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The Writing Process | 5 Steps with Examples & Tips

Published on April 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on December 7, 2022.

The writing process steps

Good academic writing requires effective planning, drafting, and revision.

The writing process looks different for everyone, but there are five basic steps that will help you structure your time when writing any kind of text.

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Table of contents

Step 1: prewriting, step 2: planning and outlining, step 3: writing a first draft, step 4: redrafting and revising, step 5: editing and proofreading, frequently asked questions about the writing process.

Before you start writing, you need to decide exactly what you’ll write about and do the necessary research.

Coming up with a topic

If you have to come up with your own topic for an assignment, think of what you’ve covered in class— is there a particular area that intrigued, interested, or even confused you? Topics that left you with additional questions are perfect, as these are questions you can explore in your writing.

The scope depends on what type of text you’re writing—for example, an essay or a research paper will be less in-depth than a dissertation topic . Don’t pick anything too ambitious to cover within the word count, or too limited for you to find much to say.

Narrow down your idea to a specific argument or question. For example, an appropriate topic for an essay might be narrowed down like this:

Doing the research

Once you know your topic, it’s time to search for relevant sources and gather the information you need. This process varies according to your field of study and the scope of the assignment. It might involve:

From a writing perspective, the important thing is to take plenty of notes while you do the research. Keep track of the titles, authors, publication dates, and relevant quotations from your sources; the data you gathered; and your initial analysis or interpretation of the questions you’re addressing.

Especially in academic writing , it’s important to use a logical structure to convey information effectively. It’s far better to plan this out in advance than to try to work out your structure once you’ve already begun writing.

Creating an essay outline is a useful way to plan out your structure before you start writing. This should help you work out the main ideas you want to focus on and how you’ll organize them. The outline doesn’t have to be final—it’s okay if your structure changes throughout the writing process.

Use bullet points or numbering to make your structure clear at a glance. Even for a short text that won’t use headings, it’s useful to summarize what you’ll discuss in each paragraph.

An outline for a literary analysis essay might look something like this:

Once you have a clear idea of your structure, it’s time to produce a full first draft.

This process can be quite non-linear. For example, it’s reasonable to begin writing with the main body of the text, saving the introduction for later once you have a clearer idea of the text you’re introducing.

To give structure to your writing, use your outline as a framework. Make sure that each paragraph has a clear central focus that relates to your overall argument.

Hover over the parts of the example, from a literary analysis essay on Mansfield Park , to see how a paragraph is constructed.

The character of Mrs. Norris provides another example of the performance of morals in Mansfield Park . Early in the novel, she is described in scathing terms as one who knows “how to dictate liberality to others: but her love of money was equal to her love of directing” (p. 7). This hypocrisy does not interfere with her self-conceit as “the most liberal-minded sister and aunt in the world” (p. 7). Mrs. Norris is strongly concerned with appearing charitable, but unwilling to make any personal sacrifices to accomplish this. Instead, she stage-manages the charitable actions of others, never acknowledging that her schemes do not put her own time or money on the line. In this way, Austen again shows us a character whose morally upright behavior is fundamentally a performance—for whom the goal of doing good is less important than the goal of seeming good.

When you move onto a different topic, start a new paragraph. Use appropriate transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas.

The goal at this stage is to get a draft completed, not to make everything perfect as you go along. Once you have a full draft in front of you, you’ll have a clearer idea of where improvement is needed.

Give yourself a first draft deadline that leaves you a reasonable length of time to revise, edit, and proofread before the final deadline. For a longer text like a dissertation, you and your supervisor might agree on deadlines for individual chapters.

Now it’s time to look critically at your first draft and find potential areas for improvement. Redrafting means substantially adding or removing content, while revising involves making changes to structure and reformulating arguments.

Evaluating the first draft

It can be difficult to look objectively at your own writing. Your perspective might be positively or negatively biased—especially if you try to assess your work shortly after finishing it.

It’s best to leave your work alone for at least a day or two after completing the first draft. Come back after a break to evaluate it with fresh eyes; you’ll spot things you wouldn’t have otherwise.

When evaluating your writing at this stage, you’re mainly looking for larger issues such as changes to your arguments or structure. Starting with bigger concerns saves you time—there’s no point perfecting the grammar of something you end up cutting out anyway.

Right now, you’re looking for:

For example, in our paper on Mansfield Park , we might realize the argument would be stronger with more direct consideration of the protagonist Fanny Price, and decide to try to find space for this in paragraph IV.

For some assignments, you’ll receive feedback on your first draft from a supervisor or peer. Be sure to pay close attention to what they tell you, as their advice will usually give you a clearer sense of which aspects of your text need improvement.

Redrafting and revising

Once you’ve decided where changes are needed, make the big changes first, as these are likely to have knock-on effects on the rest. Depending on what your text needs, this step might involve:

You can go back and forth between writing, redrafting and revising several times until you have a final draft that you’re happy with.

Think about what changes you can realistically accomplish in the time you have. If you are running low on time, you don’t want to leave your text in a messy state halfway through redrafting, so make sure to prioritize the most important changes.

Editing focuses on local concerns like clarity and sentence structure. Proofreading involves reading the text closely to remove typos and ensure stylistic consistency.

Editing for grammar and clarity

When editing, you want to ensure your text is clear, concise, and grammatically correct. You’re looking out for:

In your initial draft, it’s common to end up with a lot of sentences that are poorly formulated. Look critically at where your meaning could be conveyed in a more effective way or in fewer words, and watch out for common sentence structure mistakes like run-on sentences and sentence fragments:

Proofreading for small mistakes and typos

When proofreading, first look out for typos in your text:

Use your word processor’s built-in spell check, but don’t expect to find 100% of issues in this way. Read through your text line by line, watching out for problem areas highlighted by the software but also for any other issues it might have missed.

For example, in the following phrase we notice several errors:

Proofreading for stylistic consistency

There are several issues in academic writing where you can choose between multiple different standards. For example:

Unless you’re given specific guidance on these issues, it’s your choice which standards you follow. The important thing is to consistently follow one standard for each issue. For example, don’t use a mixture of American and British spellings in your paper.

Additionally, you will probably be provided with specific guidelines for issues related to format (how your text is presented on the page) and citations (how you acknowledge your sources). Always follow these instructions carefully.

Revising, proofreading, and editing are different stages of the writing process .

Whether you’re publishing a blog, submitting a research paper , or even just writing an important email, there are a few techniques you can use to make sure it’s error-free:

If you want to be confident that an important text is error-free, it might be worth choosing a professional proofreading service instead.

If you’ve gone over the word limit set for your assignment, shorten your sentences and cut repetition and redundancy during the editing process. If you use a lot of long quotes , consider shortening them to just the essentials.

If you need to remove a lot of words, you may have to cut certain passages. Remember that everything in the text should be there to support your argument; look for any information that’s not essential to your point and remove it.

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Caulfield, J. (2022, December 07). The Writing Process | 5 Steps with Examples & Tips. Scribbr. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-writing/writing-process/

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Academic Writing, and How to Learn How to Write

Marcin kozak.

Associate Professor, Department of Media, Journalism and Social Communication, University of Information Technology and Management, Rzeszow, Poland

I read with great interest the editorial by Yarris and colleagues on academic writing, 1 and I fully agree that academic writing is going to change. It must change, to be true—not only because it should align with technological development, but also because far too often academic texts are unclear, clumsy, and inefficient. We need articles like Yarris et al's and similar initiatives to change this for the better.

A man of the written word, I see academic writing mainly through the prism of actual writing—which does not mean I do not agree with everything else Yarris and colleagues wrote about, because I do. But let me focus on academic writing as an actual writing process. Even if the written word is to be partly replaced with other means, such as visualization, we will continue to write, at least because this is likely the best means of showing what we think . Most visualizations, be it a graph or a table, also show what we think, because they show how we interpret the data: For a given data set, we can often present various charts, offering quite different interpretations. But to show what you think, it's best to write it, even if other measures can help.

The authors emphasize, and I fully agree, that academic writers will have to change their approach to writing, switching from an incomprehensible language full of jargon to an understandable one—and even, I would say, to pleasurable writing. 2 Sad but true, more often than not academic texts are difficult to understand, and the future of academic writing should change that.

To this end, we not only need to put more emphasis on teaching young researchers how to write, but also on convincing not so young ones to further develop their writing skills. While many among the former can be taught, most of the latter would prefer to self-learn. For this, they need to practice, and they need good resources—Yarris and colleagues proposed at least a couple of them. 1

While I really like Stephen King's On Writing 3 and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life , 4 and I love Helen Sword's Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write , 5 these are by no means writing resources. I am afraid that beginning writers starting off with these books would learn what the life of a writer is like, not how to write. Explaining how to organize your work in order to write more, Paul J. Silva also does not offer advice on how to write well. 6

There are quite a few books that do not tell stories about writers and writing, but that show what good writing is and how to write well. Yarris and colleagues provided a perfect example: Helen Sword's Stylish Academic Writing —but unlike the authors stated, it deals with academic, not general, writing. I think academic authors would learn a lot from Thomas S. Kane's The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing 7 and Joseph M. Williams's Style: Ten Lessons in Charity and Grace , 8 both being general writing books; and from Anne E. Greene's Writing Science in Plain English , focused on academic writing, particularly on biology. 9 Let's not forget William Zinsser's On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction , another general writing book of useful advice, very well-known among nonfiction writers. 10 Michael Swan's Practical English Usage 11 might not offer the most pleasant read, since it's a usage guide—but it's known of great usefulness for anyone writing in English.

