What is 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 general, academic writing is convincing, explaining, describing or narrating with formality, evidence, examples, or even experiences. So when writing an academic paper: 

Let’s take a look at the specific style and structure of academic writing.

Most common academic papers

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. But in general, essays and research papers are the most common vast. 

Table below shows the types of academic texts.

Type Definition
Essays are relatively shorter pieces of writings that try to make a specific point, like research papers. In most cases, general academic sources 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.
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.)

Types of academic writing

Apart from academic papers, there are also four primary forms of academic writing: Descriptive, persuasive, critical, and analytical. Each type is somewhat different from each other. But remember that any type of academic text may make use of more than one kind.

Now let’s have a look at examples of each academic writing type. 

Descriptive writing

Descriptive academic writing is one of the easiest and most fun types. It is a powerful literary technique that uses vivid language to paint a picture in the reader’s mind.

It captures sensory details, emotions, and observations, creating a sensory experience for the audience. You’ll see this type a lot with descriptive essays. 

Descriptive writing example

....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....

Analytical writing

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. This type is pretty common with explanatory or expository essays. 

Analytical writing example

...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...

Persuasive writing

Most works in academic writing involve persuasive writing, especially persuasive and argumentative essays. 

Persuasive writing aims to convince the reader to adopt a particular viewpoint or take a specific action. It employs persuasive techniques, such as logical reasoning, emotional appeal, and credible evidence, to sway the reader’s opinion and engage them in a persuasive argument.

Persuasive writing example

....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  involves evaluating and interpreting information or arguments. It goes beyond mere description and requires an in-depth analysis of ideas, evidence, and assumptions. Critical writing involves questioning, examining biases, and forming well-reasoned judgments based on evidence and logical reasoning.

Critical writing example

...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....

Academic writing best practices

When writing academic papers, it is essential to follow a logical structure, provide evidence-based arguments, and use appropriate academic language.

Now let’s have a look at each best practice deeply. 

Be formal and objective

Academic writing makes use of formal language, which is different than flowery language. You should avoid complex sentence structures and colloquial words, slang, etc. as seen above example. 

Also, objectivity is the pretty critical for 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 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.

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. Look at the example below. 

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'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

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Dogukan Duman
Holds a Master Degree in Linguistics & Localization, has a keen eye for detail, a full stack language master working for national TV localization