How to Develop an Academic Writing Style - dummies

How to Develop an Academic Writing Style

By Mary Page, Carrie Winstanley

To gain the best marks possible, it’s crucial that you target your writing towards an academic readership when writing essays and dissertations. The key elements of a good academic writing style are precise, clear language and an objective, formal tone.

  • Language: should be formal and impersonal, and should not be chatty. Although it is sometimes appropriate to use the first person (“I”), it’s more usual to adopt a passive voice in academic writing. Avoid use of slang and clichés.

    Jargon refers to particular sets of words that are only in the context of a specific field – for instance law or medicine. As the language of experts, it is common to find jargon in academic writing. You should feel comfortable using it when appropriate. Ensure that you fully understand the meaning when using these words.

  • Tone: Objectivity is key. Unless linked to the question you are being asked, your personal beliefs and views on unrelated subjects are irrelevant, and you should steer clear of mentioning them.

    Your tutor will want to see an unbiased, reasoned essay. Even when you’re seeking to persuade a reader that your idea is correct, your arguments should remain evidence based rather than emotional. Language is dynamic and its interpretation is always changing, so ensure that your language is politically correct and inoffensive.

  • Style: Pretentious language clouds meaning. Don’t use long words, long-winded phrases and unnecessary punctuation for the sake of it. Your aim should always be to convey your argument in the most direct and concise way possible. Cut out excessive wording and check that your essay doesn’t repeat itself. Similarly, the purpose of punctuation is to aid understanding: It shouldn’t be used for dramatic effect.

It can take quite a while to adapt to the demands of academic writing. Everyone has a preferred writing style. Get friends and family to read through your writing and offer suggestions as to how it can be improved. Make a list of the unhelpful lapses and tics in your academic style: This way you’ll know what to look out for when writing essays.