Glossary — Grad Writing

Here are some of the terms about reading, writing, research, and communication in US academe. These terms might be as useful for domestic graduate students as they are for international students; for our international students, we do want to note that it is not necessary to learn/remember such terms but instead understand what their definitions say about how writing is done in US higher education. You may want to skim through these terms and take note of any new terms or terms you want to learn more about. If you’ve come across words that you find new or important but are missing here, you can suggest them via this form. You can find a list of general academic terms in a separate page here.


analyze—identify parts and discuss them (rhetorical analysis involves pointing out and describing textual tools and strategies used by the author)

appeals to emotion (or pathos)—arousing emotions to convince readers

appeals to reason/logic—influencing readers/listeners with logical reasoning (common sense, facts/data, findings of study, citations, testimonies, inductive and deductive reasoning)

audience awareness—the consciousness of the writer/speaker about audience and their characteristics and needs

audience: the person or group of people who will read  your writing or listen to your oral presentation–or the person(s)/group(s) for whom  you are writing (you may know, imagine, or even try to “create” your audience)

body—the middle developmental portion of an essay excluding the introduction and conclusion, usually made up of multiple paragraphs

caption: a brief description for a picture, graph, table, or diagram–usually placed below them

claim–a statement, similar to a hypothesis, which is made in response to the research question and that is affirmed with evidence based on research

comment or give feedback—the act of giving suggestions or critique to change/improve a text

conclusion—the end portion of an essay/text, which often wraps up the argument, points to future directions, etc

consider—say what you think and have observed about something (note: “consider adding,” not “consider to add”)

context—the social, cultural, disciplinary, professional, or physical and emotional situation in which you are writing/communicating

contrast—show differences

conventions—established rules about grammar, usage, genre, etc

critical literacy: moving beyond simply learning how to use tools to work and communicate effectively online to looking at the context of how these tools affect the social, political, and personal realities of those who employ them

demonstrate—show how, with examples to illustrate

describe—provide details of process or situation

development—the act of adding specific details, examples, anecdotes, etc., to the body of the essay/text

diction—choice of words in speaking or writing for communicating effectively

discuss—provide details and explore an issue

draft—preliminary version of a text that may need additional revision of details and/or organization and additional editing of conventions

drafting—the stage of a writing process where the writer translates ideas generated and organized in the prewriting stage into complete sentences and paragraphs

edit—correct or improve grammar, syntax, or word choice (see revision)

elaborate—write at length, explain with details

examine—critically consider an issue in depth

expository writing—writing that gives information, explains why or how, clarifies a process, or defines a concept (compare with narrative, reflective, argumentative)

fair use—use of text or ideas from another source for educational or review purposes

figurative language—language use with special meaning, such as metaphors and symbols

flow—the presence of logical connection in writing (this can be done not just by adding transition/connecting words and phrases but, more importantly, by maintaining a focus on the main purpose of the writing stating/implying that clearly enough for the reader)

focus—continuing to write or speak about the same topic (this comes best from “fleshing out” or thinking through the idea before and during the drafting and revision process)

foregrounding—placing or moving the (main) point to the beginning of paragraph or essay; also called “frontloading” by some instructors

framing—stating the main idea or argument within which other details will fit; foregrounding your framing–rather than delaying/burying and making the reader guess, wait, and remember the details before they get to the main idea–can significantly improve most academic writing

freewriting—writing freely without worrying about focus of ideas or quality of text for exploring one’s thoughts

functional literacy: knowing how to use information technologies: how to open a program, use its key features, save, edit, and publish work, find information online, use databases, read and follow instructions, share work with others, and so on.

