I think the most difficult part for me about becoming an academic writer was remembering how important defining key terms is. Although it is easy to tell ourselves that the teacher who will be grading our paper will know what we mean when we use specialized terms or language, the truth is we should always be writing to an audience as though they are just learning about the topic.
As a general rule, anytime I introduce an unfamiliar word or specialized term which is key for my audience’s understanding, I define that term. The definition can be short and sweet, especially if I plan to go into more detail later, but for the time being it keeps the reader following my train of thought and prevents misunderstanding.
For instance, I once tried to use the word “countertransference” without defining it, and when I took my paper into the Academic Support Lab there was confusion about the term. My tutor took it to mean the therapist’s conscious thoughts about the client, while I had meant the therapist’s unconscious feelings about the client. This completely changed the meaning of my argument.
I learned that using familiar and simple language to define my terms not only reduced any confusion, but also showed to my reader (and professor) that I had a clear understanding about my topic.
Learning to incorporate simple definitions has made my academic writing much easier to follow. I hope that it can be of help to you as well!
Graduate Assistant – Virtual Writing Center