Academic writing

Academic writing

Academic writing is made up of three core characteristics: formal, objective and technical features. It is formal because it avoids informal language and slang language. This form of writing is also objective and impersonal because it avoids direct reference to people and feelings, and it is based on fact and ideas. Additionally, Academic writing is technical because it uses specific vocabulary based on the course.

Different academic field have different writing structures and styles. For instance, humanities require that writers and students use longer paragraphs that include topic sentences, supporting sentences and concluding sentence. On the other hand, science disciplines require shorter sentences that do not need a topic sentence but need to be full of scientific facts and evidence.

To become an EXCELLENT ACADEMIC WRITER, you need to master several specific styles and structures for the courses you write for and each writing task. Some of the areas you can seek excellent academic writing information include:

  • Seek information from peer-reviewed journals.
  • Consider successful writing works from other students.
  • Seek information from your professors or university websites.

Formal language

Your academic writing’s formal nature is determined by the kind of vocabulary you use in your writing. Under this type of writing:

  • Always choose formal over informal, for example, “insufficient” instead of “not enough.”
  • Avoid word contractions, use ‘could not’ instead of ‘couldn’t’.
  • Avoid using strong emotional words; for example, use “helpful” instead of “wonderful.”
  • Avoid using absolute negatives and positives like wrong or proof and use words like “strong evidence” or “research indicates” to justify your writing.

Objective language

Although academic writing requires writers to be objective in their writing, there are situations when they have to present their opinions, for example, to:

  • Analyze findings
  • Build arguments
  • Criticize other writings
  • Evaluate theories

However, there are strategies that a writer can use to bring out their points but still objectively present their writing. These strategies include:

  • Avoid using strong emotional words, for example, instead of writing that “parents who smoke in their children’s presence affect the health of the children” and write “passive smoking affects children’s health of children”.
  • Finding and citing authoritative sources in your writing is another way to present opinions but remain objective by referring to other writers’ work.
  • Avoid evaluating work based on non-technical judgment. For example, you can use valid instead of amazing.
  • Embrace moderation in your work to provide room for criticism, for example, instead of writing “passive smoking lead to cancer”, you can write “research indicates that passive smoking can lead to cancer”.

Different courses have different requirements for the objective and subjective nature of academic writing. For example, some disciplines accept the use of first-person while it is unacceptable in some fields. Therefore, as a writer, it is necessary to confirm the requirements of the discipline you are writing in.

Technical language

Formal language is essential in academic writing like technical language because it also has significant impact on academic writing students present to their lecturers. As a writer, you need to develop a large vocabulary that is specific to the discipline you are writing for. To acquire and use this discipline-based vocabulary, consider vocabulary used in your research sources.

Furthermore, as a writer, it is necessary to consider technical words before using them because some technical terms acquire different meaning from one discipline to the next.

Additionally, to ensure efficient academic writing, you need to identify and use key categories and links in your discipline; this means that information needs to be organized in groups. For instance, when it comes to law courses, there are two types, statute and common law. Understanding the differences between these two can help you present a more technical paper.

Types of academic writing

The four main types of academic writing are descriptive, analytical, persuasive and critical. Each of these writing has specific language features and purposes. To ensure excellent academic writing, some texts may require you to integrate more than one academic writing type, for example, the empirical thesis. In empirical thesis:

  • You will require critical writing in a literature review to identify a gap in the available research.
  • Descriptive type of academic writing is required in the methods chapter to collect and analyze the data.
  • In the research section, you will need analytical and descriptive writing to report the data you collected.
  • On the other hand, the discussion section is analytical as link the findings to the research questions, and it is also persuasive as you interpret your findings.

Descriptive Academic Writing

Descriptive writing is the simplest type of academic writing. The primary purpose of descriptive academic writing is to provide data and facts in research. For example, it needs to include ‘define’, ‘summarize’, ‘identify’ and ‘report’ in descriptive writing.

Analytical Academic Writing

It is rare for university academic writing to be exclusively descriptive. Analytical writing is also required in these texts. Analytical writing consists of descriptive writing, but it requires the writers to re-organize the data into categories based on their relationships.

Moreover, these categories and relationships may already exist in disciplines, while under certain situations, as the writer, you will have to come up with cases for your text. For example, if your text compares two texts, you may break the comparison into several easy understanding parts.

Some of the analytical writing instructions include ‘examine’, ‘compare’, ‘analyze’ and ‘contrast’. Some of the factors to consider for analytical writing include:

  • Planning, as a writer, you need to brainstorm on the facts and ideas that you will present in your research. There are several ways you can do this, for example, flow charts, tree diagrams and table.
  • Create subtopics for each category and relationships you identify, for example, advantages and disadvantages.
  • Each analytical subtopic needs to be built in a paragraph.
  • A clear introduction and topic sentences are essential to make your paper clear and understandable by the reader.