Of course, these are just my choices. I have enjoyed 20 or 30 other books (by such authors as Roy Peter Clark, Patricia T. O'Conner, Lynne Truss, Constance Hale, June Casagrande, and Mark Forsyth), but the brevity of this letter does not enable me to provide that long a list. If you wish and have the time, find your own favorites, but I would advise beginning with the ones described above.

I have always treated general writing books as more useful than most academic writing ones, for the simple reason that often the latter are too … academic. There are exceptions, though, like the above-mentioned Sword's and Greene's books. I am afraid that too few academics and educators have time to spend on reading about writing. So, unless you are, like me, a rare specimen of a minority population finding pleasure in reading about writing, and do so not only to learn how to write, but also to enjoy your scarce free time—start off with Greene and Sword, and then, if you can, follow with Williams, Zinsser, and Kane.

What Is Academic Writing?

Lindsay Kramer

You learn a lot in college, and not all of it can be found in the course catalog. A lot of the skills you acquire you find yourself having to master on your own: managing your time, researching efficiently, and making ramen noodles in a coffee pot. 

Another one of the skills you need to master is academic writing . Academic writing isn’t like other types of writing; it’s formal , it’s objective, and for a lot of students just starting college or grad school, it can be daunting. 

But once you break down the fundamentals of academic writing and examine them piece by piece, you’ll see they’re nothing to be afraid of. There are rules you need to follow, but once you’ve got those rules down, you’re on your way onto the dean’s list. 

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Characteristics of academic writing

Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of academic writing is the emphasis on adhering to a style guide . While nearly all content and media outlets use a specific style guide—which is either an already established guide or one of their own creation—correct adherence to a chosen style guide is nonnegotiable with academic writing. In most cases, you’ll lose credit if you don’t adhere to the style guide in your writing. 

Two of the main style guides for academic writing are the Modern Language Association (MLA) guide and the American Psychological Association (APA) guide. Others include the American Medical Association (AMA) style guide, the American Chemical Society (ACS) style guide, and the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) . Each of these style guides maintains specific rules for how to format and punctuate your writing as well as how to cite the sources you use. 

Beyond the style guide, these are the key characteristics that define academic writing:

Academic writing should be formal, clear, and concise

Academic writing uses formal language. It’s also optimized for clarity and conciseness , which can initially seem contradictory to the use of formal language. 

Many writers confuse formal language with flowery language . Generally, flowery language uses elaborate words, lengthy sentences (sometimes to the point of being run-on), and metaphors so drawn-out that they obfuscate the point the writer is trying to make. 

Actual formal language is much different. Formal language uses the most accurate, non-colloquial verbiage available to communicate the author’s points, and this verbiage may include jargon. Sentences are only as complex as they need to be in order to express coherent thoughts and positions; you should use literary devices like metaphor sparingly. In instances where literary devices are appropriate, they’re used differently than in other types of writing. Overall, clarity and conciseness are your main goals. 

Academic writing takes an objective, detached stance from the subject being discussed. Because this type of tone is essential, the passive voice is sometimes necessary in academic writing, particularly in the sciences. 

Academic writing uses prescriptive grammar

When it comes to grammar, academic writing is prescriptive. By that, we mean there are specific grammar and style rules that your writing must adhere to in order to be correct. These rules come from two sources: the style guide for the piece you’re working on and generally established conventions for academic writing. Style guides provide granular requirements, such as instructions on whether to hyphenate certain compound words and when to spell out numbers versus use numerals. Broader academic writing conventions, like writing in the third person and maintaining an objective tone , apply to all academic writing. 

In contrast, other, more casual types of writing are not as strict about “proper grammar” versus “improper grammar.” In fact, in certain other types of writing, like blogging and ad copywriting, it’s often necessary to break established grammar rules in order to hook readers’ attention and communicate with them effectively. 

Using ellipses to build suspense, ending sentences with prepositions , and using exclamation points to make your sentences exciting are great strategies for catchy, conversational writing—but they have no place in academic writing.  

Formatting will depend on your style guide

Beyond adhering to specific grammar and style rules, your academic writing also needs to be formatted according to the style guide for your assignment. Formatting includes how you number your pages, what’s included in your header and footer, how the contents of your cover page are ordered, and how your citations and references are formatted. For example, if you’re writing a humanities paper, you’re most likely going to write it according to the MLA style guide. According to this style guide, the source page is titled “Works Cited” and each reference’s author is named by their last name followed by their first name. For a social sciences paper, you’d typically use the APA style guide, which instead says to title the sources page “References” and lists authors by their last names followed by their first initials.

Types of academic writing

Academic writing covers a variety of types of work. These include:

An essay is a relatively short piece of writing that, like a research paper, makes and supports a specific point. 

Theses and dissertations

A thesis and a dissertation are two types of capstone projects. Generally, the term thesis refers to the culminating project of a master’s program (and some bachelor’s programs) while the term dissertation is used for a project that culminates in a doctoral program. 

These projects are lengthy works that demonstrate the author’s candidacy for the degree they are seeking by posing an intellectual question, a persuasive argument , or a thought-provoking position. Both are created through the candidate’s research, under the guidance of their academic advisor. 

Research proposals

A research proposal is a document formally requesting sponsorship or funding to support the author’s academic research. A research proposal outlines how the author plans to conduct their research, why they want to conduct this specific research, and what they aim to accomplish through the research.

Research papers

A research paper is a comprehensive work that thoroughly demonstrates the author’s understanding of the subject they researched. Every research paper is formulated around a thesis statement—the statement in the opening paragraph that states the author’s position and summarizes their supporting arguments. 

Literature reviews

A literature review is a piece of academic writing that summarizes, describes, and evaluates a topic through analysis of other authors’ works. A literature review examines a topic through two or more works, and these works can be books, scholarly articles, presentations, dissertations, or other published materials. 

Academic writing structure

As much as academic writing uses formal language and conforms closely to style guides, it also follows a clear structure. This specific structure depends on the type of writing being produced, but generally follows this type of outline:

1 Introduction that clearly states the thesis and aims of the work

2 Position/finding/challenge supporting the thesis

a. Supporting content

b. Supporting content

3 Position/finding/challenge supporting the thesis

4 Position/finding/challenge supporting the thesis

5 Conclusion

The length of the work and the number of sections included depend on the specific assignment and the topic being covered. While an essay may only be five to seven paragraphs or so and span just a few pages, a dissertation generally clocks in around 150–300 pages. 

Another area where academic writing differs greatly from other types of writing is that in an academic paper, you always have to cite your sources. How to format your citations depends on the style guide you’re using.

Although the citation format for each style guide varies a bit, they all include the same key information about the sources you cite. This information includes the author’s name, the name of the work you’re citing, the work’s copyright date, and the work’s publisher. Take a look at how the most commonly used academic style guides advise on format:

Don’t overlook the importance of properly citing your sources—all of them. Each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about  any  kind of source, including  TV shows , PDFs , Wikipedia articles , and  YouTube videos . Although you probably won’t face plagiarism consequences for an incorrectly formatted citation when you clearly made an attempt to attribute the work properly, an incomplete or missing citation may be deemed plagiarism, as this article explains. Possible consequences for plagiarism include:

Academic writing tips

Always refer to the style guide.

In academic writing, there’s no gray area concerning whether something is grammatically correct or not. It’s either correct or it isn’t. The style guide for your assignment covers all the rules regarding what is and isn’t correct, so if you’re ever not sure, refer to the style guide. And if you’re ever not sure which style guide to follow, ask your instructor. 

Actively avoid plagiarism

By this, we mean it isn’t enough to simply avoid stealing others’ words when you’re writing. We mean you should consciously choose to differentiate your writing from your sources as much as possible so you don’t inadvertently plagiarize another writer’s work—and so your work really shines as a unique piece. 

As we mentioned above, even unintentional plagiarism can mean failing your assignment and other consequences. Grammarly’s plagiarism checker can help you avoid unintentional plagiarism while making your writing more engaging. It’s easy: Just run a plagiarism check using the Grammarly Editor and your work will be immediately compared against billions of other pieces available online. If there are any pieces of text that appear to need citations, Grammarly will flag them and you can cite them accordingly.  

Do not use contractions

Academic writing never uses contractions. This is one of the biggest differences between formal and informal writing. 

