An academic text always requires the author’s own ideas
Each student finds out, usually during their first days at a university, that he or she will be expected to submit various types of written work (reports, seminar and final papers and, as the case may be, also research reports, academic articles or academic texts) and that it is expected that these texts will be original, in other words they will contain the student’s own ideas. But he or she may have doubts: what is an original idea?
Different levels of personal contribution are expected in different types of academic work
Not every piece of student work must be innovative. However, it must be original. That means that the submitted work was really written by the student and he or she does not claim the work of other authors as his or her own. Even a compilation of work can be original in that the student researched existing ideas, compared them and placed them into context. Different levels of personal contribution are expected in different types of academic work.
The supervisor also carries some responsibility for the originality of student work. The topic of the work should also be original, not repeated each year, so that the student is given an appropriate opportunity for his or her own creative contribution.
Original ideas are the result of diverse activities
Originality is emphasised in student work, but students should not be worried that all of their papers must lead to ground-breaking results. New findings arise in many different ways; perseverance, thoroughness and patience play a more important role than innate genius. In academic texts, original ideas arise, for example, by:
- critically comparing two or more existing views on the same issue,
- supporting, disproving or modifying an existing hypothesis or theory with new arguments,
- empirically verifying an existing hypothesis or theory,
- processing or interpreting existing data with an original method,
- collecting new data,
- formulating and verifying a new hypothesis,
- suggesting a new solution to an existing problem,
- proposing a new research method.
While different methods of creating new findings are usually combined in the works of advanced researchers, students at the beginning of their academic journey normally work on constituent tasks and often manage with a single method. Moreover, it is very common that commentators of other authors’ ideas gradually become creators of their own ideas. Authors should never hide from the reader where they found each part of their materials.
Academic texts are parallel to a conversation in which the author’s own ideas create a dialogue with the ideas of other authors – sometimes they agree with them, at other times they compare or develop the ideas, show them from a different perspective, or even rebut them. However, the reader must always be able to distinguish the individual voices in the text. It is assumed that anything that is not referenced is the author’s original text or common knowledge. 1
The quality of an academic text is not measured just by its originality
Moreover, the student should not just rewrite other authors’ ideas; the vast majority of the writing should be in his or her own words. After all, that is the purpose of an academic text – to create an original work which is based on ideas published earlier. Nevertheless, the fact that the work is original does not necessarily mean that it is good. But that is a different question – one which concerns the academic quality of the work, and which must be assessed by a specialist in the given field.
- Graff, G., Birkenstein, C. They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. 4th ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.