Why academic writing is the Oscars, not the Met Gala

Left: © Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Right: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Take a look at Saoirse Ronan in these two photos. On the left, she’s attending the 2019 Met Gala, and on the right the 2018 Oscars ceremony. Two red carpet events, yet two totally different looks (for the record, I love both!).

The Met Gala is a highlight of the fashion calendar. The world’s hottest models, actors and musicians gather to raise funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York. The event also opens the Institute’s annual fashion exhibit, which has a different theme each year (2019’s was Camp: Notes on Fashion). The guests are expected to wear a creative and unique outfit that fits into the theme, and they do this with varying degrees of success. Saoirse looks totally epic in the Gucci gown, with massive dragon shoulders and sequined chevrons.

Compare this with the pink Calvin Klein gown on the right. It has much simpler lines, and the decoration is on the back, with an oversized bow and train. In 2018 she was nominated for the Best Actress in a Leading Role category for her performance in Ladybird. Nominees know that if they win, the photos will be used again and again for years to come, so they wear the most elegant and timeless pieces. In the end, she didn’t win – the award went to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – but I’m sure her time will come around seeing as she has three Oscar nominations under her belt already.

Even though these are both red carpet events, one calls for the outlandish and innovative, while the other is rooted in elegance and sophistication. When you write your next essay, channel your inner Oscar winner. Be simple and understated, and don’t bury your best arguments by endlessly embellishing your writing with unnecessary words and never-ending sentences.

This packaging copy was so badly written it became a meme.

There is no single definition of academic writing, as there are variations between disciplines and different forms of academic writing for different purposes. For an undergraduate essay, I would suggest this:

Good academic writing provides clearly written arguments for and counterarguments against an idea, and provides reputable and referenced evidence to back up these claims.

Don’t get weighed down by the whole history of academia when you sit down to write. All you need to do is get your ideas across in a clear and simple manner. You don’t need to write like Shakespeare to get high marks – in fact if you did, it would probably go against you! Don’t add in flowery phrases and unnecessary words to bump yourself up to the word count. Go and do some more research – more facts mean more marks!

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