Do not take it personally

When you’re writing an academic paper, always write it in the third person. The first person (I, me) and the second person (you) are not appropriate for academic writing because they undermine the author’s objectivity. 

Academic writing is black-tie writing

Think of an academic paper as a formal event. Your writing needs to show up “dressed appropriately.” This means: conforming to the style guide, using formal language, and absolutely avoiding slang and colloquial expressions. In contrast, think of an email to your professor as business casual and messages with your friends as casual. If the language you use with your friends is shorts and sandals and the language you use with your professor is khakis and a polo, the language in your academic writing needs to be a tuxedo. 

Score top marks on your writing every time

Writing an academic paper is a lot different from writing a blog post, an email, a piece of fiction, and even other kinds of writing your professor might assign, like a critical response to a reading or a presentation for class. A piece of academic writing, whether it’s an analytical essay, a research paper, a persuasive essay , or another kind of assignment in this vein, needs to adhere to very specific style and formatting standards. It also needs to have the appropriate tone and vocabulary for an academic work. 

Don’t submit your writing without running it through the Grammarly Editor first. In the Grammarly Editor, you can set specific goals for your writing so it strikes the perfect tone for your audience. Just set the domain to “Academic” and in addition to suggestions for grammar and punctuation, you’ll see suggestions for how to change your word choice, sentence structure, and other aspects of your writing to make it shine. 

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SciSpace Resources

What is Academic Writing — Everything You Need To Know

Kanu Priya

Table of Contents


Academic writing is potentially the most crucial skill in an educational environment since writing is one of the primary modus operandi of scholarly communication. Its quality strongly influences the readers’ perception of the author. It is highly valued both by academic institutions and academics who wish to acquire knowledge. The ability to write academic papers is one of the critical factors that distinguish scholars from excellent scholars.

Academic writing can be defined as the writing form that aims to transmit scientific or other knowledge through clear and concise means. The main idea behind academic writing is objective and practical in terms of presentation as it needs to be understood by thousands of readers and not just a single person. It enables you to express your ideas and develop them into a structured written format. Academic writing is not just about proving ideas but creating them. Getting an academic paper written on a high level requires experience, so let's dive into it.

Key Tenets of Academic Writing

Academic writing is a genre of writing with several tenets that make it different from other  prose or creative writing forms. Therefore, the characteristics of academic writing are imperative to understand. Five main features of academic writing are often discussed as follows:

1. Formality


Academic writing aims to convey the relevant ideas to suit the nature of the subject being discussed and support opinions with reasoned arguments. It is not about making flowery statements or indulging in superfluous language. It is about communicating your thoughts with the audience accurately and succinctly.

You need to realize that academic writing requires you to be direct, analytical, and precise. The objective is to demonstrate that you can convey your meaning accurately, in context, without uncertainty. To make your writing more formal, you can try to:

2. Accuracy


A word's meaning is an important factor that determines whether it should be used or not in a writing piece. The more accurate the writer is while creating a paper, the better his chances are for obtaining a high-grade paper. All words should be defined clearly and concretely so that their exact meaning can be easily traced. Academic writing does not use words loosely. It must accurately distinguish between "orthocenter" and "orthocentre," etc., and use these words correctly. By using known technical terms correctly, you reflect your proficiency in a particular subject.


Hedging is an action that can be used to reduce the risk of making claims. They are used to avoid answering a question, making a clear, direct statement, or committing yourself to a particular action. Early-career academic writers or authors may find it hard to always convey themselves and their work in their papers using solid and unequivocal statements. Having said that, many academic writers feel compelled to use what is called hedging techniques when writing their academic papers.

Making decisions about the stance you take on a topic is often done by using hedging verbs. These are words that place some kind of limitation or qualifier on your claims. Such as ‘seem,’ ‘appear,’ ‘suggest,’ ‘may’ and ‘might’. For example, Extended screen time can contribute to a range of eyesight problems and may have a negative effect on mental health.

4. Objectivity


Writing is impersonal and uses nouns more than verbs. Think about it! Fewer words that refer to us place greater emphasis on what we have to say. Phrases like “I feel” or “I believe” should be kept out of the picture especially if you are reporting any research findings. For instance “I feel there is life on Mars” should be replaced with “These findings suggest that there is life on Mars”. The reader is therefore left to concentrate on the information you provide and the arguments you make. Objectivity can be induced while writing an academic paper if you do not talk about opinions, but provide valuable information and valid arguments. Readers focus on what the writer knows rather than what they think or feel. This allows the writer to sound more objective and authoritative.

5. Responsibility


Academic writing is as different from every day, ‘general’ writing as a race-horse is from a donkey. Academic writing has rigorous standards and conventions that must be followed. Academic writing attempts to add new information, knowledge, or understanding to an existing body of theory. The key things to note in this criteria are the claims you make,  the evidence that needs to be provided for those claims, and citations; you must cite any sources of information you use at any cost to avoid plagiarism. You should also avoid self-plagiarism .

Types of Academic Writing

If we are talking about “What is Academic Writing”, we must not miss its types. There are four major types of academic writing that you should know about:

1. Descriptive

One of the basic types of scholarly writing is descriptive. It can be divided into several subcategories: a summary, description, narration, explanation, and so on. The goal of descriptive writing is to present facts or information. A report will tell what participants did or did not do during an experiment, how they responded to various stimuli, and what results were obtained. It supplies details such as how many people were involved in the study, when it was conducted, and where.

2. Analytical

Analytical writing is the process of re-organizing (and possibly adding to) the collection of ideas or information that you have organized into a suitable structure, such as categories, groups, parts, or relationships. Analyzing is a way of discovering whether an argument is valid, coherent, and relevant in a logical way to the topic under discussion. To polish your analytical writing, you can:

3. Persuasive

Persuasive writing is just analytical writing plus your own point of view. You may be required to analyze an argument, evaluate the credibility of a claim, or explain why a position is correct. Most essays, including research articles, are written to convince the reader of some viewpoint. Following are the keystones to remember about persuasive writing:

4. Critical

Critical writing involves your own point of view, but also that of at least one other person. You may explain a researcher's argument and then show how it is flawed, or offer an alternative explanation.  For this, you must first be well aware of what the other researcher is attempting to portray through his study. Doing this requires you to read plenty of research papers, which can be challenging at times since a lot of them carry jargon, maths, and complex language. To save time and effort you can use SciSpace Copilot to get simplified explanations of parts of the research paper you don't understand and get the relevance of any math or table by just clipping it. Adding on to that, if you need more clarification on the subject, you can even ask more questions related to the paper, and the research assistant can give you prompt answers.

Benefits Of Academic Writing

Academic writing can help the writer gain some unique characteristics and qualities.

It is ultimately up to you whether these advantages are good enough to spend your time polishing this craft.

1. Increased Focus

Focus has become a very important trait, especially in today's generation as distractions are literally everywhere you look. It is not something everyone is born with but it is something that can certainly be inculcated over time. Academic Writing is one of the finest ways to help you do that. It takes a good amount of focus to turn a blank piece of paper into something knowledgeable. If you like the topic you are working on, you will be surprised to see how easy it can get to focus and get it done.

2. Better Logical Thinking and Improved Knowledge

It takes a serious amount of time, focus, and thinking to write a worth-reading academic paper. You cannot just know everything about the topic you’re working on, therefore, a lot of research and analysis is required to come up with an informative piece of paper that is valuable. Writing a lot of papers can not just increase your knowledge in the fields you’re writing on but can also improve your logical thinking skills.

3. Discovering The Delight Of Writing

Avid academic writers have experienced a change in how they felt about writing in general. Although sometimes for a lot of writers, academic writing becomes anxiety-inducing. But for most, writing becomes joyful and gives an amazing sense of accomplishment.

Studies have shown that attending and participating in retreats have made academics more motivated and less fearful of writing. The key reasons behind it are mainly the peer support that they manage to get and their writing capabilities going over the roof.

4. Boost In Creativity

Academic writing is not just about blatantly stating stuff about your chosen topic, but it is also about creatively analyzing and conveying ideas concisely. This definitely requires creative thinking. Writing on a regular basis can prove to increase your creativity not just in writing but also in real life. It gives the writer a chance to develop out-of-the-box ideas.

The Significance of Clarity in Academic Writing

Clarity is essential in writing. It is a guiding principle that helps writers decide what to say and how to say it. If people don’t understand what you’re trying to say, how much value can you actually add? Below are the five principles for creating a lucid copy:

A Research Writing Platform

If you're doing research, you might be juggling between multiple writing and task management tools. Before you start using them, think about how you want to organize your research and how you'll be using the information you collect. A platform especially designed to meet the basic as well as advanced requirements of academic writers, SciSpace (formerly Typeset ) intends to be the perfect bridge between academic writing and academic publishing, providing the ease of intuitive research writing and collaboration with the combined power of LaTeX and MS Word. A comprehensive, automated research writing and journal production platform like SciSpace that has integrated plagiarism checkers is what you need to kickstart your academic writing!

