How to write an academic essay: Step-by-Step Guide

The academic essay is a real literary genre

As such it is characterized by formal rules that have long been codified. These rules are universally accepted by the community of professional scholars of a given scientific discipline (“scholars”).

Failure to comply with even one of these rules transforms the composition into something categorically different from the paper, for example. turns it into an article for a non-scientific newspaper, in a political or popular discourse etc. The above statements do not arise from sterile formalism: the form in the case of a paper is contained!

The apparent paradox is resolved as soon as we accept the fact that the purpose of scientific research is two fold:

1) discovery of new knowledge and 2) dissemination of the discovery to the scholars’ audience.

The erudition as an end in itself or worse solipsism are attitudes and mental forms that do not belong to the scholar: science is communication, interpersonal dialogue with the scientists who are no longer there, with those who are here and now and with those who will come tomorrow. The scholar does not hold his discoveries selfishly for himself.

Its purpose is to advance human knowledge, not its own individual knowledge: the scholar is therefore eager to share freely, quickly and completely the new knowledge he has produced. To communicate, we need the right tools and the ability to use them: the paper is the instrument that the scholar uses to communicate, his ability to communicate correctly reveals the degree of his scholarship.

Hence the fundamental importance of respecting formal rules in the composition of a paper. The risk of the Tower of Babel, the confusion of languages and therefore the lack of communication is an ever present and real danger, a danger that a scholar never underestimates. Having clarified these fundamental concepts, in the following sections we will study the formal rules of the literary genre ‘paper’ and we will provide some practical tips or tricks of the trade, useful for the young scholar and not yet ‘cunning’. In particular, we will try to clarify the rationale of each rule.

In fact, each rule has been codified to comply with one or more specific purposes. All reality is rational, especially in the field of science! In-depth understanding of these objectives it will be easier to submit to the regulation of the codified rules. It will also be easier to violate them intelligently !!

On the first page of a paper, the author’s name and surname, the academic affiliation, the title of the essay, the summary, the acknowledgments, an address for correspondence must appear (remember: science is communication!). Furthermore, it is customary to indicate some key words (max 5) that help the reader to frame the contribution in one of the specialist areas in which economic science is divided (for example: growth, income distribution,excellent taxation etc.).

To this end, the use of some codes referring to the classification of an important American magazine, the Journal of Economic Literature (JEL), codes that identify the various specialist areas, has been stated. The now widespread use of keywords and classification codes reveals a fundamental principle that must always be kept in mind and which we will return to several times later: The reader is always right! The author of a paper is obviously at the service of scientific truth; but, once the scientific truth has been identified, it is at the service of the reader. We will see what this entails in concrete terms.

The title of the paper

The first thing we read about a paper is its title. From this trivial truth but not for this insignificant, it derives that the title must be carefully considered. It is absolutely necessary to avoid a title that is too generic and ambitious, which could induce a justified suspicion in the reader.

Eg avoid titles such as “A General Theory ….” or “Value and Capital”: without a doubt the future reserves the right to become larger economists than Keynes or Hicks; but even if you are aware of the radiant destiny that invariably awaits you it is not the case to flaunt this awareness from the title of your first paper!

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