Academic Writing: 11 Fundamentals for Your Success

Academic writing is any written assignment done for educational purposes. In written assignments, ideas need to be communicated clearly and precisely. Your tutors won’t be expecting too much in the way of creativity or any surprising discoveries in your papers. Rather, they will be impressed by clear expression, logical structure and a broad vocabulary. What is appropriate for text messages or social network posts is not necessarily right for academic papers.

When composing the latter, you should observe the following 11 principles:

1) Hedging means distancing yourself from your writing. In other words, imagine that there is a hedge between you and what you write, so that will be thoughtful and cautious about your claims.

The following practical hints can help you:

  • Avoid first person pronouns (I, my, we, our) as much as possible.
  • As an option, start sentences with impersonal statements: It is believed, It should be noted that.
  • Use modal verbs such as could, should, might, can and may to soften your claims.

Here’s an example of translation from everyday communication into the language of academic writing:

Daily life Academic writing
I am sure that chocolate helps me succeed at exams. It is argued that the cocoa contained in dark chocolate can be good for cognition.

2) Complexity means using more complicated grammar. College-level grammar helps not only to demonstrate your mastery of the language, but also to express more complicated ideas.

Practical hints:

  • Use more noun-based phrases, instead of verb-based ones.
    Example: It is hypothesized that better learning outcomes can be the result of improved concentration. (Instead of: Better learning outcomes are the consequence of how we concentrate).
  • Try to embed subordinate clauses.
    Example: The role of top players who brought their team the most goals this season cannot be underestimated.
  • Use verbs in the passive voice.
    Example: After effective intervention programs are developed, the situation with overweight in adolescents can improve.
Daily life Academic writing
Uncle Tom says smoking helps him relax. It is hypothesized that along with its negative health effects, smoking can help relax.

3) Formality means avoiding colloquial forms and contractions, which are inappropriate for academic writing.

Practical hints:

  • Avoid slang terms such as kid, awesome and cool.
  • Avoid phrasal verbs such as get off, go on and get out.
  • Avoid overused and vague words such as thing, matter and business.
Daily life Academic writing
The main thing you should understand is that you should get on well with different people. It is believed that advanced communication skills are essential to professional success.

4) Objectivity means putting aside personal biases and opinions.

  • discuss possible limitations to your judgments.
  • avoid overly categorical expressions such as surely and definitely.
Daily life Academic writing
I’m sure that this strategy is effective. Despite possible bias of participants, the study has shown that the discussed strategy is effective.

5) Accuracy means avoiding exaggeration or distortion in academic writing. Avoid playing with facts and figures to defend your position. Always specify the circumstances or context in which a given fact is significant. Use the expression ‘one of’ to avoid exaggeration.

Daily life Academic writing
It was literally the best car I’ve ever seen. Judging by its engine power and speed, the Mustang is one of the most efficient cars in its niche.

6) Precision means trying to use statistics and figures to support your claims and always indicating the source of your information.

Daily life Academic writing
Most students agree that pulling all-nighters doesn’t help pass exams The studies have shown that studying all night before an exam has negative effects on students’ performance (Smith et al. 2007, p. 65)

7) Explicitness means making the relationships among different parts of your text clear. Signaling words (similarly, on the other hand, because however, in addition, for example) are often useful in maintaining explicitness.

8) Logic means making clear the relationships among the issues discussed. Try to show how one object influences another, or that a direct (or indirect) relation exists between them.

Daily life Academic writing
Sleep is important for a person’s mood. There is a direct relationship between the amount of sleep a person gets and his/her mood.

9) Responsibility refers to how you treat the facts and the materials you borrow from other resources. It’s your responsibility to represent the facts as they are and always to give credit to other authors.

Daily life Academic writing
Fast food is the worst thing you can do to your body. According to a recent study, eating fast food more than 3 times a week can increase the risks of cardiovascular disease by 40% or more (Brown and Lee 2013, p. 265)

10) Non-discrimination is extremely important for academic papers. You will need to use language that avoids all kinds of social, gender and racial discrimination. Make it a rule to use ‘he or she,’ ‘limited abilities’ and ‘African Americans’ instead of gendered and culturally insensitive language.

Daily life Academic writing
No matter how hard a person is, she needs moral support. Despite his or her inner strength, a person may need moral support from family and friends.

11) Context means establishing connections between your writing and the wider world. On one hand, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, or to make important discoveries on your own. On the other hand, you do need to carry out at least basic research to know what experts say on your topic.

Daily life Academic writing
Earth is flat and it rests on a whale. Numerous studies have explored the actual form and size of Earth (Brown 2009).
Irene Fenswick

Irene Fenswick is a freelance writer and blogger with a Master's degree in English Literature. She has been working as an academic advisor for undergraduate students for five years and she is willing to share her knowledge about writing. Currently Irene lives in Bournemouth, England with her two dogs, Arett and Mady. You can always reach her at [email protected]

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Comments (1)

Jaylan
May 10th, 2016 - 6:57 am

Times are chingang for the better if I can get this online!

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