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Whether you are writing a report, a thesis or a research paper, the points covered in this article can help you furnish your project in a formal and structured format. Remember that you need to write your research paper in a professional manner. Avoid conversational language and slang. Now that you have a profound understanding of academic writing, try to apply the best practices practically and take your academic writing skills to greater heights.

But before you go,

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What skills are required for academic writing?

At some point in your academic career, you’ll need to write an academic paper , whether it’s a report, an essay, a dissertation or a thesis. when it’s time to write that paper, you may feel stress about writing it properly or on time, particularly if you haven’t written a paper in a long time or if you’ve struggled with writing papers in the past. in this article, we’ll share how to improve your academic writing skills so you can focus on building your strengths in those areas, which will help reduce your stress the next time you need to write a paper., time management.

Whether your deadline is in one week, one month or one year, time management when you’re writing an academic paper is vital. Academic writing involves many steps, and you must ensure that you leave enough time for each of those steps so you don’t have to rush through the end of the process. Make sure you allocate sufficient time for your research, outlining, writing and editing to avoid late nights or sloppy work.

For some types of academic writing, such as academic reports, dissertations and theses, it’s impossible to write the final product without doing research first. Unless your task is, for example, to write a personal reflection on something from your childhood or a sample business email, learning to research will be critical when looking to improve your academic writing skills. That means you’ll need to know what kinds of sources are trustworthy, how to access those sources and what kinds of information to save from those sources so you can cite them correctly. If you’re not sure where to go to find trustworthy information, start at your library’s reference desk. To know what kind of information you’ll need to cite your sources, talk to your instructor or the journal you’re submitting your paper to and determine which style guide (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA) they prefer, then search online for information about that guide.

Developing an argument

When you write an academic paper, you’ll need to have a clear idea of your thesis statement, which is the main idea or argument you’re trying to convey. To write a compelling paper, it’s important that you spend some time thinking about the points you want to make and how you’ll go about convincing your audience that your argument is valid. Usually, you’ll do so by relying on the research you’ve conducted to back up your statements and making sure you can form a rebuttal to any counterarguments.

Knowing your audience

Academic papers are generally read by your professors or classmates or, if you’re writing for a journal, those in the wider academic community or field. Individuals with strong academic writing skills always consider who they are writing for. As you write, think about who’ll read your paper and tailor your argument and writing style to those readers. If you’re writing a paper that’ll be read by your classmates, who may not have a high-level understanding of the topic, make sure you include information that will help them understand the topic you’re covering. If you’re writing a journal article that will be read by researchers, you can probably use higher-level terms and information.


Organizing the information in your paper is vital to crafting a compelling, well-written document. Most types of academic papers follow similar formats (e.g. dissertations and papers describing studies include an introduction, background information, materials and methods, results, a discussion and a conclusion). Keep your paper well-organized in sections while you write will help you ensure that you’re making your argument and avoid repeating information. In addition, keeping your notes organized while you’re conducting your research will help you enormously when it’s time to start writing and compiling your reference list. By taking the time to make sure you stay organized throughout the writing process, you can significantly reduce the amount of stress you feel.

Writing clearly and consistently

Even if you have conducted your research, developed a winning argument, organized your time well and determined who your audience is, you must make sure you write clearly and directly looking to improve your academic writing skills. Academic writing requires a formal tone and proper grammar, but that doesn’t mean you should use five words when one will do. Keep your writing straightforward and clear, and don’t include any information that isn’t absolutely necessary to support your argument.

Using correct grammar, punctuation and spelling

Finally, the importance of using correct punctuation, grammar and spelling can’t be overstated. Although you might have a perfectly good, scientifically sound argument, if your audience can’t read your paper because the grammar is atrocious, they won’t pay any attention to it. Check out our guides to English grammar for a refresher and some tips, and consider having someone check your document before you submit it to check for any lingering mistakes.

Academic proofreading

Thesis proofreading

Dissertation proofreading service

The University of Edinburgh home

Institute for Academic Development

Academic writing

Advice and resources to support you with effective academic writing.

Approaches to writing

Assignment writing is a process which involves planning, drafting and reviewing what you are going to say. You will find you need to review your initial plan and edit it as you go along. You should expect to have to redraft some sections of writing.

You should also check any guidance given to you as part of your course course, as conventions vary between subject areas.

One of the hardest things can be to get started writing an assignment. Sometimes this is a question of taking the time to reflect on what you are being asked to do in the assignment brief. 

Getting started with an assignment

The handout Getting started suggests a way in which you can break down your task, think about aspects of it and commit some of your initial ideas to paper. It also suggests ways you can start to adapt this method to suit you. Alternatively you may prefer to use a prompt list to start to analyse your title.

Getting started (pdf)       Getting started (Word rtf)

Essay title prompts (pdf)       Essay title prompts (Word rtf)

You will want to respond to the assignments you have been set as well as you can. This means paying attention to key words in the question or assignment brief. These are sometimes known as command or directive words because they tell you what to do. The document Directive words provides definitions of some of the commonly used words.

Directive words (pdf)       Directive words (Word rtf)   Directive words – British Sign Language translation (Media Hopper video)

Getting your ideas in order

In any written assignment you will be expected to organise and structure information which is synthesised from a range of sources. You will need to make notes from your readings to help you consolidate and connect your research to your question. The Reading at university page has strategies to help you develop effective skills for making notes from reading.

Reading at university

Making notes means you end up with lots of bits of writing which you need to link together for your reader. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to select and how to identify relationships between ideas and concepts.

There are suggestions in the Getting your ideas in order handout of practical ways in which you might reorganise your material in response to the task set. Playing around with the order can help you arrive at a line reasoning that will convince the reader. Aim to experiment and find out what works for you.

Getting your ideas in order (pdf)           Getting your ideas in order (Word rtf)

Essay parts and paragraphs

If you have been asked to write an academic essay, and you haven't done this before, you may be unsure of what is expected. The Parts of an essay handout gives a brief introductory overview of the component parts of an essay.

Parts of an essay (pdf)           Parts of an essay (Word rtf)

Paragraphs are the building blocks of an essay and are a way of organising your thinking and making your meaning clear in your writing for your reader . The handout Developing writing in paragraphs encourages you to think about the way you shape your paragraphs and when to move on to a new one.

Developing writing in paragraphs (pdf)          Developing writing in paragraphs (Word rtf) 

Build an argument as you go

Identifying and writing about good evidence is not enough. You need to build an argument. An argument is:

Using reasons to support a point of view, so that known or unknown audiences may be persuaded to agree. Cottrell, S. (2011) Critical thinking skills: developing effective analysis and argument. 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p52.

You can develop your argument as you read and write by creating a working hypothesis or basic answer in response to the assignment brief.  

Building an argument as you go (pdf)            Building an argument as you go (Word rtf)

As you move through your studies lecturers will expect more from your written work. They will expect the accurate attribution of ideas from others (including academic and other authors, and the ideas of those who teach you). There is general advice and resources for referencing and citations (and avoiding plagiarism) on the Referencing and citations page.

Referencing and citations

Your marker(s) will expect written pieces to be logically structured with fluid expression of thought, and with deeper and more critical engagement with the subjects and ideas you are reading and learning about. 

Aim to become familiar with the level of writing required by reading good quality examples.  At an advanced level you are aiming to write to the style you read in academic journals. 

As your written tasks become longer and more complex it can be helpful to reflect on your own writing process.

Reflect on your writing process (pdf)            Reflect on your writing process (Word rtf)

Different types of academic writing

Academic writing is much more than just an essay. You might be asked to write a lab or business report, a policy brief, a blog post, a journal article or a reflection piece for example. These tend to be subject and task specific so you need to check the assignment brief and any criteria for details of their purpose, formatting, structure, things to include etc.

Reflective academic writing

In some subjects, assessment may be based on critical reflection. This can be a challenge as it is a very particular style and form of writing which you may not have come across before. As well as check your assignment brief for specifics, the University’s Employability Consultancy have created a Reflection Toolkit of resources, models and questions to help you develop your reflective writing skills.

The Reflection Toolkit

School-level support

Take advantage of any writing development sessions organised through or learning materials offered by your School, Deanery or course. These will help you develop the specific writing skills you need for your discipline or subject area.

Writing your own title

If you have to write your own title in response to the brief you have been set, you need to think about how to frame this.  The Formulating your own title handout suggests some aspects to consider.

Formulating your own title (pdf)          Formulating your own title (Word rtf)

Differences from non-academic writing

If you are studying during a career break, or part-time while still working, you need to be aware that academic writing is a very different skill from other forms of writing you may have done in the workplace. Academic writing tends to be more formal, requiring succinct prose rather than bullet points, and it is more about the argument than simply conveying, or describing, information. Writing for assessment requires you to think carefully about your assignment and criteria, your argument and content, use of your subject specific conventions (e.g. language, style etc.), and your audience.

