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❶It therefore has fewer words that refer to the writer or the reader. For example, 'as bright as a button' or as 'clear as mud'.




Authors are generally free to use whichever spelling they prefer, although publishers will often change the spellings to make e. Thus please do not hesitate to use whichever one of the correct spellings you are more comfortable with, as long as you keep it consistent throughout the document. Additional guidelines specific to academic writing Academic writing includes texts like original research papers, research proposals, and literature reviews, whether published or not. Formatting and grammar rules When in doubt about grammar or page format, researchers in psychology and computer science generally follow the APA style guide ; biological fields use similar standards.

Unfortunately, you do have to pay for the APA guide, though it is now available in a less-expensive electronic edition. Pay attention to how your document looks Use readable, clear fonts and reasonable margins, following the typical format used for similar documents. If your word processor cannot make the spacing regular between words e. Poor spacing makes the page look jumbled and seem incoherent, even if the writing is not. Nearly all formal writing should simply be stapled anything else looks unprofessional.

For instance, using a fancy cover and binding for a short paper or report is distracting and makes it difficult to photocopy the paper; such binding is necessary only for long papers that a staple would have trouble keeping together. At the opposite extreme, it should be obvious that folding one corner is not an acceptable substitute for a staple. Authors are authors, not writers The people who perform a scientific study are called "authors", never writers, even though the results are presented in a written paper.

Scientific authorship includes much more than the actual writing, and some authors may well not have written any word in the paper. Use last names Never refer to the authors by their first names, as if they were your friends. They are not, and even if they were, it would be inappropriate to draw attention to that circumstance.

Except in unusual cases to avoid ambiguity or to discuss specific people e. Author names are keys -- spell them properly In academic writing, an author's last name is like the key in a database lookup -- if the name is misspelled e. Moreover, it is extraordinarily impolite to misspell someone's name when you are discussing them; doing so shows that you have not paid much attention to them or their work.

So you should make a special effort to spell author names correctly, double and triple checking them against the original source, and ensuring that you spell them the same way each time. Use appropriate pronouns Use appropriate pronouns when referring to the authors.

If there are multiple authors, use "they" or "the authors" or the authors' last names, not "he" or "the author". If there is only one author and you can determine the gender with great confidence, you may use "he" or "she"; otherwise use "the author" or the author's last name.

Referring to other texts Use double quotes around the title of an article when you refer to it in the text. Italics are reserved for books or other works of similar length.

Avoid underlining altogether underlining is just a way of indicating that handwritten or typewritten text should be typeset in italics, and is thus inappropriate when italics are available as they are on any modern word processor. Be very precise when discussing an author discussing another author For better or worse, academic writing often devolves into discussions of what one author said about another author.

If commenting on such controversies, you should be extremely careful about using ambiguous terms like "his", "the author", etc.

Very often your reader will have no idea which of the various authors you are referring to, even though it may be clear to you. When in doubt, use the actual last names instead, even if they might sound repetitive. Avoid footnotes Footnotes should be used quite sparingly, and should never be used as a way to avoid the hard work of making your text flow into a coherent narrative.

Only when something genuinely cannot be made to fit into the main flow of the text, yet is somehow still so important that it must be mentioned, does it go into a footnote. Avoid direct quotes In scientific as opposed to literary or historical writing, direct quotes should be used only when the precise wording of the original sentences is important, e.

In nearly every other case, paraphrasing is more appropriate, because it lets you formulate the idea in the terms suitable for your particular paper, focusing on the underlying issue rather than the way one author expressed it. Be careful with arguments about grammar If you are going to criticize the grammar or spelling of an author in writing, you should be extraordinarily careful to verify that you are correct. Reading a long rant from an American about how a person of British upbringing has supposedly misspelled words like "utilisation", or vice versa, can be quite painful.

There is no need to mention explicitly reading the paper A lot of students use phrases like "while reading this paper, I Try to avoid this redundancy. If you use the word "author" you need not also use "paper", and vice versa. Similarly, it is clear that whatever you discovered about the paper, you discovered while reading the paper; we do not need to be reminded of this.

Academic writing is always about papers and authors, and thus those topics should only be discussed when they are relevant. Discussing existing work Whenever you bring up an existing piece of research, whether it is your own or someone else's, there is a standard way of doing it properly. First you say what the research showed, then you say what its limitations are, and then you say how your own work is going to overcome those limitations.

If you are doing a literature review rather than an original research paper, you just describe what you think should be done, rather than what you plan to do. Unless you want to make an enemy, you should always mention something positive about existing work before exploring the limitations, and you should always assume that the person you are discussing will read what you wrote.

Of course, sometimes there is a good reason to make an enemy, e. Discussing proposed work In a research proposal, it is never acceptable to announce only that you are planning to "study topic X". In the context of research, studying is a vague and unbounded task, with no criterion for success and no way to tell if you are getting anywhere. Studying is something you do in a course, where someone can tell you what to focus on and can test you to see if you got the right answer; research is not like that.

In research, you need to spell out the specific questions you are going to try to answer, the specific phenomena that need explanations, and so on -- it's up to you to define the question and the methods, and until you've done so, it's not research, just idle speculation.

The reader is more likely to assume that you have been sloppy about your literature review than to assume you knew about the work but believed it not to be relevant. Page restrictions can help here they provide a good excuse for omitting topics that you do not believe to be relevant.

