the category of non-academic writing.
The difference between non-academic and academic writing can be important to you when you are doing research for a paper. It also will concern you if you are considering writing as a career.
When you are writing a research paper that requires sources, you will want to use material that falls under the category of academic writing. These sources will be written by experts in their fields, and in many cases they must go through a peer review process where other experts read and approve the work before it gets published. The articles will be published in scholarly journals that reach other professionals rather than in magazines or newspapers read by lay people. Scholarly journals include sources such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Applied Psychology. The language of such articles is very formal, and an extensive list of references will be included. The authors' names will be given along with their credentials.
Non-academic writing is written for a lay audience. It includes newspapers, magazines, and books that you would find at a brick-and-mortar bookstore such as Barnes and Noble. It also includes blogs and websites. Such writing will be informal, possibly even colloquial. The author's name may not be given, or if it is, there may be no indications of the credentials the author has. Often, the author is not an expert in a field but has interviewed people who are. When using non-academic writing in your research paper, you must be diligent to ensure its credibility. Many informational websites, including Wikipedia, can be edited by users, so you have no guarantee that the last person who edited the article was knowledgeable about the subject.
Pay attention to the requirements for your assignment. You may be required to use only academic sources or to have a certain number of academic sources in your paper. Whether your instructor specifies it or not, don't use sources such as Wikipedia that can be altered by users.
Finally, if you are considering writing as a career, you should consider whether you want to pursue academic or non-academic writing. Academic writers are experts in their fields first, and writers second. As a non-academic writer, you could pursue writing fiction or non-fiction books or writing for newspapers, magazines, or digital media.
Non-academic writing is written for a lay audience, to appeal to people who are not experts in the field in question. As such, it will tend to be more general in nature. It won't assume the audience has a knowledge of the subject and so will explain terms an expert would readily understand or go over material an expert would be expected to know.
Academic writing tends to employ the jargon or specialized language of the field in question, which provides a shorthand for experts. Since this jargon tends to be difficult for lay readers to understand, simpler, everyday language is used more often in non-academic writing. Anybody with a decent grasp of English (or their own native language) should be able to pick up a nonacademic book and understand it.
Non-academic books also tend to be less taken up with debates in a discipline that may seem irrelevant to outsiders. Lay readers want an overview of a subject, not a minute examination of what every major scholar has had to say about an obscure issue. In the same vein, non-academic books tend to have fewer footnotes or none at all. Scholars need to be able to trace information back to sources and look at original documents. Lay readers tend not to want pursue the subject in such great depth, and many prefer not to be distracted by footnotes.
In general, non-academic books are produced to reach a wide audience and make money, while academic books target a specialized audience and primarily are produced to advance scholarship. That's not to say some academic books haven't had stunning financial success, but that's not the top priority.
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