How to Write in an Academic Style


Please be aware that this is very generic guidance only, and that specific programmes may offer different guidance on what is expected from writing in an academic style. Always ask your Tutor for guidance if you are unsure.

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1. Create an objective, confident voice

Use the third person (this means not using ‘I’)

Most of the time you will be expected to use the third person as it enables you to show that you are being objective.

You could try using:

  • This essay discusses the importance of …
  • This research shows that …
  • It could be said that …

Consider your use of tenses

You need to be clear about whether you are discussing something that happened in the past or something that is having an impact upon the present.

The present tense:

  • Smith’s argument illustrates that …
  • Freud’s theory supports the view that…

The past tense:

  • The Industrial Revolution had an impact upon society in a number of different ways.
  • The interviews were conducted with a group of parents in the Leicestershire area.

2. Use appropriate language for your audience and purpose

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.

Avoid contractions

  • Rather than; ‘don’t’, ‘can’t’, ‘it’s’, ‘should’ve’,
  • You could try: ‘do not’, ‘cannot’, ‘it is’, ‘should have’

Use the full forms of words

  • Rather than: ‘TV’, ‘memo’, or ‘quote’
  • You could try: ‘television’, ‘memorandum’ or ‘quotation’

Avoid using informal words

  • Rather than: Smith’s bit of research is ok.
  • You could try: Smith’s research is significant because …
  • Rather than using words such as: ‘get’, ‘got’ or ‘a lot’
  • You could try: ‘obtain’, ‘obtained’ or ‘many’

3. Be clear and concise

Keep words simple:

Rather than: The denotation was obfuscated by the orator.
You could try: The meaning was hidden by the speaker.

Aim for the right word for the right occasion:

  • Example 1: Crusade against crime
  • Example 2: Campaign against crime

The word ‘crusade’ has connotations of a battle and is more aggressive in tone than the word ‘campaign’. ‘Campaign’ implies a more considered approach

Make every word count:

  • Rather than: The theorist called Sigmund Freud wrote a significant piece of work called On Narcissism which offers valuable insights into …
  • You could try: Freud (1914) offers valuable insights into …

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’ have the potential to 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.

Avoid using clichéd phrases:

  • A cliché is a phrase or expression that is overused to such an extent that it loses its value.
  • For example, ‘as bright as a button’ or as ‘clear as mud’.

4. Use language sensitively

Avoid expressing strong opinions too directly. Academic writing is concerned with presenting your discussion in an objective way, so there is no need to assert your opinions too strongly.

  • Rather than: Smith has an extremely important point to make because
  • You could try: Smith’s view is significant because …
  • So avoid words like: ‘very’, ‘really’, ‘quite’ and ‘extremely’.
  • Lean towards caution

We need to be aware that our views are contributing to a much wider debate surrounding your given topic. Your use of language must show that we you making suggestions which contribute to this wider discussion:

  • Rather than: ‘This view is correct because …’
  • You could try: ‘It could be said that …’, ‘It appears that …’, ‘It seems that …’

Avoid using taboo language

In academic writing it is important not to offend your reader – you want her/him to trust your judgment and authority. Using swear words or making offensive comments will upset the balance of your writing and undermine your point of view.

Do not stereotype, generalise or make assumptions

This especially applies to individuals or groups on the basis of their gender, race, nationality, religion, physical and mental capacity, age, sexuality, marital status, or political beliefs.

Your use of language should always remain neutral.

  • Rather than: fireman or policeman
  • Try using: fire fighter or police officer
  • Rather than: mankind
  • Try using: humankind

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