Have a language expert improve your writing
Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
- Academic writing
What Is Academic Writing? | Dos and Don’ts for Students
Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in universities and scholarly publications. You’ll encounter it in journal articles and books on academic topics, and you’ll be expected to write your essays , research papers , and dissertation in academic style.
Academic writing follows the same writing process as other types of texts, but it has specific conventions in terms of content, structure and style.
Don't stress about your grammar any longer
You focus on the content. We check your writing. All in minutes, no matter the size of your document. It's the easiest way to improve your grade.
Try the new AI Proofreader
Table of contents
Types of academic writing, academic writing is…, academic writing is not…, useful tools for academic writing, academic writing checklist.
Academics mostly write texts intended for publication, such as journal articles, reports, books, and chapters in edited collections. For students, the most common types of academic writing assignments are listed below.
Different fields of study have different priorities in terms of the writing they produce. For example, in scientific writing it’s crucial to clearly and accurately report methods and results; in the humanities, the focus is on constructing convincing arguments through the use of textual evidence. However, most academic writing shares certain key principles intended to help convey information as effectively as possible.
Whether your goal is to pass your degree, apply to graduate school , or build an academic career, effective writing is an essential skill.
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
Formal and unbiased.
Academic writing aims to convey information in an impartial way. The goal is to base arguments on the evidence under consideration, not the author’s preconceptions. All claims should be supported with relevant evidence, not just asserted.
To avoid bias, it’s important to represent the work of other researchers and the results of your own research fairly and accurately. This means clearly outlining your methodology and being honest about the limitations of your research.
The formal style used in academic writing ensures that research is presented consistently across different texts, so that studies can be objectively assessed and compared with other research.
Because of this, it’s important to strike the right tone with your language choices. Avoid informal language , including slang, contractions , clichés, and conversational phrases:
- Also , a lot of the findings are a little unreliable.
- Moreover , many of the findings are somewhat unreliable.
Clear and precise
It’s important to use clear and precise language to ensure that your reader knows exactly what you mean. This means being as specific as possible and avoiding vague language :
- People have been interested in this thing for a long time .
- Researchers have been interested in this phenomenon for at least 10 years .
Avoid hedging your claims with words like “perhaps,” as this can give the impression that you lack confidence in your arguments. Reflect on your word choice to ensure it accurately and directly conveys your meaning:
- This could perhaps suggest that…
- This suggests that…
Specialist language or jargon is common and often necessary in academic writing, which generally targets an audience of other academics in related fields.
However, jargon should be used to make your writing more concise and accurate, not to make it more complicated. A specialist term should be used when:
- It conveys information more precisely than a comparable non-specialist term.
- Your reader is likely to be familiar with the term.
- The term is commonly used by other researchers in your field.
The best way to familiarize yourself with the kind of jargon used in your field is to read papers by other researchers and pay attention to their language.
Focused and well structured
An academic text is not just a collection of ideas about a topic—it needs to have a clear purpose. Start with a relevant research question or thesis statement , and use it to develop a focused argument. Only include information that is relevant to your overall purpose.
A coherent structure is crucial to organize your ideas. Pay attention to structure at three levels: the structure of the whole text, paragraph structure, and sentence structure.
Academic writing uses sources to support its claims. Sources are other texts (or media objects like photographs or films) that the author analyzes or uses as evidence. Many of your sources will be written by other academics; academic writing is collaborative and builds on previous research.
It’s important to consider which sources are credible and appropriate to use in academic writing. For example, citing Wikipedia is typically discouraged. Don’t rely on websites for information; instead, use academic databases and your university library to find credible sources.
You must always cite your sources in academic writing. This means acknowledging whenever you quote or paraphrase someone else’s work by including a citation in the text and a reference list at the end.
There are many different citation styles with different rules. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago . Make sure to consistently follow whatever style your institution requires. If you don’t cite correctly, you may get in trouble for plagiarism . A good plagiarism checker can help you catch any issues before it’s too late.
You can easily create accurate citations in APA or MLA style using our Citation Generators.
APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator
Correct and consistent
As well as following the rules of grammar, punctuation, and citation, it’s important to consistently apply stylistic conventions regarding:
- How to write numbers
- Introducing abbreviations
- Using verb tenses in different sections
- Capitalization of terms and headings
- Spelling and punctuation differences between UK and US English
In some cases there are several acceptable approaches that you can choose between—the most important thing is to apply the same rules consistently and to carefully proofread your text before you submit. If you don’t feel confident in your own proofreading abilities, you can get help from Scribbr’s professional proofreading services or Grammar Checker .
Academic writing generally tries to avoid being too personal. Information about the author may come in at some points—for example in the acknowledgements or in a personal reflection—but for the most part the text should focus on the research itself.
Always avoid addressing the reader directly with the second-person pronoun “you.” Use the impersonal pronoun “one” or an alternate phrasing instead for generalizations:
- As a teacher, you must treat your students fairly.
- As a teacher, one must treat one’s students fairly.
- Teachers must treat their students fairly.
The use of the first-person pronoun “I” used to be similarly discouraged in academic writing, but it is increasingly accepted in many fields. If you’re unsure whether to use the first person, pay attention to conventions in your field or ask your instructor.
When you refer to yourself, it should be for good reason. You can position yourself and describe what you did during the research, but avoid arbitrarily inserting your personal thoughts and feelings:
- In my opinion…
- I think that…
- I like/dislike…
- I conducted interviews with…
- I argue that…
- I hope to achieve…
Many students think their writing isn’t academic unless it’s over-complicated and long-winded. This isn’t a good approach—instead, aim to be as concise and direct as possible.
If a term can be cut or replaced with a more straightforward one without affecting your meaning, it should be. Avoid redundant phrasings in your text, and try replacing phrasal verbs with their one-word equivalents where possible:
- Interest in this phenomenon carried on in the year 2018 .
- Interest in this phenomenon continued in 2018 .
Repetition is a part of academic writing—for example, summarizing earlier information in the conclusion—but it’s important to avoid unnecessary repetition. Make sure that none of your sentences are repeating a point you’ve already made in different words.
Emotive and grandiose
An academic text is not the same thing as a literary, journalistic, or marketing text. Though you’re still trying to be persuasive, a lot of techniques from these styles are not appropriate in an academic context. Specifically, you should avoid appeals to emotion and inflated claims.
Though you may be writing about a topic that’s sensitive or important to you, the point of academic writing is to clearly communicate ideas, information, and arguments, not to inspire an emotional response. Avoid using emotive or subjective language :
- This horrible tragedy was obviously one of the worst catastrophes in construction history.
- The injury and mortality rates of this accident were among the highest in construction history.
Students are sometimes tempted to make the case for their topic with exaggerated , unsupported claims and flowery language. Stick to specific, grounded arguments that you can support with evidence, and don’t overstate your point:
- Charles Dickens is the greatest writer of the Victorian period, and his influence on all subsequent literature is enormous.
- Charles Dickens is one of the best-known writers of the Victorian period and has had a significant influence on the development of the English novel.
There are a a lot of writing tools that will make your writing process faster and easier. We’ll highlight three of them below.
AI writing tools like ChatGPT and a paraphrasing tool can help you rewrite text so that your ideas are clearer, you don’t repeat yourself, and your writing has a consistent tone.
They can also help you write more clearly about sources without having to quote them directly. Be warned, though: it’s still crucial to give credit to all sources in the right way to prevent plagiarism .
Writing tools that scan your text for punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. When it detects a mistake the grammar checke r will give instant feedback and suggest corrections. Helping you write clearly and avoid common mistakes .
You can use a summarizer if you want to condense text into its most important and useful ideas. With a summarizer tool, you can make it easier to understand complicated sources. You can also use the tool to make your research question clearer and summarize your main argument.
Use the checklist below to assess whether you have followed the rules of effective academic writing.
- Checklist: Academic writing
I avoid informal terms and contractions .
I avoid second-person pronouns (“you”).
I avoid emotive or exaggerated language.