Persuasive Academic Writing

Apart from analytical and descriptive writing, academic writing also includes persuasive writing. Persuasive writing has features similar to analytical writing, data presentation in a re-organized manner and then providing your perspective concerning the data. Most essays written in universities are persuasive, and each research paper must include at least a persuasive element in the discussion or conclusion parts.

There are several ways that a writer can present their points of view, for example, interpretation, arguments, recommendations and evaluation of works presented by other writers. When it comes to persuasive writing, the writer needs to support their point of view by using evidence of credible sources, for example, books and peer-reviewed journals.

Points of view in academic writing can include an argument, recommendations, and interpretations of findings or evaluation of the works done by other writers. In persuasive writing, each claim you make needs to be supported by some evidence, for example, a reference to research findings or published sources.

To develop an informative pint of view on ideas:

  • Read the opinions of other writers concerning your topic and consider the most convincing.
  • Look for quality patterns in data or sources; consider those with the most substantial evidence.
  • Highlight the various analyses and identify their implications in real-life situations and those that can be considered useful.

To establish a strong argument:

  • List various reasons behind your point of view.
  • Identify the different quality sources you can use to support your point of view.
  • Compare your point of view with those of other writers and identify the similarities and differences.
  • Break your perspective into several parts if possible, for example, affordability, availability and ease of use.

To present your argument, make sure:

  • Your text should be coherent and connect your entire claim to support your overall point of view.
  • Ensure the reader can easily understand each claim you present.
  • Include valid assumptions.
  • Provide quality evidence for every claim.
  • Use relevant evidence that directly relates to your claims.

Critical Academic Writing

Critical writing is common in undergraduate, research and postgraduate writing. This type of writing takes all the characteristics of persuasive writing, with an additional point of view. While persuasive writing requires only one point of view, critical writing calls upon the writer to present two points of view on the topic. For example, you can present another writer’s views and then analyze it or provide an alternative argument based on your understanding.

Some of the most common critical writing assignment includes article critique, literature review for pros and cons of exiting research. Instructions used in critical writing include ‘critique’, ‘evaluate’, ‘disagree’ and ‘debate’.

To present quality critical writing, you need to:

  • Provide a summary of all the essential parts of the research.
  • Provide your opinion concerning the piece of work, for example, pointing out shortcomings of the research, protecting the work from other critiques or recommending an alternative approach to the research.
  • Support your opinion with evidence, for example, include authoritative sources and logical reasoning.

Strong writing skills are a requirement for effective critical writing. As an academic writer, you need to develop a paragraph structure and essay structure that allows analysis and interpretation of data to establish a strong argument.

Planning your Academic writing

There are two main approaches through which a writer can organize and plan their data in academic writing.

  • The planning approach requires the writer to sort out data and identify the ones they will use in their writing. A writer should start writing when they know the data that they will include in all their paragraphs.
  • The drafting approach requires writing while they develop ideas for each paragraph. The writer will then re-organize the drafts until they come up with informed and clear paragraphs.

These two approaches are effective in academic writing, but when you need to present a clear and analytical piece of writing, the planning approach is more effective.  Coming up with a great writing plan is the first step in writing an excellent assignment.

Know what’s expected

Although many courses may have similar writing requirements, for example, essays, however, some requirements apply only to a specific discipline. Furthermore, there are situations where lectures in the same discipline will present students with different writing requirements for specific assignments. Therefore, it is essential that as a writer, you understand the kind of writing or paper you are supposed to handle, for instance, case study, case study or report.

To understand what is expected from you when it comes to academic writing assignment:

  • Look at the instruction provided for the assignment.
  • Consider the rubrics and the marking guidelines; they will help you plan how the assignment’s content will look.
  • Ask for direction from your professors.
  • Consider the unit outline.
  • Discuss with other students taking the same course.
  • Look at the general assignment guidelines from faculties, departments and schools.
  • Look at sample assignments.

Make a task list

Identifying all the materials, you require writing an excellent assignment is another step that guarantees quality writing. Some of the things you need to consider include:

  • Library database for research purposes
  • Brainstorming
  • Data analysis
  • Planning and assignment structuring
  • Drafting
  • Discussing
  • Editing and proofreading

Time management is a task that all writers need to master. You need to plan your time, for example, on the amount of time you will spend planning, researching and writing. Time management is a significant determinant of the quality of the paper you will write.