Your written work needs to be grounded in and backed up by appropriate and informed opinion and sources, rather than solely by personal opinion and experience. Academic written work will also make fewer absolute statements. Language is often more tentative or cautious.

Academic Phrasebank is a collection of general phrases taken from academic sources created by John Morley at the University of Manchester. The phrases are sorted into writing and assignment themes such as being critical and writing conclusions.

Part 1: Thinking Through the Disciplines

Academic writing, writing as a college student.

As a college student, you have been writing for years, so you probably think that you have a clear understanding about academic writing. High school and college writing, however, differ in many ways. This chapter will present some of those core differences along with a general overview of the college writing process.

11.1 Meeting College Writing Expectations

Learning objectives.

If you’re like most first-year college students, you’re probably anxious about your first few writing assignments. Transitioning from being a successful high school writer to being a quality college writer can be difficult. You have to adjust to different learning cultures. You have to accept that college writing is different from high school writing and come to understand how it is different.

These students relay a typical range of first-year college experiences:

Emma: I always got As on my high school papers, so I thought I was a good writer until I came to college and had to completely rewrite my first paper to get a C–.

Javier: I received an F on my first college paper because I “did not include one original thought in the whole paper.” I thought I was reporting on information I had researched. I didn’t know that I was supposed to add my own thoughts. Luckily, the professor had a policy to throw out each student’s lowest grade of the semester.

Danyell: The professor in my Comp 101 class said that he didn’t want us turning in anything meaningless or trite. He said that we were to show him that we had critical thought running through our heads and knew how to apply it to the readings we found in our research. I had no idea what he was talking about.

Pat: I dreaded my first college English class since I had never done well in English classes in high school. Writing without grammatical and mechanical errors is a challenge for me, and my high school teachers always gave me low grades on my papers due to all my mistakes. So I was surprised when I got a B+ on my first college paper, and the professor had written, “Great paper! You make a solid argument. Clean up your grammar and mechanics next time and you will get an A!” Suddenly it seemed that there was something more important than grammar and punctuation!

What’s “Higher” about Higher Education?

Despite the seeming discrepancy between what high school and college teachers think constitutes good college writing, there is an overall consensus about what is “higher” about higher education.

Thinking with flexibility, depth, awareness, and understanding, as well as focusing on how you think, are some of the core building blocks that make higher education “higher.” These thinking methods coupled with perseverance, independence, originality, and a personal sense of mission are core values of higher education.

Differences between High School and College Culture

The difference between high school and college culture is like the difference between childhood and adulthood. Childhood is a step-by-step learning process. Adulthood is an independent time when you use the information you learned in childhood. In high school culture, you were encouraged to gather knowledge from teachers, counselors, parents, and textbooks. As college students, you will rely on personal assistance from authorities less and less as you learn to analyze texts and information independently. You will be encouraged to collaborate with others, but more to discuss ideas and concepts critically than to secure guidance.

How the Writing Process Differs in College

It’s important to understand that no universal description of either high school or college writing exists. High school teachers might concentrate on skills they want their students to have before heading to college: knowing how to analyze (often literary) texts, to develop the details of an idea, and to organize a piece of writing, all with solid mechanics. A college teacher might be more concerned with developing students’ ability to think, discuss, and write on a more abstract, interdisciplinary level. But there are exceptions, and debates rage on about where high school writing ends and college writing begins.

Key Takeaways

Study the following two sets of writing standards. The first is the result of a recent nationwide project to create core standards for language arts students in eleventh and twelfth grades. It outlines what students should be able to do by the time they graduate high school. The second describes what college writing administrators have agreed students should be able to do by the time they finish their first year of college writing courses. What differences do you see? What might account for those differences? How well do you think your skills match up with each set of standards?

11.2 Using Strategies for Writing College Essays

As a college student, you must take complete responsibility for your writing assignments. Your professors are assessing your ability to think for yourself, so they’re less likely to give you ready-made templates on how to write a given essay. This lack of clarity will be unsettling, but it’s part of an important growth process. By using strategies, you can systematically approach each assignment and gather the information you need for your writing requirements.

Plotting a Course for Your Writing Project

Once you know you have an upcoming writing project, you have some basic decisions to make. The following list of questions will lead you to make some preliminary choices for your writing project.

Planning the basics for your essay ahead of time will help assure proper organization for both the process and the product. It is almost a certainty that an unorganized process will lead to an unorganized product.

Reading Assignments Closely and Critically

A close and careful reading of any given writing assignment will help you sort out the ideas you want to develop in your writing assignment and make sense of how any assigned readings fit with the required writing.

Use the following strategies to make the most of every writing assignment you receive:

Use the following strategies to help you make the most of readings that support the writing assignment:

Above all, when questions or concerns arise as you apply these strategies, take them up with your professor directly, either in class or during office hours. Making contact with your professor by asking substantive questions about your reading and writing helps you stand out from the crowd and demonstrates that you are an engaged student.

Connecting Your Reading with Your Writing

College writing often requires the use of others’ opinions and ideas to support, compare, and ground your opinions. You read to understand others’ opinions; you write to express your opinions in the context of what you’ve read. Remember that your writing must be just that—yours. Take care to use others’ opinions and ideas only as support. Make sure your ideas create the core of your writing assignments. (For more on documentation, see Chapter 22 “Appendix B: A Guide to Research and Documentation” , Section 22.5 “Developing a List of Sources” .)

effective academic writing requires you to prefer

Sharing and Testing Your Thinking with Others

Discussion and debate are mainstays of a college education. Sharing and debating ideas with instructors and other students allows all involved to learn from each other and grow. You often enter into a discussion with your opinions and exit with a widened viewpoint. Although you can read an assignment and generate your understandings and opinions without speaking to another person, you would be limiting yourself by those actions. Instead it is in your best interest to share your opinions and listen to or read others’ opinions on a steady, ongoing basis.

In order to share your ideas and opinions in a scholarly way, you must properly prepare your knowledge bank. Reading widely and using the strategies laid out in the Section 11.2.3 “Connecting Your Reading with Your Writing” are excellent methods for developing that habit.

Make sure to maintain fluidity in your thoughts and opinions. Be prepared to make adjustments as you learn new ideas through discussions with others or through additional readings. You can discuss and debate in person or online, in real time or asynchronously. One advantage to written online discussions and debates is that you have an archived copy for later reference, so you don’t have to rely on memory. For this reason, some instructors choose to develop class sites for student collaboration, discussion, and debate.

For every assignment you receive with an open topic, get into the habit of writing a journal or blog entry that answers the following four questions:

Figure 11.1 Sample Assignment with Student Annotations

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11.3 Collaborating on Academic Writing Projects

How do you feel about group projects in your college classes? Are you like many students who resist group projects because you prefer to work alone? Do you know why college-level work often requires collaboration and how that collaborative work might be conducted differently than how it’s done in a K–12 environment?

Different Types of Group Work

You might not think of a typical writing assignment as a group project, but you begin collaborating on a writing assignment the moment you discuss your topic with someone else. From there, you might ask classmates to read your paper and share their opinions or to proofread your work. Some students form study groups to assure they have reviewers for their work and to have a collaborative atmosphere in which to work. These are just a few examples of effective college students voluntarily engaging in collaboration.

Choosing to collaborate is not always left up to you, since some instructors often require it, whether through simple group discussion boards or through more complex interactions, such as a semester-long project. Whether or not it starts out as something that’s required, or “part of your grade” for the course, collaboration is something successful college students eventually learn to do on their own.

If your instructor gives you a collaborative writing assignment, don’t assume the worst possible outcome, where one or two people end up doing all the work. Decide and document who will do what and when it will happen. As a group, you are taking on nearly total responsibility for the project when you are involved in a collaborative learning situation. Because of their complexity, collaborative writing projects still tend to be fairly uncommon, but they are becoming increasingly popular ways of developing and testing your collective ability to think, work, and communicate interdependently as part of a team—certainly an essential skill in the workplace.

The Dynamics of Interpersonal Communication

If collaboration is required, making a plan at the beginning of the assignment is essential. Decide if you will meet in person, online, or both. If the level of collaboration is at the reviewing and proofreading level, agree on a date to turn in or post drafts for review and set a clear timeline for completing reviews. For more involved collaborative efforts, such as a joint paper or project, begin by agreeing on a vision for the overall project. Then set up a schedule and split up the work evenly and equally, but with a sense of strategy as well. Figure out each other’s strengths and play to them. Make sure the schedule allows for plenty of time to regroup in case a group member does not meet a deadline.

During group meetings, discuss the direction and scope of the overall project as well as individual components. If any group members are struggling with their parts of the project, keep in mind that the success of all depends on the success of each, so meet to address problems. When group members disagree—and there will almost always be some differences of opinion—talk through the problems with a willingness to compromise while being careful to protect the overall integrity of the assignment. Choose an individual deadline for completion that allows time for all group members to read through the draft and suggest further revisions. If your project includes a presentation, make sure to leave time to plan that as well. Decide if one or more people will present and schedule at least one practice session to assure the group members are happy with the final presentation.