I avoid redundant words and phrases.
I avoid unnecessary jargon and define terms where needed.
I present information as precisely and accurately as possible.
I use appropriate transitions to show the connections between my ideas.
My text is logically organized using paragraphs .
Each paragraph is focused on a single idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .
Every part of the text relates to my central thesis or research question .
I support my claims with evidence.
I use the appropriate verb tenses in each section.
I consistently use either UK or US English .
I format numbers consistently.
I cite my sources using a consistent citation style .
Your text follows the most important rules of academic style. Make sure it's perfect with the help of a Scribbr editor!
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked.
- Taboo words in academic writing
- How to write more concisely
- Transition Words & Phrases | List & Examples
More interesting articles
- A step-by-step guide to the writing process
- Active vs. Passive Constructions | When to Use the Passive Voice
- Avoid informal writing
- Avoid rhetorical questions
- Be conscious of your adverb placement
- Capitalization in titles and headings
- Exclamation points (!)
- Forging good titles in academic writing
- Free, Downloadable Educational Templates for Students
- Free, Downloadable Lecture Slides for Educators and Students
- How to avoid repetition and redundancy
- How to write a lab report
- How to write effective headings
- Language mistakes in quotes
- List of 47 Phrasal Verbs and Their One-Word Substitutions
- Myth: It’s incorrect to start a sentence with “because”
- Myth: It’s an error to split infinitives
- Myth: It’s incorrect to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so)
- Myth: Paragraph transitions should be placed at the ends of paragraphs
- Tense tendencies in academic texts
- Using abbreviations and acronyms
- What Is Anthropomorphism? | Definition & Examples
- What Is Sentence Case? | Explanation & Examples
- What Is Title Case? | Explanation & Worksheet
- Writing myths: The reasons we get bad advice
- Writing numbers: words and numerals
What is your plagiarism score?
- I nfographics
- Show AWL words
- Subscribe to newsletter
What is academic writing?
- Academic Style
- What is the writing process?
- Understanding the title
- First draft
- Report writing
- Compare & contrast
- Cause & effect
- Essay structure
- Literature review
- Book review
- Research proposal
- What is cohesion?
- Cohesion vs coherence
- Transition signals
- What are references?
- In-text citations
- Reference sections
- Reporting verbs
- Band descriptors
Show AWL words on this page.
Levels 1-5: grey Levels 6-10: orange
Show sorted lists of these words.
Any words you don't know? Look them up in the website's built-in dictionary .
Choose a dictionary . Wordnet OPTED both
Academic Writing Seven features of academic writing
Academic writing is arguably the most important skill in academic contexts, since writing is the main method of academic communication. It is also the most difficult skill for most students to master. This page considers what academic writing is , looking in detail at the main features of academic writing , as well as suggesting ways to develop academic writing . There is a checklist at the end for you to check your understanding.
For another look at the same content, check out YouTube or Youku , or the infographic . There is a worksheet (with answers and teacher's notes) for this video.
Academic writing is writing which communicates ideas, information and research to the wider academic community. It can be divided into two types: student academic writing, which is used as a form of assessment at university, as well as at schools as preparation for university study; and expert academic writing, which is writing that is intended for publication in an academic journal or book. Both types of academic writing (student and expert) are expected to adhere to the same standards, which can be difficult for students to master. The characteristics of academic writing which together distinguish it from other forms of writing are that it is:
- structured ;
- evidenced ;
- objective ;
Features of academic writing
Check out the features of academic writing infographic »
Academic writing should have a clear structure. The structure will often derive from the genre of writing . For example, a report will have an introduction (including the aim or aims), a method section, a discussion section and so on, while an essay will have an introduction (including a thesis statement ), clear body paragraphs with topic sentences , and a conclusion. The writing should be coherent , with logical progression throughout, and cohesive , with the different parts of the writing clearly connected. Careful planning before writing is essential to ensure that the final product will be well structured, with a clear focus and logical progression of ideas.