Early planning

Before starting your assignment, collect as many information as possible concerning the topic without considering the structure or outlook. Some of the information you can collect include:

  • Read the assignment and analyze its purpose and objectives.
  • Brainstorm on the topic and keywords that will enable you to conduct research.
  • Come up with flowcharts and mind maps.
  • List all readings you could access easily.
  • Read the abstract of these readings to determine the most appropriate for your research.
  • Discuss your ideas with other students and writers.

Structuring written work

Lab reports and case studies have a standard format, whereas, for other assignments, the writer must develop a structure that will make it possible for the reader to understand.

The structure of your assignment may b guided by:

  • The assignment questions. The questions may give you a layout of how the assignment should look.
  • The subject matter may also present a hint on how you should present your writing.
  • Interpretation of subject matter may also provide an outline for the assignment, for example, subtopics.
  • Readings and texts that you have covered in your discipline may also influence the outline of the assignment.


These are the most common forms of academic writing at the university level. The main structure of an essay is in three parts: introduction, body and conclusion. However, the body can be structured in different ways.

To write an excellent essay, you need to:

  • Know the kind of essay you are supposed to write.
  • Provide a clear structure of the body and main paragraphs.
  • Use academic language
  • Use the appropriate referencing style.


Reports take the same structure as essays because they include an introduction, body and conclusion. Like essays, the body structure varies from one text to the next and according to disciplines. Find out the type of report you are supposed to write before starting.

How to plan your structure

As a writer, there are many ways through which you can structure your assignment; however, if you are not sure with the kind of structure you need to take, below are some of the strategies you can take.

When reading your sources on the topic, take notes and plan how you will structure the ideas into a logical and coherent writing piece. Some of the ways through which you place your ideas include:

  • Identify differences and similarities, advantages and disadvantages, effect, problems, subheadings, patterns and causes.
  • Use coloured highlighters on the information you find valuable to your research, or take short notes.
  • Cut and paste the necessary information from your sources into a word document.

Furthermore, there brainstorming on the different structures is a good idea once you have identified the main ideas of meeting your assignment’s objective. Develop an outline of the entire assignment before you start writing; having an outline makes it easy to restructure your work.

Some of the ways through which you can come up with an outline include:

  • Come up with flow diagrams and mind map showing your ideas and facts you have collected according to each source and how it is relevant to your assignment.
  • Eliminate ideas that have no value on your assignment, for example, facts and pieces of evidence that are limited in terms of content.
  • If your research includes comparison and a lot of data, come up with tables to improve your variables’ comparison.
  • Determine the subheading you will need for your assignment and also the number of paragraphs you will need.
  • Try out different structures until you find the most suitable for your assignment.

Finally, you will have a structure and detail that is enough to start working on your assignment. Additionally, you will also be able to develop ideas that fit into each paragraph and subheading. Additionally, you will also have sources and evidence that you will include in your assignment.

Making the structure clear

Providing a logical flow or structure to your work makes it easy to read, understand, and edit it. You can achieve clarity of your work through:

  • Use the end of the introduction to inform the reader about the outline of your writing.
  • Use headings and sub-headings whenever necessary.
  • Include topic sentences in your paragraph to inform readers of the main idea in the paragraph and its relation to the topic.
  • Connect your sentences back to the main idea to ensure there is coherency in your readers’ information.
  • Use connectors and conjunctions to link ideas to show each paragraph’s relationship and the assignment’s main idea. Some common joining words include, however, furthermore, moreover, similarly, in contrast, and as a result.


In most academic writing at the university level, an introduction is necessary to inform the reader about the topic, objectives and the structure that the assignment will take. In most assignments, an introduction takes up between 10% and 20% of the total word count. An introduction includes:

  • General information, for example, definition and background information.
  • The core of the introduction that includes the topic, opinions and research questions.
  • Specific information that includes the scope and structure of the assignment.

If your paper is supposed to take up a specific format in the instructions, for example, method, discussion, and report like in science reports, you do not need to include a structured outline in your introduction. Furthermore, it is necessary to begin your introduction after knowing the kind of paper you are supposed to write, for instance, persuasive or analytical paper. You can also revise your introduction after writing the body.


Mot academic writings are structured into paragraphs and to come up with a great paragraph, a writer needs to look at it as a mini-essay that consists of three parts:

  • the topic sentence,
  • the body
  • Concluding sentence (optional)

The topic sentence introduces the main idea that the paragraph will cover and its purpose. The length of the paragraph determines the length of the introducing sentence. This sentence tells what the paragraph is about.