General Group Work Guidelines

Managing Consistency of Tone and Effort in Group Projects

Human nature seems to naturally repel suggestions of change from others. It is wise to remember, however, that no one is a perfect writer. So it is in your best interest to welcome and at least consider others’ ideas without being defensive. Guard against taking feedback personally by keeping in mind that the feedback is about the words in your paper, not about you. Also show appreciation for the time your classmate took to review your paper. If you do not completely understand a suggestion from a classmate, keep in mind the “two heads are better than one” concept and take the time to follow up and clarify. In keeping with the reality that it is your paper, in the end, make only the changes with which you agree.

When you review the work of others, keep the spirit of the following “twenty questions” in mind. Note that this is not a simple checklist; the questions are phrased to prevent “yes” or “no” answers. By working through these questions, you will develop a very good understanding about ways to make the writer’s draft better. You’ll probably also come up with some insights about your draft in the process. In fact, you’re welcome to subject your draft to the same review process.

When you have an idea that you think will help the writer, either explain your idea in a comment box or actually change the text to show what you mean. Of course, only change the text if you are using a format that will allow the author to have copies of both his or her original text and your changed version. If you are working with a hard copy, make your notes in the margins. Make sure to explain your ideas clearly and specifically, so they will be most helpful. Do not, for example, note only that a sentence is in the wrong place. Indicate where you think the sentence should be. If a question comes into your mind while you are reading the paper, include the question in the margin.

Twenty Questions for Peer Review

Assessing the Quality of Group Projects

Instructors assess group projects differently than individual projects. Logically, instructors attribute an individual assignment’s merits, or lack thereof, completely to the individual. It is not as easy to assess students fairly on what they contributed individually to the merits of a group project, though wikis and course management systems are making individual work much easier to trace. Instructors may choose to hold the members of a team accountable for an acceptable overall project. Beyond that, instructors may rely on team members’ input about their group for additional assessment information.

For an in-depth collaborative project, your instructor is likely to ask all students in the group to evaluate their own performance, both as individuals and as part of the larger group. You might be asked to evaluate each individual group member’s contributions as well as the overall group efforts. This evaluation is an opportunity to point out the strong and weak points of your group, not a time to discuss petty disagreements or complain about group plans that did not go your way. Think about how you would feel if group members complained about your choices they did not like, and you can easily see the importance of being flexible, honest, and professional with group evaluations. For a clear understanding of how an instructor will grade a specific collaborative assignment, talk to the instructor.


Teaching Graduate Students How to Write Clearly

Almost every English boy can be taught to write clearly, so far at least as clearness depends upon the arrangement of words. Force, elegance, and variety of style are more difficult to teach, and far more difficult to learn; but clear writing can be reduced to rules. — Rev. Edwin A. Abbott (1883), preface.

Writing the academic paper should be easy. Unlike novelists, academics do not need to worry about character development, description, dialogue, back story, and symbolism. All academics need to worry about is writing clearly — and according to the Reverend Abbott, this merely requires the mechanical application of a set of simple rules.

This perspective on academic writing may sound too good to be true. Graduate students generally struggle for years to overcome their writing problems — can this learning process really be accelerated by the application of a set of simple rules? My experience in teaching graduate students suggests that it can: Academic writing skills can be tremendously improved with only a little instruction. This is hardly surprising when one considers that most students — and, in my experience, most tenured professors — have learned about academic writing only through trial and error , a method of learning that is often painfully slow and inefficient.

To illustrate how instruction can help students write more clearly, the next section lists 10 guidelines, all of which are motivated by a single underlying principle: In order to write clearly, academics should make the life of their readers as easy as possible.

Guidelines for Graduate Students

In their first papers, graduate students are likely to violate several of the guidelines outlined below. A good writing course makes students aware of these guidelines, and lets students experience how they can use these guidelines to write more clearly. For the writing course at the University of Amsterdam (developed in association with Jos van Berkum), my feedback for students generally falls into the following categories:

1. State the goal of your paper explicitly, and state it early. Do not test the patience of your academic readers by letting them know what you are up to only at the very end of the introduction. Students tend to write lengthy introductions in which they summarize all of the literature that is remotely relevant. This is bad form, but boredom quickly turns into annoyance when the writer altogether forgets to state whether the paper contains experiments, a literature review, a formal model, a new statistical method, or some combination of the above.

2. Use concrete examples. When you start your article with “Resolving competition between two operations invited by a stimulus configuration requires a form of cognitive control,” you’ll do well to follow this up with something like “For example, the operations of word reading and color naming come into conflict in the standard Stroop (1935) task, in which naming the color of a written word is slower than naming the color of a neutral stimulus, such as a row of Xs. To resolve the conflict experienced in this paradigm, the powerful tendency to read the word must be overcome in favor of responding to the color dimension.” (Bub, Masson, & Lalonde, 2006, p. 351)

In general, abstract theoretical concepts need to be clarified with concrete examples. For many readers (especially the lazy ones) the phrases “for instance” and “for example” seem to attract attention almost automatically. Concrete examples work well in every section of a paper — they can be used to clarify the introduction, the method section, and the discussion section.

3. Combat wordiness. Do not say “It has been suggested that the mood someone is in influences the level of creativity this person displays. Specifically, it has been hypothesized that affect and creativity correlate positively.” Instead, say “Previous work suggests that people are more creative when they are in a good mood.”

4. Avoid statistical prose. Do not say, “A significant positive correlation between the amount of dissociation and satisfaction of one’s sex life was found.” Instead, say “Participants dissociated more when they were happy with their sex life than when they were not.”

5. Integrate the presentation of your results and their interpretation. Students often use the result section to summarize their findings (i.e., they provide a lengthy and sometimes unstructured list of experimental effects and associated p values). These students postpone the interpretation of their findings until the discussion section. Although this procedure may appear to be objective and scientific, it does not help the reader. The reader wants to know what the results mean. The reader does not want to be forced to work hard and come up with his or her own interpretation (which might furthermore be mistaken or irrelevant within the context of your work). Try to integrate your results and their interpretation as much as possible, providing maximum guidance for the reader. Use the discussion section to summarize what you have found, deal with alternative explanations, and transition to the next experiment.

6. Add structure through consistent constructions. First example: When you state in the abstract that you will discuss topics A, B, and C, retain this order throughout the entire paper. Second example: When you start a paragraph with the statement “Our first hypothesis was confirmed…”, the reader expects a future paragraph to start with “Our second hypothesis was [not] confirmed…” In general, academic writing is clear when it delivers information in accordance with what the readers expect. Do not set up false expectations.

7. Add structure through subheadings. Graduate students are often hesitant to add subheadings in their introductions, results sections, and discussion sections. Yet, few revisions add clarity as effectively as informative subheadings (e.g., “Analysis of accuracy” followed by “Analysis of response times”).

8. Add structure through transitional phrases. In a clearly written article, several paragraphs will start with transitional phrases such as “However”, “In contrast to”, “To this end,” or “In sum,” connecting what has been presented earlier to what will be presented next. Academics use these transitional phrases much more than novelists do. This is perhaps because transitional phrases leave little to the reader’s imagination, as their main purpose is to provide structure by setting up strong expectations. Lazy readers will be on the lookout for a transitional phrase all the time. You’ll do well to oblige them.

9. Do not express more than one or two ideas in a single sentence. Sentences can be too long because they are wordy, or they can be too long because the writer wanted to express multiple ideas in a single sentence. Consider the following example: “Our findings suggest a practice-induced tradeoff in auditory processing rather than a general improvement that benefits perceptual dimensions relevant for survival at the expense of those that are less relevant.” In such cases, Strunk and White advise “…do not try to fight your way through against the terrible odds of syntax…the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more shorter sentences.” (Strunk & White, 2000, p. 79). Accordingly, one could rewrite the example sentence as follows: “Our findings suggest that practice does not lead to a general improvement in auditory processing. Instead, practice leads to a bias that speeds up processing in some dimensions (e.g., pitch) only at the cost of delaying processing in other dimensions (e.g., loudness).”

Admittedly, some writers produce long sentences and still write clearly. For instance, the novelist Friedrich Dürrenmatt has produced a 123-page murder mystery in a mere 24 sentences (Dürrenmatt, 1988). Those academics who write as well as Dürrenmatt may try to follow in his footsteps. Others do well to use considerably more than 24 sentences for their papers.

10. Start sentences with old information, and end with new information. When a sequence of sentences has flow, one sentence seamlessly transitions to the next. A text that has flow makes life easy for the reader — each sentence provides information that the next sentence elaborates on, so that the reader is never confronted with unexpected changes in topic or emphasis.

In order to achieve flow, the main rule is to start sentences with old information, and end with new information. Consider the following example, taken from Williams (2007, pp. 76–79):

“Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying black holes in space. A black hole is created by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.”

