DOs and DON'Ts of academic writing


If you are a college student, one of the essential skills you need to master is academic writing. It is a distinctive form of writing that requires more formality and objectivity. In short, you need to pay a lot more attention than writing casually.

Now, let’s take a look at the specific style and structure of academic writing.

Do's of academic writing

Don'ts of academic writing

Types of academic writing

There are many types of academic essays that you will come across as a student. Most of these can be found in journals, books, and reports as they are intended publication platforms for academic writing.

Type Definition
Essays are relatively shorter pieces of writings that try to make a specific point, like research papers. In most cases, sources from classes will be enough to write a well-structured essay.
Thesis / dissertation
These two are different finishing projects you might have to work on for several months to get your degree. Usually, a thesis refers to a project of a master’s program, while a dissertation is used for a doctoral program.
Research papers revolve around thesis statements, and you have to conduct extensive research from several sources to support your point.
Literature review
Literature reviews gather different analyses, evaluate and summarize them according to the essay topic. You have to create a synthesis of existing research with two or more works to examine a given topic.
Research proposal
These are outlines to request sponsorship for a research topic so that you can get support for extensive research.
Annotated bibliography
An annotated bibliography is a reference list with short descriptions and evaluations of each source below their citations.
Lab report
Lab reports are used to describe scientific experiments (i.e. their methods, purposes, findings, conclusions, etc.)

Table above shows the detailed types of academic texts. There are also four primary forms of academic writing: Descriptive, persuasive, critical, and analytical.

But remember that any type of academic text may make use of more than one kind.

Descriptive writing

One of the easiest types, descriptive writing style just requires providing information and solid facts.

Example of descriptive writing

The sun was sinking over the horizon, throwing a warm glow over the little hamlet in the valley below. The sounds of crickets chirping and youngsters laughing as they played in the park filled the air.

The streets were lined with charming buildings with a sunny flower garden. My mouth watered as the fragrance of freshly cooked bread floated through the air. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, feeling a calm flood over me. It was a beautiful summer evening in the country.

Analytical writing

You can’t solely write descriptive texts in college-level work. Analytical writing requires you to go in-depth with your topic, review it, create relationships among information, and organize the paper according to your thought process. In short, analytical writing needs more explanation than a descriptive paper.

Example of analytical writing

Plant-based diets' growing popularity has been welcomed with both acclaim and criticism. Plant-based diets, proponents believe, are more environmentally sustainable and can lead to better health results. However, opponents argue that plant-based diets are nutritionally insufficient and may lead to social isolation.

Closer inspection reveals, however, that a well-planned plant-based diet may be nutritionally adequate and may even have various health advantages. Furthermore, the environmental effect of animal husbandry is well-documented, and switching to a plant-based diet can result in lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Persuasive writing

Just as analytical writing has everything that descriptive writing has, persuasive writing contains both forms, with the addition of your point of view. Most works in academic writing involve persuasive writing, as there are arguments supported by evidence.

Example of persuasive writing

Single-use plastic bags should be prohibited at all retail establishments. These bags not only contribute considerably to pollution, but they also endanger animals. Plastic bags can entangle animals or be mistaken for food, resulting in damage or death.

Furthermore, single-use plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade in landfills, implying that they will continue to damage the environment long after they are used. We can limit the quantity of plastic trash in the environment and conserve our species by prohibiting single-use plastic bags and encouraging the usage of reusable bags. It is time for us to shift positively and say good-by to single-use plastic bags.

Critical writing

Critical writing adds two other points of view to your point of view, which is the distinctive future of persuasive writing. In short, you have to evaluate more than one analysis to develop your argument.

Example of critical writing

The latest "clean eating" craze has been harshly slammed for encouraging an unhealthy fixation with food and propagating diet culture. While clean eating aims to highlight complete, unprocessed meals, the notion is frequently misunderstood and used to classify things as "good" or "bad." This binary thinking can result in disordered eating patterns and unhealthy food connections.

Furthermore, the advantage of purchasing and obtaining full, unprocessed meals is frequently overlooked, leading to exclusion and greater marginalization of some populations. Therefore, individuals must prioritize their physical and emotional well-being and identify the negative consequences of food culture.

DOs of academic writing

Be formal and objective

Objectivity is the purpose of academic writing. You have to be impartial and in a detached stance. When making a claim, bring evidence and present an argument rather than offering subjective assumptions and biased points of view.