The paragraph’s body is designed to explain and develop the paragraph’s purpose and then link it back to the main topic in the assignment. This sentence can provide definitions, examples and evidence to build the purpose of the paragraph.

The final or concluding sentences are unnecessary for all paragraphs, and it does not present any new information in the paragraph. However, this sentence is designed to summarize the content of the paragraph. Additionally, this sentence links the entire paragraph back to the main idea in the assignment.

Although this is a clear and familiar structure, it is not a must that writers have to follow this format and include all the three parts of the paragraph. It is not a must to include a concluding sentence in the paragraph or have the main idea of the sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. However, writing a paragraph in this format makes it easy to understand.


In academic writing, conclusions are described as the mirror of introduction because they are closely related. When an introduction begins with general information and ends with vital information, the conclusion will start with specific information and end with general data.

The conclusions in academic writing offer:

  • A summary of the main content in the paper.
  • Confirms and reinforces the objectives or aims of the paper.
  • Provides a general ending that relates to the topic in discussion; these may include recommendations or implications.

Grammar, spelling and vocabulary

Grammar, spelling and vocabulary are essential when it comes to academic writing, especially in university-level writing. These three are part of the marking criteria of assignments. If you are not confident with your grammar or spelling, there are online resources like GRAMMARLY that help you to automatically correct spelling and grammatical errors.

Developing your technical vocabulary takes time, and it is, therefore, that as a writer, you read extensively on your respective disciplines and understand how each vocabulary is used. Additionally, master some of the commonly used words in your area of study, for instance, aspect or analysis.

Although there are ways through which you can improve your vocabulary if English is not your first language. For example, reading books and journals; the best way that you can improve your vocabulary is by spending most of your time in English conversations. However, you have to understand that formal spoken English is different from conversational English.

Editing and proofreading

To ensure the quality of the assignment, it is essential to edit and proofread before submitting. Depending on the type of work you are writing, your editing process will include:

  • Adding or removing words to meet the required word limit.
  • Make your sentences coherent and clear.
  • Paragraph restructuring.
  • Making sure your paragraphs are clear and logical.
  • Ensure your work follows all instructions.
  • Adding subheading to increase clarity.

After you have completed editing your work, proofread it to eliminate grammar and spelling mistakes.

Evidence, plagiarism and referencing

Using evidence

Persuasive and critical types of academic writing are the most common in universities, and to accomplish them, you will need to present evidence to support your claims.

Different courses require different types of evidence to justify the claims you present in your assignment. For example, science disciplines that use empirical data require the writer to include statistical and experimental results to justify their claims.

Additionally, as a writer, you need to understand that not all sources are appropriate. Therefore, you will need to evaluate each source’s content to determine whether it is of value to your research. To evaluate the content of a source, you should:

  • Check whether the source offers support to your claims and ideas.
  • Determine the source’s reliability, for example, if it is a peer-reviewed source, the publisher, the author and the methodology used in data collection.
  • Determine if the source meets the standards of a good source. For example, some disciplines require that a relevant source be no more than five years old, while some like philosophy allows the use of sources up to 200 years old.


Plagiarism is academic dishonesty where a writer presents the work of another as their own. There are several forms of plagiarism in academic writing, as a writer, make sure you familiarize yourself with TYPES OF PLAGIARISM IN ACADEMIC WRITING.

Avoiding plagiarism

Having an extensive understanding of plagiarism is the first step towards avoiding it; you also need referencing and excellent writing skills. Also, you need to:

  • Summarize and paraphrase the text.
  • Know when to quote the source.
  • Connect your ideas with information from your sources.
  • Use different types of referencing appropriately.

You can include a quote in your writing by using the word for word text from your source and then putting it into quotation marks. Your quote needs to be a complete sentence.

When paraphrasing or summarizing other writers’ work, you will have to read the writers’ work and then put it in your own words. However, it is still a requirement that you provide citations for these summaries.

In academic writing, it is best that a writer paraphrase rather than quote sources. Paraphrasing indicates great understanding and excellent writing skills of a student. Additionally, paraphrasing shows the high thinking levels writer posses. Extensive vocabulary, both technical and formal on the topic is required for proper paraphrasing.


Referencing is one of the most effective ways through which a writer can avoid plagiarism. There are several referencing or citation styles a writer is supposed to understand and master. These referencing styles include Harvard, American Psychological Association and MLA. The type of referencing that a writer select depends on the discipline they are writing on.

A student needs to be informed about the referencing styles they are to use in their academic writing. The lecturer, department, and school determine the kind of referencing styles students need to use in their courses. Occasionally, students can choose a citation style they are comfortable with and are commonly applied in academic writing.

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