Opinions and arguments in academic writing should be supported by evidence. Often the writing will be based on information from experts in the field, and as such, it will be important to reference the information appropriately, for example via the use of in-text citations and a reference section .
Academic writing does more than just describe. As an academic writer, you should not simply accept everything you read as fact. You need to analyse and evaluate the information you are writing about, in other words make judgements about it, before you decide whether and how to integrate it into your own writing. This is known as critical writing . Critical writing requires a great deal of research in order for the writer to develop a deep enough understanding of the topic to be truly critical about it.
Academic writing should be balanced. This means giving consideration to all sides of the issue and avoiding bias. As noted above, all research, evidence and arguments can be challenged, and it is important for the academic writer to show their stance on a particular topic, in other words how strong their claims are. This can be done using hedges , for example phases such as the evidence suggests... or this could be caused by... , or boosters , that is, phrases such as clearly or the research indicates .
Academic writing should use clear and precise language to ensure the reader understands the meaning. This includes the use of technical (i.e. subject-specific) vocabulary , which should be used when it conveys the meaning more precisely than a similar non-technical term. Sometimes such technical vocabulary may need defining , though only if the term is not commonly used by others in the same discipline and will therefore not be readily understood by the reader.
Academic writing is objective. In other words, the emphasis is placed on the arguments and information, rather than on the writer. As a result, academic writing tends to use nouns and noun phrases more than verbs and adverbs. It also tends to use more passive structures , rather than active voice, for example The water was heated rather than I heated the water .
Finally, academic writing is more formal than everyday writing. It tends to use longer words and more complex sentences , while avoiding contractions and colloquial or informal words or expressions that might be common in spoken English. There are words and collocations which are used in academic writing more frequently than in non-academic writing, and researchers have developed lists of these words and phrases to help students of academic English, such as the Academic Word List , the Academic Vocabulary List , and the Academic Collocation List .
Developing your academic writing
Given the relatively specialist nature of academic writing, it can seem daunting when you first begin. You can develop your academic writing by paying attention to feedback from tutors or peers and seeking specific areas to improve. Another way to develop your academic writing is to read more. By reading academic journals or texts, you can develop a better understanding of the features that make academic writing different from other forms of writing.
Alexander, O., Argent, S. and Spencer, J. (2008) EAP Essentials: A teacher's guide to principles and practice . Reading: Garnet Publishing Ltd.
Cardiff Metropolitan University (n.d.) Academic Writing: Principles and Practice . Available at: https://study.cardiffmet.ac.uk/AcSkills/Documents/Guides/AS_Guide_Academic_Writing.pdf (Access date: 4/2/21).
Gillett, A. (n.d.) Features of academic writing . Available at: http://www.uefap.com/writing/feature/featfram.htm (Access date: 4/2/21).
Staffordshire University (2020) Academic writing . https://libguides.staffs.ac.uk/ld.php?content_id=33103104 (Access date: 4/2/21).
Staffordshire University (2021) Academic writing . https://libguides.staffs.ac.uk/academic_writing/explained (Access date: 4/2/21).
University of Leeds (2021) Academic writing . https://library.leeds.ac.uk/info/14011/writing/106/academic_writing (Access date: 4/2/21).
GET FREE EBOOK
Like the website? Try the books. Enter your email to receive a free sample from Academic Writing Genres .
Below is a checklist for this page. Use it to check your understanding.
Find out more about the academic style in the next section.
Author: Sheldon Smith ‖ Last modified: 24 July 2022.
Sheldon Smith is the founder and editor of EAPFoundation.com. He has been teaching English for Academic Purposes since 2004. Find out more about him in the about section and connect with him on Twitter , Facebook and LinkedIn .
Compare & contrast essays examine the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences.
Cause & effect essays consider the reasons (or causes) for something, then discuss the results (or effects).
Discussion essays require you to examine both sides of a situation and to conclude by saying which side you favour.
Problem-solution essays are a sub-type of SPSE essays (Situation, Problem, Solution, Evaluation).
Transition signals are useful in achieving good cohesion and coherence in your writing.
Reporting verbs are used to link your in-text citations to the information cited.