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Does Male and Female Academic Writing Differ?

academic writing processAre there any notable differences between texts written by men and women? Before the twentieth century this question, even if it was asked, had to remain without an answer, for the existing methodology and computational capacities were inadequate for the solution of this problem. The reason is, apparently these difference do exist – but they are too subtle to be noticed with the naked eye and lie where one hardly expects to find them.

Nevertheless, with the correct approach these differences are characteristic enough to allow one to define the author’s gender with a striking accuracy – according to the work Automatically Categorizing Written Texts by Author Gender by Moshe Koppel et al, one of the sorting algorithms used for this purpose automatically determines the author’s gender with up to 80 percent accuracy.

Seeing that this problem can be solved by means of automatic sorting, it becomes clear that the difference between male and female writing isn’t abstract and qualitative but, on the contrary, concrete and quantitative. In other words, it is the frequency with which certain language elements are used that is the most helpful in distinguishing between male and female writing.

On the whole, there are about 50 markers that are useful in defining the author’s gender, with some of them more important and some less. The most notable female marker is the abundance of pronouns (I, you, she, yourself, herself), while the most characteristic male markers are large numbers of determiners (a, the, that, these), quantifiers (one, two, three, some) and cardinal numbers.

Of course it doesn’t mean that one can define with complete certainty whether the text’s author is male or female by counting the markers and comparing the results with median frequencies – but it is not that far from the truth. For example, if frequency of occurrence of the is low enough and of she is high enough, the text in question is almost guaranteed to have been written by a woman. And with enough work the algorithm can most likely be perfected to include more markers and become even more precise.

What these differences mean, however, is another matter entirely; and, as this topic is much more open to speculation than the cold facts, there are numerous theories explaining the matter.

One of them, for example, states that female writing is more ‘involved’ – that is, it shows greater degree of interaction between the writer and the reader/listener, which is mainly expressed in the amount of pronouns used. Meanwhile, male writing is more ‘informational’, which is expressed via the abundance of determiners.

It is hard to say how close this explanation is to truth – there is obviously not enough practical and theoretical work done on the subject to make statements with any degree of certainty. One thing, however, is quite clear – yes, there is a difference between male and female writing. For better or for worse, however, this difference is too vague for us to understand in what way it is meaningful – at least for now.

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