Note that the sentence in bold is in the passive tense. Rewriting it in the active tense (generally a good idea) yields

“Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying black holes in space. The collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble creates a black hole. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.”

It is evident that the second fragment lacks flow, because the information is presented in exactly the wrong order. Present the information in the right order: first the old, then the new.

It is evident that graduate students can greatly benefit from taking a class on academic writing. But considerable benefits await you, the teacher, as well. First, students are easily convinced that your course enhances their chances of academic survival, and this tends to increase their motivation. Second, students will start to notice improvements in their writing almost immediately, and this shows them that your course is worthwhile. Finally, as a result of teaching a writing course you are likely to improve not only your students’ writing skills but also your own. Unfortunately, it is not trivial to design and teach a good course on academic writing. The next section lists tips for those who would like to do so.

Tips for Teachers

The decision to teach a graduate course on academic writing is not one to be taken lightly. Designing a writing course is hard work, as it is unlikely that you are already up to date with the relevant literature. In addition, a certain amount of creativity is required to keep your course from becoming boring. Below are 10 specific suggestions that may help you set up a successful and rewarding course on academic writing.

1. Control your work load. A proper writing course needs writing assignments, and these need to be commented on and graded. This can be a lot of work. To keep your work load manageable: (1) try to limit the class size, (2) share the burden with one or two TAs who write well (I prefer to work with the star students of the previous year), and (3) provide a strict upper limit on the number of words for each assignment (I prefer 400 or less). Often, a few paragraphs of prose are enough to identify key problems in writing style and clarity of communication.

2. Make students realize that writing clearly takes effort. One of my students, Bob, had been watching me rewrite his text at pace of about one paragraph an hour. After a few paragraphs, Bob told me “I didn’t know writing takes this much effort. If I were to put in this much time and energy, my writing would be incomparably better.” Students need to have the right expectation of the effort and dedication it takes to write clearly.

3. Motivate your students. It is easy to make students realize that their writing skills are important for their future careers, either inside or outside of academia. It is also easy to have students experience firsthand that writing skills can be learned. Together, these insights make students want to invest considerable energy in your course.

4. Give advice that is practically relevant. Students sometimes do not realize how much time they can save by, for instance, starting the writing process only after they have discussed and agreed on a detailed outline of a paper with their advisor. Use your academic experience to provide concrete and helpful advice.

5. Follow the structure of the empirical paper. At the University of Amsterdam, my classes cover, in turn: the abstract, the outline, the introduction, the method section, the results section, the general discussion, and the review process (i.e., how to produce a proper revision and a compelling cover letter). This provides students with structure and it also highlights the research-oriented focus of the course.

6. Choose a good course book. According to Stephen King (2000, p. 11), “(…) most books about writing are filled with bulls**t.” Most, but not all. For writing on a detailed, sentence–by–sentence level I recommend “Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace” (Williams, 2007). This book can be considered an extended version of the classic text by Strunk and White (2000), which Stephen King identified as a “notable exception to the bulls**t rule” (King, 2000, p. 11). For writing on a more global, what-information-goes-where level, I recommend “Guide to Publishing in Psychology Journals” (Sternberg, 2000). This book largely follows the structure of the empirical paper and is therefore a good companion to a course that does the same.

7. Read and discuss empirical research papers in class. Reading is the most fun part of learning how to write. Pass out a set of abstracts and have students discuss the quality of the writing in small groups. Then discuss each abstract at a time, and indicate in concrete terms what is good and what could be improved. For this exercise, I recommend using articles published in Psychological Science , because the writing is generally above par and the research topics are accessible to non–experts.

8. Discuss students’ writing assignments in class. In a “fun with sentences” section, I present the entire class with 5 to 10 educational sentences selected from their previous writing assignments. The selected sentences do not work — it is the job of the class to figure out what is wrong and propose improvements. Students pay keen attention when their sentences may be up for group discussion. Don’t forget to point out that the sentences have been selected because they illustrate a point of general interest. Also, do not reveal the names of the students who authored the defective sentences.

9. Focus on clarity, not on grammatical details. A class on academic writing can easily escalate into a class that focuses solely on grammar and syntax. Do not make this mistake. Your job is to teach students to communicate clearly. A student that does all the right things for clarity (see the above guidelines) might occasionally slip up and use a split infinitive or produce a sentence starting with “But” (see above for an example). This is relatively unimportant; in academic writing, clarity takes precedence over grammatical correctness.

10. Mix things up. To keep your writing course from becoming monotonous, you need to vary the pace. In class, use a mix of different activities: have students discuss papers in groups, include a “fun with sentences” section, discuss the writing exercises in the Williams book, and give a lecture on the central topic.

Abbott, E.A. (1883). How to write clearly. Rules and exercises on English composition. Boston: Roberts Brothers.

Bub, D.N., Masson, M.E.J., & Lalonde, C.E. (2006). Cognitive control in children: Stroop interference and suppression of word reading. Psychological Science , 17 , 351–357.

Dürrenmatt, F. (1988). Der Auftrag oder vom Beobachten des Beobachters der Beobachter. Novelle in 24 Sätzen. Zürich, Switzerland: Diogenes Verlag.

King, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft. New York: Scribner.

Sternberg, R.J. (Ed.). (2000). Guide to publishing in psychology journals. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Strunk, W., Jr., & White, E.B. (2000). The elements of style (4th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman.

Williams, J.M. (2007). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace (9th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman.

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I found this information very useful and will apply it to my writing.

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It’s been many years sinse I have been in school but this will help tremendously. I liked the examples used to illustrate thins.

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This is a very good tool for me to master in order to be successful in this writing class. It has been a while since I left School. Thank

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The information provided in this topic was very enlightening, It would be nice to have a writing class designated for all college curriculum’s and majors.

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About the Author

Eric-Jan Wagenmakers is associate professor at the Psychological Methods Group of the University of Amsterdam. He received his PhD in 2001 and his academic interests include quantitative modeling and Bayesian statistics.

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The Ultimate Academic Writing Guide (Inspired by 35 Top Universities)


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Academic writing can take many forms, depending on your assignment and topic. Writing a book report is, obviously, different from writing a journal article; writing a thesis is different from writing a lab report. Although they're all classified as forms of academic writing, they vary in structure, tone, style, and organization.

Academic writing also varies within the assignment type and can be dictated by your discipline and topic. For instance, an English literature thesis on War and Peace will have a different tone and structure from a civil engineering thesis on the Non-Linear Analysis of Jack-Up Structures Subjected to Random Waves .

If you want to learn about a specific type of academic writing, you can find assignment-specific guides here:

Our Academic Writing Guide Was Inspired by 35 Top Universities

Even though different paper formats require you to follow different guidelines, there are common conventions that are applicable to all forms of academic writing, regardless of content or document type.

We combed the academic resources sections of the websites of 35 top universities from around the world and developed this writing guide based on the advice that was common throughout the guides. No matter your topic, the length of your paper, or your academic level, these academic writing guidelines will not steer you wrong.

You can read our summarized version below or download the list of links to all 35 guides. If you're really serious about improving your academic writing, you can even do both.

Download Our List of 35 Academic Writing Guides   

5 Rules for Effective Academic Writing 

Before we get down to basics in this academic writing guide, it's important to keep in mind that, above all, you should follow—to the letter —the rules laid out by your professor or by the journal to which you're submitting. Obey word counts and font requirements, and include any necessary analysis or sections requested. When it comes to academic writing, you can't go wrong if you do what you're asked to do.

In addition to the instructions you're given by a professor or journal, here are five rules you should always obey when doing any kind of academic writing.

1. Write for your audience

In most cases, you will be writing for your peers and superiors in your field of study. This should dictate the tone and language you use.

The tone of your writing will reflect how you want your writing to be perceived. Typically, with anything that is fact-based, you will want to assume a respectful and professional tone.

Since you are writing for experts in your industry, it is appropriate to use technical terms and jargon. However, don't get carried away by academese . If you can say something clearly and simply using small words, do so; don't be tempted to throw in longer or more complicated words in an attempt to sound smarter.

If you think your paper will be read by people who are not in your industry, be sure to define complex words and ideas on first use.

To solidify your authority on the subject, it's also important to incorporate strong, affirmative language. For example:

The word "will" holds a lot more power than the word "might." Naturally, you should not overstate the results of your research, but if your assignment requires you to draw conclusions, use words that show your confidence in your research and analysis.

Do not use swear words or slang, as they are not appropriate in any academic writing.

2. Be obvious

Unless you are submitting a novel, your assignments shouldn't include plot twists or surprise endings. Make your point or argument obvious right from the beginning. The reader should not have to guess at what you are saying.

This can be done by presenting your thesis statement clearly in one or two sentences within the first paragraph or so of your assignment. The exact placement of a thesis statement will vary from assignment to assignment, but telling your reader what you plan to explain or prove will give them a frame of reference for the rest of the paper.

Remember that you may have spent weeks, months, or even years trying to better understand your topic; even if your readers have a background in the subject, they are trying to understand your argument for the very first time. Sometimes, what seems obvious to you is a concept you must explain to your audience before they can grasp your broader point.