Your own research and other research from credible sources (APA, MLA, etc.) can help you avoid bias. To claim the objectivity of your research, outline your methodology, show the limitations of the study, and present your findings clearly.

Formal language is different than flowery language. You should avoid complex sentence structures and colloquial words, slang, etc.

Write clearly

Clarity and conciseness are vital features that help your reader follow and understand your argument. Be specific and avoid vagueness in your language.

Academic writing usually requires you to use specific jargon according to your discipline. But, be careful that they don’t prevent your writing from being clear and accurate. Use jargon when:

To determine whether the term you choose fits these criteria, follow current publications and be careful with the chosen language in these works.

Be structured

Academic writing requires a clear and focused structure. Although there are specific formats you have to follow when writing different types of academic texts, there are basic rules that you should follow in every paper.

At first, find yourself a thesis statement or a research question, and develop your argument focused on it. In other words, include only relevant information according to your central focus.

We can divide the layers of structure into three: While the text’s structure as a whole is the outer layer, paragraphs and sentences should also have a clear structure.

Paper part Suggestions
Text as a whole
Have an introduction and a conclusion part. Have headings if your text is long and you need to divide it into chapters. Have a logical order to present your information.
Have a new paragraph, each with a new idea. Have topic sentences for each paragraph to show what it will be about, also add supporting ideas and evidence. Have relevant paragraphs that support your overall argument.
Have transition words and phrases to smoothen your writing. Have proper capitalization, punctuation and avoid sentence fragments. Have various sentence lengths and structures like active and passive voice, be careful in tense selection.

Have credible sources

Sources are crucial to support your argument. They can vary from audiovisual works to scientific reports. Most of your sources will be from other academics, as academic writing follows a cumulative approach.

Once you are sure of your source’s credibility, the next step is to cite them correctly according to your citation format. Whenever you quote or paraphrase someone else’s ideas in your essay or research paper, you should give a reference in the text and your reference list. 

Below is a citation example in APA format.

Citing style Proper citing
In-text citation
On May 31, 1998, William Parker stepped onto the stage of an elegant Italian opera house at the Verona Jazz Festival for a highly anticipated performance (Bradley, 2019, p.1).
Reference list
Bradley, C. (2021). Into the Tone World: Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. In Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker (pp. 194–215). Duke University Press.

The most common styles in academics are APA, MLA, and Chicago. When citing your sources, make sure you cite correctly in accordance with your format, or it might be considered plagiarism.

Be correct and consistent

Your paper should not only be correct, which includes correct academic words, grammar, pronouns, punctuation, and citation, but also should be consistent in its style, which includes writing:

It is vital to choose a style and follow rules consistently throughout your paper. After you finish your paper, don’t forget to proofread it for consistency and correctness.

DON'Ts of academic writing

Don't be personal

Even though the author’s background and related information can come up in some parts, academic writing should avoid being personal and all about the author; the research should be at the center. You should also not use the second-person pronoun (“you”) and replace it with the word “one” if you need to use it:

Similarly, the use of the first-person pronoun is also discouraged. However, many fields began to use it increasingly in recent years. Make sure the first-person pronoun you use is necessary to make your point. Sometimes, you might need to use it to position yourself or show your process in an experiment with the first-person pronoun.

Don't write unnecessarily long

Contrary to a common belief, your writing doesn’t have to be long and complicated to look professional and academic. Instead, concision and clarity are more valued in academic writing.

If it is possible without changing the meaning, try to cut out unnecessary words or replace them with more clear ones. Aside from avoiding the abundance of words, try to replace phrasal verbs with their synonyms as well.

You might have to repeat yourself in your conclusion and summary in academic writing. However, you can’t have too many repetitions as it is unnecessary, so avoid writing sentences that share the same meaning and make the same point.

Don't use glitter and emotions

Academic writing is more formal in relation to other text styles (literary, marketing, etc.). Even though you can use a persuasive form and add your point of view, you can’t have exaggerated claims and try to emotionally impress the reader.

You might be tempted to be a little over the top to get your point across. Don’t try to exaggerate, as being specific with evidence can do the job perfectly. Lastly, overstating is also prohibited as it is not based on facts:

Academic Writing Checklist

Emma Lee
Emma Lee
Studied Maths and Coding, currently working as Front End Lead at Tamara Research, loves writing, coding, and hiking.

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