What is academic writing?
Writing is a skill that is required in many contexts throughout life. However, academic writing is quite different from personal writing because it follows its own set of rules and practices:
- Ideas are usually organised in a formal order or structure.
- Ideas are supported by references from academic literature.
- In contrast to personal writing, academic writing is different because it deals with the theories and causes of a given topic, as well as exploring alternative explanations for these theories or events.
- Academic writing follows a particular tone, which uses concise, formal, and objective language. Academic writing also adheres to traditional conventions of punctuation, grammar, and spelling.
Some kind of structure is required, such as an introduction, essay body paragraphs, and a conclusion. This simple structure is typical of an essay format, as well as other assignment writing tasks, which may not have a clearly articulated structure.
Typical university assignments follow a formal structure, which is often more formal than in personal writing.
- In an essay, the introductory paragraphtells the reader what the essay is about and what the following paragraphs (called body paragraphs) will discuss.
- The introduction may also summarise very succinctly, in a sentence or two, your position on the issue (this is called a thesis statement). An introduction is usually 10-15% of the total word limit.
- Your essay body paragraphs are used to support your thesis statement. The first sentence of each paragraph (sometimes called a topic sentence) should tell the reader what the paragraph is about. The rest of the paragraph is used to explain or develop this idea.
- The final paragraph, the conclusion, summarises the points made in your essay body paragraphs. You should not introduce new information in the conclusion.
- Sometimes, you can use the concluding paragraph to broaden discussion to the implications or future advancements surrounding the issues addressed. Usually a conclusion is about 10% of the total word limit.
- Another type of structure common in university assignments is a report.
- A report is often organised around the identification of problems or difficulties and corresponding solutions.
- Unlike most essays, a report is divided according to clearly labelled sections, such as Introduction, Discussion, Conclusions, and Recommendations.
- Also, unlike an essay, reports allow bulleted points in the conclusions and recommendations sections.
A significant difference between academic writing and other kinds of writing is the use of citations and referencing of published authors.
- If you make claims, judgements or statements about something in academic writing, there is an expectation that you will support your opinion by linking it to what a published author has previously written about the issue.
- Citing the work of other authors is central to academic writing because it shows you have read the literature, understood the ideas, and have integrated these issues and varying perspectives into the assignment task.
- The importance placed on referring to other authors in your work can be reflected in the elaborate referencing conventions that have been created within different disciplines, such as APA (American Psychological Association) referencing, which is used in psychology, education, some social sciences, as well as for business.
Like all varieties of writing, academic writing has its own tone, which dictates the choice of words and phrasing.
Academic writing typically aims to be:
- objective (e.g. using inclusive language)
- formal (e.g. avoiding slang, exclamation marks, contractions)
The tone of academic writing can also vary significantly depending on the subject-area and the academic discipline you are writing for.
The readings, textbook, and study guide of your course show you what tone is expected in the paper, so study their style carefully.
It is important to remember who you are writing for. Being conscious of academic tone suggests that you are aware of your audience and respect the formality normally associated with academic writing.
When writing academically, you must target a more general audience than just your lecturer and/or marker. You should assume that your readers will be intelligent thinking people, but they may not be specifically informed of your topic. Do not presume that your reader knows all the terms and concepts associated with your work. This may mean you have to give concise definitions or explanations of key terms and events.
Punctuation and grammar
In academic writing you should always follow rules of punctuation and grammar. Punctuation and the conventions of grammar are universally known systems (within individual languages) that maintain clarity and avoid ambiguity in expression. It is important that the spelling and grammar check software on your computer are turned on and set to the correct language.