3. Edit and proofread

As the first two sections noted, clarity is extremely important in academic writing. In addition to focusing on clarity in terms of your word choice and overall argument, you must be sure to use correct grammar and spelling, as even minor errors can cause confusion. This is even more vital if your report will be used as a resource in your industry.

Whether you edit the document yourself, enlist the help of a friend or colleague, or get advice from a professional editor , reviewing your work thoroughly will minimize the risk of grammatical errors that can lose you points, grade levels, or professional credibility. 

4. Don't underestimate the value of presentation

Academic Writing Checklist

Use an appropriate font in a conventional size (usually 11 or 12 point), and leave sufficient white space after headings and around tables and figures. If you are writing in report format, be sure to categorize your headings in a table of contents so that information can be found easily. Headlines often make it easier to organize information, and it is easier for the reader to gather what you are trying to say.

5. Whatever you do, cite well

Although your assignment, discipline, and style guide will affect the format in which you cite your information , it is absolutely vital that you cite all quotes, ideas, and references used in your work. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of academic writing, as it demonstrates your ability to engage with and build on the work of others in your field.

Check your professor's guidelines or the instructions for submitting to a journal to find out what style guide or style of citation to use (e.g., footnotes, a bibliography, or a works cited page). If none is given, you can either query your teacher or pick the one that makes the most sense to you. Under no circumstances should you use other people's thoughts and ideas without providing some form of citation.

Academic writing can be overwhelming, but by following these tips and guides, you can spend less time worrying about how to write and more time focusing on what to write. For more great academic writing tips, be sure to download the full list of academic writing guides from 35 top universities.

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How to Become Better at Academic Writing

Last Updated: June 19, 2022

This article was co-authored by Jake Adams . Jake Adams is an academic tutor and the owner of Simplifi EDU, a Santa Monica, California based online tutoring business offering learning resources and online tutors for academic subjects K-College, SAT & ACT prep, and college admissions applications. With over 14 years of professional tutoring experience, Jake is dedicated to providing his clients the very best online tutoring experience and access to a network of excellent undergraduate and graduate-level tutors from top colleges all over the nation. Jake holds a BS in International Business and Marketing from Pepperdine University. This article has been viewed 36,476 times.

Academic writing should involve expressing your own ideas in response to what others have said. Good writing often begins not by asserting your own opinion, but by listening actively and putting yourself in the shoes of those who think differently. If you do this, your writing will show a clearer understanding of your material, and you will write with more style and motivation. Although this can be difficult, your academic writing will benefit dramatically.

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Why Academic Writing is Important?

It is quite tempting to assume that some things are more important or valued than others. This situation is also true for academic writing since its importance is often underestimated by students. Indeed, certain people may claim that knowledge itself is more important than the expression of this knowledge. Another example is the opinion that good results of passing some attestation should be more valued than writing an essay. However, it can be said that academic writing is a skill that has to be developed and appreciated due to a range of reasons. In this article, we are going to discuss what are the main benefits of being good at academic writing. Also, check here for good examples of academic work.

Good academic writing equals excellent marks

It is not a secret that academic writing is used mostly in academic and scientific institutions. In academic writing, the main focus is on a clear and accurate presentation of information together with the author’s critical reasoning. Therefore, getting good test results and writing excellent academic papers are two main conditions of being successful in college or university.

Academic writing is a form of informative and analytical non-fiction writing that is usually seen in academic works. Academic writing can be divided into analytical, descriptive, persuasive, and critical forms. All the mentioned kinds of writing aim to convey information and the author’s reasoning with relevant evidence and arguments.

We can see the following types of academic writing papers in schools, colleges, and universities:

Academic writing is required to be presented in one of the following academic formats: MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, etc. Therefore, being good at writing deals with understanding and following the rules that exist in the framework of the mentioned formats.

To get the highest marks, you will also need to make sure you fully understand the task requirements, pose an interesting question to answer in your writing, adhere to the requirements of the form, and the required style. Avoid all sorts of slang, informal language, and contractions. Also, high-quality academic writing requires the use of quality sources, the correct in-text referencing, the art of paraphrasing, the right grammar, and spelling, and clarity. It is possible to find more information about academic writing requirements or even to order a paper on this essay paper writing service .

Why Academic Writing is Important?

Writing makes your reasoning clearer

Writing is not only good for your marks. It should be noted that writing improves the overall thinking process and assist in the process of critical skills development. It can be explained by the fact that a person has to research, confront, and critically evaluate the opinions of different people. Furthermore, a writer has to figure out his own opinion on the matter and present it with strong arguments in a clear and easy-to-follow manner. Last but not least, writing boosts research skills and helps to figure out the ways to find the necessary information.

Writing helps you to learn

It is not so surprising that academic writing also helps you to learn. It was shown that writing significantly improves conceptual learning due to the reflective and analytical nature of the writing process. Writing an essay or dissertation requires a lot of research work that deals with one particular problem or even its connection to other disciplines.

Writing will help in your further career

Writing can help in your further career. First, writing skills will be a must for those who have an aspiration to become professional writers. In this case, you will have to learn how to write about diverse subjects that may not be within your sphere of interest. Second, academic writing is an essential skill for Ph.D. students and professors who have to express their scientific discoveries understandably. Third, being good at academic writing means that you may write your CV and cover letter with flying colors. The thing is that you will be able to research your potential employer and present skills and abilities in the best possible way.

As can be seen, writing in general and academic writing, in particular, has a lot of advantages. This is an irreplaceable skill when it comes to being good at college or university, developing analytical and critical thinking skills.


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  1. What Is Academic Writing?

    Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in universities and scholarly publications. You'll encounter it in journal articles and books on academic topics, and you'll be expected to write your essays, research papers, and dissertation in academic style. Academic writing follows the same writing process as other types of texts, but ...

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    Academic writing addresses complex issues that require higher-order thinking skills applied to understanding the research problem [e.g., critical, reflective, logical, and creative thinking as opposed to, for example, descriptive or prescriptive thinking]. ... Effective academic writing begins with solid planning, so manage your time carefully ...

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    Explaining how to organize your work in order to write more, Paul J. Silva also does not offer advice on how to write well. 6. There are quite a few books that do not tell stories about writers and writing, but that show what good writing is and how to write well. Yarris and colleagues provided a perfect example: Helen Sword's Stylish Academic ...

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    by Roslyn Petelin, New York, Routledge, 2021, 326 pp., $36.99 (Paperback) ISBN-13: 978-1032016283. Good writing skills are essential, particularly for those pursuing academic, creative, and professional careers. For new academic researchers, adapting to academic writing norms and awareness of expected academic writing standards are likely to ...

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    Academic writing should be formal, clear, and concise. Academic writing uses formal language. It's also optimized for clarity and conciseness, which can initially seem contradictory to the use of formal language. Many writers confuse formal language with flowery language. Generally, flowery language uses elaborate words, lengthy sentences ...

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    Five main features of academic writing are often discussed as follows: 1. Formality. Academic writing aims to convey the relevant ideas to suit the nature of the subject being discussed and support opinions with reasoned arguments. It is not about making flowery statements or indulging in superfluous language.

  9. What Is Academic Writing? Definition, Types, and Features

    Effective academic writing is both well researched and well cited. It draws on reputable sources and existing research to build a sound argument or get the audience to consider a specific viewpoint. ... Like any other skill, writing requires practice. As you progress through your academic career, you'll have countless opportunities to hone ...

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    To write a compelling essay, narrow the topic to focus on a smaller, more specific issue. This approach will allow you to write a more detailed and effective essay. Take, for example, the standard elementary school report. Let's say you wrote about earthquakes.

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    Even if you have conducted your research, developed a winning argument, organized your time well and determined who your audience is, you must make sure you write clearly and directly looking to improve your academic writing skills. Academic writing requires a formal tone and proper grammar, but that doesn't mean you should use five words ...

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    Differences from non-academic writing. If you are studying during a career break, or part-time while still working, you need to be aware that academic writing is a very different skill from other forms of writing you may have done in the workplace. Academic writing tends to be more formal, requiring succinct prose rather than bullet points, and ...

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    1. State the goal of your paper explicitly, and state it early. Do not test the patience of your academic readers by letting them know what you are up to only at the very end of the introduction. Students tend to write lengthy introductions in which they summarize all of the literature that is remotely relevant.

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    In addition to the instructions you're given by a professor or journal, here are five rules you should always obey when doing any kind of academic writing. 1. Write for your audience. In most cases, you will be writing for your peers and superiors in your field of study. This should dictate the tone and language you use.

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    10. Solicit and respond to feedback. Ask contemporaries and experts in the field for their impression of your ideas and their formulation. Plan to iteratively respond to the issues raised by each piece of feedback. Here, it is important to remain flexible and responsive, both in your viewpoint and your writing style.

  19. Why Academic Writing is Important?

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