Imagine that you are taking a romantic walk through Uppsala with the love of your life. You gaze up at Gustavianum and the steeples of the cathedral are glowing in the setting sun.
You have written a love poem and you decide that this is the time to read it. You start reading: “The purpose of this poem is to determine the three main reasons why you are the love of my life.” Will the recipient of this poem be impressed by your innovation? Hopefully. Consider the poem poetical? Probably not. Why is that?
When we read poetry we do not expect to be told exactly what message it is trying to communicate. In fact, we expect that we, as readers, should interpret the text and figure out its meaning. In academic language, it is the other way around.
When your readers make their own interpretations they might also misinterpret the text
The writer is the tour guide
When writing an academic text, your job as a writer is to leave as little room for interpretation as possible. Why is that? Well, because when your readers make their own interpretations they might also misinterpret the text and that should be avoided at all costs in academic texts.
According to a well-known cliché, reading is like making a journey. If this is true for academic texts as well, what is your role as a writer? You are the tour guide, of course! Your job is to get your readers safely from the beginning of the text to the end of it. During this trip through your text, you have to make sure they follow the path you have set out for them and do not stray into the jungle and also that they understand the different sights that you show them along the way. In other words, not only are you supposed to be a tour guide, you should be a dictatorial tour guide who will accept no straying from the group.
Subheadings, metacommentary and transition words
In order to succeed as a tour guide, you have to provide your readers with a road map. That is, you have to tell them how to navigate through the text. There are different ways of doing this. One way is to have clear and informative subheadings (and a main heading too, of course). The subheadings will help your readers understand how your text is structured and what you will bring up in each section.
Another way of creating a road map is to use so-called metacommentary; that is, phrases that tell readers how the text is structured. Phrases like “The following section will discuss…” or “There are three reasons why… First of all…Secondly,… etc.,” will help readers understand how you want them to read the text and they don’t have to figure that out for themselves.
Transition words highlight how different parts of the text are connected
You can also guide your readers through the text by using transition words. Transition words (and phrases) tell readers how different parts of the text are related to each other. For example, by using the transition word “furthermore,” you tell your readers that you are adding something to what you have just said. When you insert the transition word “however,” you show that what you are going to say now is in contrast to what you have just said. Transition words, then, highlight how different parts of the text are connected. Hopefully, readers might figure that out anyway, but with transition words they don’t have to interpret your text. Instead, you are telling them how they are to understand it.
Remember, as a writer of an academic text, your job is to leave as little to the imagination as possible. In love poetry, on the other hand, it is up to you to decide how explicit you want to be…