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Journalistic Writing Compared to Academic Writing

smartinez's picture

Selena Martinez


Paper #9

Elizabeth Kolbert’s novel The Sixth Extinction presents a collection of scientific material and personal narratives that draw attention to the mass loss of plants and animals through anthropogenic cause in a journalistic style. Although this book reads more like a story, there is a valid scientific argument with credible sources listed. This essay will focus on the contrast between academic and journalistic writing by comparing various components used to construct The Sixth Extinction and Chapter 4: Playing in industrial ruins -Interrogating teleological understandings of play in spaces of material alterity and low surveillance. Idea: how journalistic writing can serve as a bigger advantage to serve to a broader audience despite it not being academic or the contrast between the two styles and how they serve both audiences.

Identifying differences between journalistic and academic writing:


  • Definition of journalism according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media”
  • Second definition: “writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine”
  • Journalism is meant for a broader audience to read.

Last sentences of the prologue: “In the pages that follow, I try to convey both sides: the excitement of what’s being learned as well as the horror of it. My hope is that readers of this book will come away with an appreciation of the truly extraordinary moment in which we live.”

-      While the entire prologue brushes on topics from each of the following chapters, instead of setting up an argument and persuading the audience that something is right or wrong, she encourages them to instead find appreciation for the information that is going to be presented.

Chapter One The Sixth Extinction: “The town of El Valle De Anton. In Central Panama sits in the middle of a volcanic crater formed about a million years ago. The crater is almost four miles wide, but when the weather is clear you can see the jagged hills that surround the town …” (4)

-      The chapter begins with vivid descriptions which lead towards scientific findings, but the way the sentence is set is more like a story (journalistic aspect, feel of reporting) which draws the reader in to know.  


  • Definition of academic according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “a member of an institution of learning”
  • Second definition: “ a person who is academic in background, outlook, or methods”
  • The audience for an academic paper may be specific which means that might be assumed to have prior knowledge on a certain topic.
  • Academic papers usually follow a strict format by presenting the issue and the solution immediately then following through with explaining how that was found.

 In the introduction of chapter 4: Playing in Industrial Ruins: “ In this chapter, we explore the specific uses of these ruins as sites for play, first assessing the material and less tangible qualities that promote the numerous playful practices that are subsequently identified. Following this, we critically examine theories about play and discuss the shared characteristics which allow identification of analogies between play and ruins. Finally, we critically analyze how and why ruins are exemplary realms through which we might adopt a critical perspective that highlights both the limitations and potentialities for play in other kinds of urban space.”

-      This paragraph from the introduction displays a very structured format that explains how this chapter will be examined which leads towards their argument unlike The Sixth Extinction.

First section, Playing in Ruins:  “Before identifying the playful activities that take place in industrial ruins, it is vital to recognize that they are sites for a host of other, ostensibly more utilitarian practices. These include the use of derelict space for sex work, living in a temporary home, growing vegetables, fly-tipping, car-parking and walking the dog; as a resource for building materials, firewood and home furnishings; not to mention the ecological potential that such sites offer as they decay over time …”

-      The first section gets straight to the point with descriptions and does not spend a lot of time focusing on details. There are no narratives present in opening this segment.





Anne Dalke's picture

You’ve done some great work already in pulling out contrasting quotes and beginning to think through the differences between these two styles of writing; I’m going to pair up you up with winter princess (and maybe changing9) in class tomorrow, to think through some of this together, since you seem on much the same track (though winter rincess’s “text” is Kolbert’s public talk rather than her book). You might also think about doing something along the lines winter princess sketches out towards the end of her draft: asking how comparing these two writing styles invites you to reflect on the evolution of your own: What qualities of journalism can you use, what qualities of academic writing, are emerging as significant in your own style? What are the dangers and downsides of each, and how might you “mash” ‘em to create something uniquely your own—and compelling in an academic context?