Friday, 20 May 2022

Philosophical differences between academic and journalistic writing

To continue exploring the differences between academic and journalistic writing (here), the two types of writing spring from different philosophical bases. We could consider these as academic 'analytical'  writing, and journalistic 'rhetorical' writing.

An analytical approach outlines facts supported by cited evidence for the reader, connecting facts within a logic or reason structure. The narrative shows logical inconsistencies and consistencies in the development of argument to answer or outline an objective research question. It may not descend into hyperbole or subjectivity, otherwise it undermines the arms-length nature of research. Academic papers should propose and evaluate the evidence. We should not be evaluating the style (which is one of the reasons why the peer-review process exists: to remove any barriers which cloud the clear communication of argument and evidence). This is the reason why research papers are often dry and arcane. 

A rhetorical approach sets out to persuade the reader, to 'paint a picture'. Instead of evidence, the reader has intuition and sympathetic engagement with the story. The story leads the reader to the author's often subjective conclusion. The writing will be short, snappy, and full of adjectives which will colour the writing - often illustrated with an image also designed to create emotion. The headline will pull us in, and the language used will paint that picture before we have read the piece. This is the reason why media stories provoke emotion and can skew our perspective. 

A useful way to consider this is in terms of the Greek: 

The "triad of logos, pathos, and ethos — appeals to logic, emotions, and moral sense, respectively — academic work leans towards logos, journalism leans towards pathos, and both try to structure an ethos in which their conclusions stand out as meaningful and correct. Neither mode is right or wrong; they are both useful and appropriate in their proper context" (Shields, 2012; contrast colour added).

Academic and journalistic writing is different, and I hope this explains why. 



  • Shields, T. (12 April 2012). What's the difference between academic and journalistic writing?. Writing Stack Exchange.
  • Stoldt, G. C., Dittmore, S. W. & Branvold, S. E. (2006). Sport Public Relations: Managing Organisational Communication. Human Kinetics. 

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