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Melbourne High School Library: Academic writing help

Academic writing

Academic writing is a formal style of writing.

  • It uses grammatically correct sentences and punctuation.

  • It appears neutral and avoids emotional language.

  • It avoids conversational words: you know, things like, stuff and abbreviations: can’t, won’t, doesn’t, shouldn’t.

  • It uses verbs that avoid expressions of absolute certainty such as: give the impression of, tend to, appear to be, consider, think, doubt, indicate, recommend, show.  

  • Your view is the basis of your argument BUT you need to back up your position with evidence from academic sources.

  • It demonstrates analysis and evaluation of arguments from recent academic evidence.

  • It presents your ideas and evidences in a logical and progressive manner.

  • It contains a bibliography.

What does it mean to write in an academic style?

It doesn't mean using lots of long words and complicated sentences! The purpose of academic writing is to communicate complex ideas in a way that makes them least likely to be challenged. So it's important to avoid any ambiguity. That means that academic writing must be:

- formal, because informal writing is not always understood in the same way by every reader;

- structured, because complex ideas need to be controlled to produce an unambiguous statement;

- precise, so that none of its ideas can be challenged;

- appropriate, so that it communicates to its audience in the most effective way.

Writing should be formal, but it does not need to be pompous. 

To maintain formality, there are various colloquialisms and shortened forms to avoid:

  • Avoid shortened forms:
  • Shouldn't, it's for it is
  • Avoid popular phrases or cliches such as: at the end of the day; in a nutshell; when it comes to the crunch
  • Replace with: finally, in summary, in a crisis
  • Avoid casual everyday words such as: really, okay, maybe.

Good writing makes a point clearly and may illustrate it to help the reader's understanding. To avoid rambling, plan the points that you wish to convey and the evidence that you will use to illustrate. Include only necessary detail.

When presenting a point of view, such as a line of argument for an essay, decide on the main points that you want to communicate. Plan one main point per paragraph. A paragraph can be planned (like a mini-essay) using the PEAL format:

P: Sentence introducing the point with any necessary detail.

E: Illustration of point using evidence: research example, case study, figures, etc.

A: Critical analysis of point

L: Concluding sentence summing up the point and linking to the question or your argument.

(Source: University of Reading, UK)

Articles about academic writing

Extended Investigation: Introducing work

There are many ways to introduce an academic essay or short paper. Most academic writers, however, appear to do one or more of the following in their introductions:

  • establish the context, background and/or importance of the topic
  • present an issue, problem, or controversy in the field of study
  • define the topic and/or key terms used in the paper
  • state the purpose of the essay or short paper
  • provide an overview of the coverage and/or structure of the writing
  • Slightly less complex introductions may simply inform the reader: what the topic is, why it is important, and how the writing is organised. In very short assignments, it is not uncommon for a writer to commence simply by stating the purpose of their writing.

Introductions to research dissertations and theses tend to be relatively short compared to the other sections of the text but quite complex in terms of their functional elements. Some of the more common elements include:

  • establishing the context, background and/or importance of the topic
  • giving a brief review of the relevant academic literature
  • identifying a problem, controversy or a knowledge gap in the field of study
  • stating the aim(s) of the research and the research questions or hypotheses
  • providing a synopsis of the research design and method(s)
  • explaining the significance or value of the study
  • defining certain key terms
  • providing an overview of the dissertation or report structure

(Source: University of Manchester)

See more about:

Referring to sources
Describing methods
Reporting results
Discussing findings 
Writing conclusions