genre: the type or category of writing that can be recognized from its textual features or conventions as understood by a group who use the genre (the thesis proposal and dissertation are genres, and so are the job application/cover letter and resume)

hook—a story, quotation, or another strategy that grabs the attention of the readers

hyperbole—exaggeration, usually done to attract reader attention or knowingly that it is an exaggeration

illustrate—show with examples, statistics, or explanation

introduction—the beginning portion of text, which may contain context, issue, question/focus, argument/theme, objective, outline, etc

inventing (invention)—generating ideas by using certain techniques such as visual mapping, listing, etc

jargon—words or phrases that are specialized/specific to certain field or subject

journal—a diary or notes taken usually for personal reference

manuscript—author’s copy or in-process copy of text to be published

metaphor—comparison in which one side is creative and the other literal

multiliteracy: the ability to use, understand, and create print and new (especially digital or online) texts, with awareness of the modes of communication involved, such as the visual (sight, images), aural (sound), gestural (such as body language), spatial (how elements are arranged in spaces), and linguistic (language)

narrative—writing that recounts events or stories

organization—the logical structure or planning of a text

outline—a list of points or sentences that include main ideas of text to be written (you can create a “reverse outline” of text you’ve written in order to see its logical shape and help you revise it)

paradox—a (seemingly) contradictory statement

paraphrase—restatement of text in different (usually simpler) terms

patterns of thought/writing: common patterns for developing ideas include the following techniques: narration, description, definition, example, division, classification, comparison and contrast, analogy, cause and effect, and process

persuasive writing—writing that attempts to convince readers

premise—the assumption or fact on which a statement or argument is based

prompt—the instruction for writing an assignment

proofreading—correcting or improving spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc in a text

proposal (e.g., grant proposal)—a text that describes the plan for a project and tries to convince readers to provide funding or other support

publishing—sharing publicly in written or final-product form

purpose (in writing): the reason/objective for your writing; this also has to do with rhetorical choices and needs of the writer

purpose—the reason for writing/communicating, such as to express, describe, learn, entertain, inform, argue/persuade, evaluate, etc

reading response—short written reaction that students do after reading, usually before going to class

recursive process—moving back and forth among the planning, drafting, and revising stages of writing

refutation—trying to show that opposing arguments have a weakness

report (e.g., lab report)—a text that documents the method, findings, and other aspects of a process or project

review—read and provide a thematic summary of knowledge on the subject (also called literature review)

revising/revision—making changes to the content or structure of text

rhetorical choices: choices made by writers or speakers to influence readers/listeners, about language (formal, objective, including specialized jargon, etc), content (background information, amount and type of information, etc), tone (sarcastic, passionate, detached, etc), and so on

rhetorical literacy: ability of creating and distributing new content, new information, and new forms via online technologies, keeping always in mind the basic concepts of rhetorical communication

rough draft—the first organized version of a piece of writing

rubric—a set of questions or guideline for grading or for improving writing

run-on sentence—a sentence that continues into the next without punctuation

sentence fragment—string or words that don’t make a complete a sentence

structure—organization of ideas in a paragraph or essay/text

submission guidelines—guidelines given to writers for review or publication of text

supporting details—information, sources, examples, etc used for supporting a claim or argument

thesis statement—the sentence or segment that presents the central argument or claim

tone—the author’s attitude toward a topic as reflected in his or her writing, especially in word choice (also called tone of voice)

topic sentence—sentence that states the main idea of the paragraph and often comes first (it helps to frame the paragraph)  

topic—the specific subject that a text focuses on (not title, which is the line at the top of the text)

transition—word, phrase, or sentence used for connecting paragraphs/sections or ideas in writing

vanity publishing—a publication that the author pays to publish his or her work (it may be “predatory” of the publisher aggressively or dishonestly pursues potential writers to gain an advantage rather than help advance knowledge)

voice—what the writer sounds like, whose words he or she is speaking (including whose perspective)

writer’s block—the inability to write due to hesitation, anxiety, etc

writing process—the different parts of writing, such as planning, outlining or brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading

Note to readers: If there are other terms that you’d like us to add, please suggest them via the contact form here. Also, feel free to leave comments below.

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