What is Academic Writing?

If you’ve been to university (or are currently attending one), you have encountered academic writing.

Most students and professors I know could confirm that making that final dissertation paper is perhaps one of the most tedious but insightful experiences of academic writing.

What is academic writing?

Academic writing is a writing style used mainly to engage, make arguments, and convey ideas in universities and scholarly publications.

Like other writing forms, academic writing follows the same writing process but has its own rules and guidelines. It’s generally more structured and formal compared to other forms of writing. Furthermore, it requires precise word choice, evidence-based arguments, logical organization, and an impersonal tone. 

What is the purpose of academic writing?

What is academic writing? What is its purpose?

Like what I mentioned earlier, academic writing is used mainly on academic or scholarly papers. This writing style commonly applies to assignments, essays, research, thesis, reaction papers, etc.

At a glance, the purpose of academic writing is to create compliance in the form of a required narrative in a particular subject or specialization. It’s a student or a professor’s way of communicating and informing others using formal language and data backed by evidence and research.

It could sound a bit complicated, but most of us have probably created at least one of these. A lot of students take it for granted. What they’re not aware of is academic writing serves a purpose beyond just creating a formal narrative and compliance.

It teaches us way more. Therefore, it’s a skill we all need to learn.

To elaborate on that, here are some of the most important things academic writing teaches us:

1. Analytical Thinking 

Academic writing forces you to think analytically, especially on the more elaborate ones like research and thesis papers. You need to gather information and present them in a way that the readers will understand. You’re responsible for analyzing the data, presenting it, and sharing your thoughts about your findings.

Having good analytical thinking skills can give you a great advantage in any situation, especially in professional settings.

2. Professionalism

Academic writing requires formal language, thus making you sound like a professional. Even if you’re typing in front of your computer or writing manually on your desk, you can still feel good about the way you speak. It doesn’t only allow you to speak professionally; it also allows you to feel like one.

Learning how to speak with formality and professionalism early on will make your career life a lot easier.

3. Research skills

Intensive research and not just some “I Googled it” research is required in academic writing. It’s indeed more time consuming, but it also allows you to educate yourself more about a particular topic. Improving your research skills can also aid in critical thinking – another must-have skill for any profession (especially in writing).

4. Work ethic

Time pressure, patience, and hard work are only some of the traits you need when you’re on the job. Knowing good work ethics even before you enter a profession is a great trump up your sleeve. Knowing how to work professionally and create structured narratives can also be useful, especially when you’re assigned to create reports, answer emails, or simply creating a profile for yourself on LinkedIn.

What are academic writing and its types?

Academic writing has four main types—narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and expository. Most academic writing pieces fall on one of these types.

Listed below are the different types of academic writing and how they are different from each other.

  • Narrative Writing

This type is the most common type of academic writing. It requires you to narrate or tell a story about a personal experience, a real-life situation, or an anecdote. Book reports are also under this type. However, it’s focused more on providing an informative narrative rather than following a storytelling pattern.

A narrative writing piece must draw the reader into the content. The writer must use vivid language and express a clear point of view to achieve this effect. There are no strict formats to follow, but there should be an introduction, body, and conclusion of the narrative.

  • Descriptive Writing

This type is characterized by providing descriptions of people, places, objects, experiences, emotions, situations, and more. You’re supplied with something to analyze, and you must paint the picture in words.

The important note here is to convey a deeper meaning to what you’re analyzing and not just give simple, literal descriptions.

  • Persuasive Writing

Another one of the most common types of academic writing is persuasive writing (also called argumentative). This type usually tests how good you are as an academic writer. It requires you to investigate a topic, form your conclusions, provide evidence in support of your opinions, and convince the reader that you have a valid point.

This type is more challenging than the others mentioned because it requires extensive research. You also need to present both sides of the argument so you can convince the reader that the side you’re going with is the most logical option.

  • Expository Writing

Expository academic writing requires you to investigate an idea, gather and evaluate evidence supporting it, expound on it, and give an argument involving that same idea. 

This writing style can be a bit confusing since it’s similar to persuasive writing. However, expository writing involves less research and is usually shorter compared to a persuasive writing project.

What are academic writing examples?

Academic writing mostly involves texts that are intended for publication. It usually comes in the form of reports, journal articles, chapters in edited collections, and books.

For students, the most common examples of academic writing assignments are the following:

  • Essay – Typically short and includes a more self-contained argument. It often uses sources from a class in response to a question provided by a professor. Although essays are the most common and personal, a proper academic essay follows given rules and guidelines to make it appropriate for academic writing.
  • Literary/book analysis – As the name suggests, this example evaluates, examines, and makes an argument about a given literary work. It goes beyond a summary and requires an in-depth understanding and analysis of the book’s elements.
  • Research paper – A research paper utilizes outside information to support or make an argument on a question or a subject. Unlike the previous ones, this requires more in-depth investigation based on independent research and synthesizing this external information with your ideas.
  • Dissertation/Thesis – This is a large final research project usually done at the end of a degree. It usually comes in book-length with a topic that is chosen by the writer.

What is academic essay writing?

An academic essay expands on a topic and provides a conclusion. It should contain a central argument in which your answer will be either the question or issue.

The argument must be based on reliable evidence and supported throughout your essay. Making an academic essay goes beyond just describing and summarizing the topic. You must critically analyze and understand it to reach a logical conclusion.


The structure of an academic essay has three main components:

  • Introduction – It is the opening of the essay. This part usually includes a general statement, background information on the topic/issue, or the statement that introduces the argument in your essay.
  • Body – This part expands on your argument/statement. It presents relevant information and evidence that supports your argument. It’s typically divided into several paragraphs with a logical order.
  •  Conclusion – This part summarizes the main points you laid out in your essay.  


The content is based on a topic and holds the central idea or argument of an essay. It should explain and justify your ideas based on reliable sources.

Depending on the given question, the essay may contain:

  • context (framework, background, setting)
  • a thesis statement (proposition, claim, main idea)
  • counter-arguments (contrary, considerations, objections)
  • reasons (evidence, support, examples)
  • responses (answers to objections, refutations)

What are the ten features of academic writing?

Academic writing’s objective is to inform rather than to entertain, which is why it’s linear, meaning it has a central point or theme. Every section contributes to the main point of argument, without repetitions or digressions.

To understand the standards of academic writing, here are the ten main features of academic writing.

1. Formality

Academic writing uses formal language. In general, it means that using colloquial words and expressions should be avoided, like the following.

  • colloquial words and expressions – “a lot of,” “sort of,” “stuff,” “thing.”
  • Abbreviated forms – “doesn’t,” “can’t,” “shouldn’t.”
  • Sub-headings, bullet-points, and numbering, informal essays (but you can use them in reports.)

2. Complexity

Compared to other narratives, academic writing includes more lexically dense words. They are shorter but have more complex words and phrases. They also have more noun-based phrases, more nominalizations, and more lexical variation.



Because technology has improved, it’s less risky than it used to be when installing them at the same time. It doesn’t cost so much either.


Improvements in technology have reduced the high costs and risks associated with simultaneous installation.

3. Objectivity

Academic writing features more general objectives rather than personal. Therefore, it includes fewer words referring to the writer or the reader. It also means that the main focus should be on the information you’re giving and the arguments you’re making, rather than yourself.

Thus, academic writing tends to use nouns (and adjectives), rather than verbs (and adverbs).

4. Precision

In academic writing, facts and figures should be given precisely. So instead of saying, “there are many respondents,” you should indicate the number of respondents like, “there are 50 thousand respondents.”

5. Explicitness

Relationships of text in academic writing should be shown explicitly. It’s the writer’s responsibility to make it clear to the reader how various parts of the narrative are related. These connections can be made explicit by using different signaling words like:

  • However
  • Because
  • Similarly
  • For example
  • In addition, etc.

6. Hedging

Academic writing is commonly scientific and factual. However, it is now recognized that an essential feature of academic writing is the concept of using cautious language, often known as “hedging” or “vague language.”

In other words, it is necessary to decide upon your stance on a particular subject or the intensity of your claims. You can use hedging statements or tentative language such as ‘may,’ ‘its possible that,’ ‘appears to’ to qualify statements.

7. Accuracy

Accuracy in vocabulary is essential in academic writing. Most subjects include words with narrow, specific meanings. It would be best if you choose the most accurate word to use. For example, the words “meeting,” “assembly,” “gathering,” or “conference” may all have a similar meaning. However, they have varying distinctions that are more recognized in this form of writing.

8. Planning

Unlike other narratives that you can begin with any time, academic writing needs to be well planned. It usually takes place after enough research and evaluation related to a specific purpose and plan.

9. Organization

Academic writing is more well-organized in terms of flow and structure. The content should be coherent and flows easily from one section to the next in a logical fashion.

10. Responsibility

Academic writing holds more responsibility from the writer. As the writer, you must be able to provide evidence and justification for any claims you make. You are also responsible for presenting an understanding of any sources you use. You can do this by paraphrasing and summarizing what you read and acknowledging the basis of the information or ideas by a system of citation.

What language is used in academic writing?

Every writing style has different levels of formality and objectivity. When it comes to language, academic writing is strictly different from other writing styles.

The academic writing language is:

  • Formal
  • Impersonal
  • Objective 

These characteristics ensure that the ideas and arguments in an academic writing piece are communicated in a clear, convincing, and professionally presented manner.

Can we use “we” in academic writing?

Using the pronoun “we” equates to a first-person point of view of the writer. Many writers tend to personalize their narrative by writing in the first-person perspective. This pronoun is generally acceptable when writing personal information, a journal, or a book. However, it is not common in academic writing.

First-person pronouns like “we,” “I,” “our,” “us,” etc. means that we use the pronouns that refer to ourselves in the text. Using “we” implies that we present the information based on what “we” found. This point of view is rarely used in science and mathematics because it’s often considered somewhat self-serving and arrogant. It can also result in the underestimation of the strength of your findings.

It is important to remember that when writing your research results, the focus should be on the study and not the people who conducted it. When you want to persuade the reader, it is best to avoid personal pronouns.

Readers may see such writing as subjective, whereas science is about being objective. 

However, there is no universal rule against using first-person pronouns in academic writing. In general, it is acceptable to use the first-person point of view in abstracts, introductions, discussions, and conclusions, in some journals, if used in a limited fashion, and to enhance clarity. But it’s still best if avoided.

What should be avoided in academic writing?

Academic writing has its own rules to follow, so before making one, it is essential to check the guidelines that go with it to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings.

To give you a quick overview, here is a list of the things you should avoid in academic writing.

  • Avoid using jargon, colloquialisms, slang, or sexist language.
  • Do not use a common vocabulary, such as “a lot,” “nice,” “have got,” “the other thing.”
  • Do not use shortened verb forms such as “they’re,” “isn’t,” “can’t.”
  • Do not use “I think” – especially not at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Do not use conversational opening phrases, such as “Well,” “you see,” “let’s move on to the next.”
  • Do not use first-person pronouns such as “I,” “we,” “us.”
  • Do not use bullet points or lists, unless you’re presenting a report.
  • Avoid making assumptions or giving your opinion (unless it’s specifically asked).
  • Avoid waffling or repeating yourself.
  • Do not ask (direct) questions in the running text, like, “Can carbon emissions be reduced?”
  • Do not mix words and numbers unsystematically.
  • Avoid using passive voice.
  • Don’t plagiarize information.

Final Thoughts

Learning about what is academic writing and its essentials is a good start in making one.

Knowing the basics and tightening up your academic writing skills will help enhance your research paper or any academic-related narratives.

As much as it is more elaborate and strict in terms of writing, it can also be a great learning activity that won’t only get you through your requirements, but would also allow you to learn practical lessons you can use in the future.

Start enhancing your academic writing skills today! 


Product designer, writer, UX guy, and founder of Nicely Said. Past experience includes Disney, Inside Out Leadership, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Two Hat. With a Master's Degree from the School of Hard Knocks, Chris has been publishing content on the web since the pre-blog days of Diaryland and LiveJournal. He's been playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms II on Super Nintendo since 1992.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: