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Academic writing: a practical guide

Academic writing style

Academic writing style

Communicating your ideas clearly, concisely and (mostly) objectively.

Introduction to academic writing style

Academic writing uses a very different style to other types of writing, which might need a bit of getting used to.

Academic writing isn't about impressing people with ‘big words’ or being overly formal. The main aim is to be clear, concise and usually objective so that you can communicate your ideas effectively.

Student writing in notebook

Compare these two sentences - they contain the same information, but the better style example is much shorter, simpler and easier to understand.

Poor style: The primary ambition of expressing concepts in an academic fashion is to provide assistance for the audience of the piece in comprehending the information being conveyed in an expeditious and accessible manner.
Better style: Effective academic writing helps readers understand your points quickly and easily.

Instead of being formal, academic writing uses neutral words and avoids informal, conversational or colloquial language. For example, 'many factors' is more academic than 'loads of things'. Also avoid personal language - you're not the focus of the work (unless it's a reflective assignment). You should also generally use objective language, for example, 'it is really bad' is subjective, but 'a key negative consequence' is objective. 

Academic writing style [interactive tutorial] | Academic writing style [Google Doc]

Cohesive language

Cohesive words and phrases are used heavily in academic writing style to smoothly link points. They're generally small and fairly simple, but are integral to communicating your argument clearly.

Features of online resources that students appreciate include being able to use them whenever and wherever is convenient (Gorman & Staley, 2018), being in control of pace (Johnston, 2010) and the opportunity for immediate feedback (Dugartsyrenova, 2020). This is consistent with theories of andragogy, which state that adult learners need to be self-directing and able to control their learning (Knowles et al., 2005; Ota et al., 2006). However, not all students prefer online resources and some miss the in-person support in face-to-face sessions (Nichols Hess, 2014).

Find out more on our guide to creating cohesion:

Hedging & cautious language

It's very rare that we can be completely certain about our statements, so we use hedging (or cautious language) to avoid making statements that are too strong.

Take a look at the hedging language here in bold - how does it soften the statements?

When authentic assignments are evaluated through grades or citation analysis, online self-study resources seem to be more effective at supporting writing than face-to-face instruction (Anderson & May, 2010; Mery, Newby & Peng, 2012). Students also tend to prefer online resources over face-to-face skills sessions (Craig & Friehs, 2013; Gerogas, 2014). This could be because online resources are available at the point of need, and so may be more useful while writing assignments.

Find out more about hedging:

Hedging [YouTube] | Hedging [Google Doc]

Correct grammar & punctuation

In academic writing style, it's important to use grammar and punctuation correctly. This is also something that markers look for in your work!

See our proofreading & checking guide for tips on what to look out for:

Inclusive language

It's very important to use inclusive language so you can discuss people and communities sensitively and appropriately.

Explore our EDI glossary to improve your awareness and make sure you're using the right terminology: