Academic Writing

Academic writing

  • has its own tone which dictates the choice of words and phrasing. This can vary significantly depending on the subject-area and the academic discipline you are writing for.
  • typically aims to be:

Clear and concise:

Your writing needs to communicate clearly and unambiguously.

  • A wide range of vocabulary is important but you must use the right word and often shorter ones are better than long ones.

Long ‘rambling’:
in the approximate vicinity of disseminating misinformation

Short and clear:
about/near spreading lies

  • His/her – can cause problems. Use plurals instead:


A student should go over his/her feedback carefully.(ok) Students should go over their feedback carefully. (better)

Avoid any vague words or phrases:

  •  Ensure that your reader knows who or what you are referring to when you use words such as: 'it', 'them', 'they'.
  •  Words such as 'people' and 'ideas' can be vague. So, avoid saying: 'according to many people'. Ensure that you explain which people or which ideas.
  •  When talking about events that have happened in the past, avoid phrases such as: 'in the past' or 'in recent times'. You need to be specific.

Make every word count:

Too ‘wordy’:
The theorist called Sigmund Freud wrote a significant piece of work called On Narcissism which offers valuable insights into ...

Clearer and more concise: 
Freud (1914) offers valuable insights into ...

Formal and structured:

Academic writing need not be complicated, but it does need to have an element of formality. Your choice of words for an academic assignment should be more considered and careful.

Tip: It may be useful to read your writing aloud. If it sounds more like a written version of a chat with a friend, you will need to revise what you have written.

  • Avoid using informal words

Informal/spoken: White’s bit of research is all right...

Formal: White’s research is significant because…

Informal/spoken: 'get' ‘big' ‘a lot’

Formal: 'obtain' 'considerable ‘ 'many

  • Avoid contracted forms of verbs; always use the full form

Examples: it’s it is; he’ll he will; it’d it would/had

  • Avoid using exclamations (!), and dashes(-) and Brackets () and "etc."
  • Avoid direct questions if possible

Informal: Why was a mixed methods research strategy adopted?

Formal: It would be useful to find out why a mixed methods research strategy was adopted.

Although you aim to use more formal words in academic writing, you should not aim to obscure your meaning behind a lot of impressive words. Ultimately you should try to achieve succinct, clear prose.

Impersonal, objective, cautious

The style of academic writing is quite objective and impersonal, which means that it avoids mentioning personal feelings.

  • Avoid expressing opinion too strongly

Too strong: White has an extremely important point to make because.. 

Better: White’s view is significant because…

  • Avoid words like ‘really’, ‘very’, ‘extremely’
  • Avoid evaluative words based on non-technical judgements and feelings. Use more moderate language.

Too emotive: 
‘amazing’ ‘badly’ ‘disappointing’
‘Parents who smoke are obviously abusing their children.

More ‘academic’: 

valid’ ‘inaccurate’ ‘reliable’ ‘clearly demonstrates’
‘Second-hand smoke has some harmful effects on children’s health.’

  • Avoid sweeping generalisations which cannot be supported.

Too general/sweeping:

Vulnerable people live in poor housing.
International aid is key to solving world poverty


Some vulnerable people may live in poor housing.
It is claimed that international aid contributes to solving world poverty. 

So, to show caution, or to allow others to disagree, use ‘may’ ‘might’ or phrases such as ‘It could be said that…’ ‘It appears that… ‘It seems that…’

  •  Find authoritative sources (authors, researchers in books or articles) who support your point of view and refer to them in your writing.

Too personal: 
In my opinion, language is clearly something social. (too personal).
Using author to support your point: 
As Halliday (1974) shows, language is essentially social.

Useful website:
More on formality, objectivity and complexity.
For more information on this and other aspects of academic study, please visit our Effective Learning Service page.
If you would like to talk to someone in the Effective Learning Service then email us at