Hopefully you have a some idea of what the difference is between undergraduate level university writing and high school or elementary school writing. How about the difference between graduate and undergraduate level? If you are studying in a graduate program, it is important that you know this, and that your writing reflects this. You can read an interview with a professor about graduate level expectations here.
While expectations and standards will vary among teachers, most have higher expectations for students at the graduate level. Your writing should demonstrate greater depth and complexity, while remaining clear and succinct. Usually (but not always) the length of writing is longer, particularly with research and other papers. This is certainly the case with a thesis or dissertation. The level of detail and support for your arguments should be strong and extensive.
At the sentence level it is expected that you use plentiful academic vocabulary. Sentence length may be longer, but not just for the sake of being longer. If you can make your point in ten words, then use ten words rather than 20. But as your points at the graduate level tend to be more complex, the ideas embedded in the sentences will be more complex and therefore require more words.
Compare these two sentences:
According to the life cycle of a tourist destination (Butler, 1980), destinations must be planned accordingly so that they will maintain their attractiveness rather than lose their appeal or become over-saturated and enter into the decline stage. (34 words)
Source: Dodds, R. (2012). Sustainable tourism: A hope or a necessity? the case of tofino, british columbia, canada. Journal of Sustainable Development, 5(5), 54-64. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.viu.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1013840404?accountid=12246
People will make better decisions based on what they know. (10 words) Source: http://ap5rmviu.blogspot.ca/2013/07/the-task-of-how-to-be-super-achiever-10.html
Graduate level sentences make greater use of academic and technical vocabulary. For example, in the first sentence provided above, 3 words from the academic word list were used. This is not a lot, but it is better than none.
According to the life cycle of a tourist destination (Butler, 1980), destinations must be planned accordingly so that they will maintain their attractiveness rather than lose their appeal or become over-saturated and enter into the decline stage.
The second sentence contained no academic words.
You can analyze any piece of writing by copying and pasting it into the academic word list highlighter here
An excellent way to learn to write to this standard to to notice the reading you do at the graduate level. Pay attention to the sentences — how many words long are they? what vocabulary do they use? what grammatical structures do the sentences make use of?
Notice that the first sentence is rather complex. It contains several dependent and independent clauses, and makes use of various connecting words (conjunctions) such as so, rather, or, and. The sentence also begins with an adverb (or adverbial) phrase According to the life cycle of a tourist destination (Butler, 1980), to add context and detail to the sentence. Just as effective academic writing makes use of multi-syllabic (many syllables) and academic words, it also contains many compound and complex sentences.
To understand sentence complexity, you may want to refresh your knowledge about grammar here. Especially pay attention to the building block of English sentences, the clause here and here.
A compound sentences is a sentence that contains at least two independent clauses (each containing a subject and a verb). The two clauses are typically joined using a coordinating conjunction or a semi-colon.
Example: The news media is changing rapidly around the world, and one of the main causes of this is the proliferation of free digital news providers.
This could have been written as two short sentences, but because the ideas are so connected, they can be written as a compound sentence. Two independent clauses have been joined by the common conjunction “and”.
Like a compound sentence, a complex sentence is a sentence containing two clauses, but one is independent and the other is dependent.
Example: Newspapers around the world are suffering declining readerships because people can get their news for free from the internet.
Complex sentences are used to add complexity, depth and detail to sentences.
Helpful Internet Resources
Learning Matters (VIU’s Digital Learning Commons)
VIU English Language Support (A blog for international students studying at VIU)
Academic Writing Advice (from Purdue Online Writing Lab)
Not the right attitude here …