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Academic Writing: Academic Writing

What is Academic Writing?

Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in universities to communicate ideas, information and research.  It tends to follow certain conventions in terms of content, structure and style. Academic writing is...

  • Structured: different assignment types may vary in structure (e.g., report, essay, dissertation) but all should be clearly structured. For more information about different assignment types click here.
  • Evidenced: opinions and arguments should be supported with references to your reading.  By including citations in your essay and a reference list at the end, you demonstrate how your writing is informed by evidence and research.  
  • Critical: Academic writing involves more than just description.  It is important to compare a range of views to show that you are familiar with different and conflicting ideas on a topic. For more information about critical writing click here.
  • Balanced: Academic writing considers different aspects of an argument and tries to avoid bias, but it also conveys a sense of the student writer’s stance on a particular topic.
  • Precise: Academic writing should be clear and precise.
  • Objective: Academic writing is objective – the emphasis is placed on the arguments and information, rather than on the writer’s beliefs.
  • Formal: Academic writing is more formal than everyday writing and it tends to avoid informal colloquial language.

Quick guides

  1. *Avoid personal language (e.g., ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘in my opinion’)
  2. Avoid contractions (e.g., don’t, it’s, isn’t = do not, it is, is not)
  3. Be precise (e.g., way=method, thing=object, person=participant)
  4. Avoid run-on expressions (e.g., etc, and so on, and suchlike…)
  5. Avoid subjective or emotive language (e.g., nice, incredible, awesome), try to be objective and detached instead (e.g., useful, appropriate).
  6. Use complete sentences (each must have a main verb and make complete sense standing alone).
  7. Avoid direct questions with question marks (e.g., why is this? = There are several underlying reasons for this…)
  8. Use clearly referenced supporting evidence in your essay and at the end in your reference list.
  9. Use cautious language for speculation, opinion, unsupported evidence (e.g., this may be because…there could be a link between…this could lead to…)
  10. Avoid colloquialisms (e.g., laid back, comfort zone, kids, dad, mum)

*Please note that conventions around pronoun use may vary from discipline to discipline, so check with your department. 

Read the following examples to see how academic writing differs from more informal everyday writing:

EXAMPLE 1: Informal style
I hear people talking about Identity all the time these days – it’s so hard to work out what it really means because it seems to involve so many different things, like religion, gender etc.
This example is quite personal and conversational in style. It talks about identity informally (e.g., 'I hear’, ‘all the time’, ‘it’s so hard’) and in a general way (e.g., ‘these days’, ‘etc’.) relying on anecdotal evidence (e.g., 'I hear people talking’). 
EXAMPLE 2: Academic style
The concept of identity is highly contested and research in this area draws on theoretical frameworks encompassing notions of individual and collective identity (Owens, Robinson and Smith-Lovin, 2010).  This essay focuses on the way in which religion and gender affect perceptions of individual identity.
This example is more formal in style and acknowledges the complexity of identity as a concept (e.g., 'highly contested’). It also links the idea of identity to theories and previous research (e.g., ‘research in this area…theoretical frameworks’) and includes a citation (e.g., ‘Owens, Robinson and Smith-Lovin, 2010’) so the reader can see where the information has come from.  The writer’s focus on the effects of religion and gender on identity perception is also made clear.  

Further Reading