In a longer article or thesis without page limits you have no choice but to address the issue and explicitly state why the topic is not relevant despite the common belief that it is.

Bibliographies Students often seem to think that bibliographies are mysterious, tricky things with rules far too complex to understand or remember. Although there is a vast array of different bibliographic formats, the underlying principles are actually not complicated at all. Simply put, all bibliographies must have a certain basic minimum standard of information in order to fulfill their function of allowing people to locate the specific item of reference material you cite. In particular, every bibliography entry needs an author, date, and title, every journal article absolutely must have a volume and page numbers, and every conference paper must have the title of the conference proceedings, the page numbers, and some indication of who published it.

Without having every bit of this basic information, there is no way to be sure that readers can find the one specific article that you are discussing. Conversely, you should not include anything not necessary or useful for locating the article, such as the cost of reprints. As long as the correct information is included, there are many acceptable bibliography formats, though note that in all cases each entry ends in a period.

Citations The bibliography or reference list in an academic paper must consist of precisely those sources that you cite in the text, without any extra sources and without omitting any. Each citation must provide enough information for the reader to find the correct source in the bibliography; beyond that, any number of citation formats will do unless there is some specific standard you are told to follow.

One common approach is to use author-date citations like " Smith, Wu, and Tong ", but other approaches such as numbering the bibliography entries and then using bracketed or superscript numbers are also fine. If using numeric citations with brackets, note that there must always be a space before the first bracket, as in " If using author-date citations, you must remember that any item in parentheses does not exist , as far as the grammar of the sentence is concerned, and thus it cannot be used as part of the sentence.

Thus the rule is simply to put the parentheses around the part that would be acceptable to omit when reading aloud, as in "Carlin showed that It is usually best to have only a single level of parentheses, because multiple parentheses start to distract from the main text.

Thus I would prefer "has been established but for a counterexample see Johnson, " to "has been established but for a counterexample see Johnson ". Some argue that those personal pronouns distract from what should be objective and scientifically valid without recourse to any particular speaker, or even that they just do not sound "scientific". Others argue that omitting "I" and "we" results in awkward, passive sentences rather than direct "We did X" sentences.

Personally, I believe that academic writing should use personal pronouns whenever what is being reported was an arbitrary and specific choice made by a human being, or for opinions or personal judgment, precisely because these pronouns emphasize that a human was involved in the work. When reporting universal scientific facts or observations, I would not use personal pronouns, because any reasonable observer would have reported similar results and thus there is no need to emphasize the role of the authors.

Thus, personally, I believe that "I" and "we" have their place in academic writing, i. My personal quirks Please note that I happen to disagree with a few of the rules commonly accepted for English text, and in the text on this page I happily use my own rules instead. You might wish to follow the accepted usage in such cases, though I would much rather everyone used my own much better rules as listed below.

If you do agree to join my one-man campaign to fix the English language, I cannot accept any responsibility for points deducted by less enlightened folks. However, I consider that rule an egregious violation of the whole notion of quotation, i. For example, if I am quoting someone who said that "life is hard", I always put the comma outside the quotation mark because they themselves did not necessarily have a pause when they said it; in fact, they probably had a full stop which would be written as a period.

Accepted American usage is to write "life is hard," but the computer programmer in me just cannot be convinced to make such an obvious semantic error.

Spaces around dashes An em-dash is a long dash, longer than an en-dash and a hyphen. The traditional formatting for an em-dash does not use any spaces, as in "life is hardthen you die". However, I myself much prefer to put a space before and after the dash. Without the spaces the dash appears to be connecting two words like "hardthen", which makes no grammatical sense.

Grammatically, the function of the dash is to separate and connect phrases or clauses, not words, and I prefer to make that visually clear by putting spaces around the dash. Again, in my opinion the accepted usage is a bug in the language. Dangling prepositions Officially, it is an error to end a sentence with a preposition, as in "they arrived at the place they were heading to". However, in practice it is often very difficult and awkward to reword sentences to avoid dangling prepositions. Thus I consider this rule to be optional at best.

There are some forms of writing e. Some subjects also allow bullet points in academic essays. Check with the lecturer and ensure that you use the appropriate format and punctuation for using bullet points in that discipline. The tense of a verb indicates whether the time of an event is in the past, present or future. In academic writing, you should take care to check the tense consistency of verbs. Students often change verb tense by mistake.

One minute they are writing in one tense, then you abruptly switch to another tense. This makes your writing confusing and annoying. You will need to check for this when you are proofreading your work. Many students experience present tense difficulties with plagiarism until they were assisted past tense to understand some basic rules.

Many students experience present tense difficulties with plagiarism until they are assisted present tense to understand some basic rules. It is customary to write most academic papers in the present tense. You should report your own findings and those from research in present tense e.

Jackson and Smith argue [present tense] that …. Be consistent in your use of tense throughout your paper. When you have finished your writing, check that the tense matches in the introduction, body and conclusion paragraphs of your essay.

If you are referring to future action, verbs such as will, shall, is going to, are about to, tomorrow and other adverbs of time will assist you to indicate future tense e. Exclamation marks have no place in formal academic writing. They speak volumes in personal writing e. However, in academic writing, you should say what you mean in words. All students should have lessons in plagiarism avoidance from day one!!! Students may require assistance in plagiarism avoidance at the start of their first year to assist them to succeed in their university studies.

Academic writing uses language to report, argue and critique. You must use statements at all times to do this. This means that you do not revert to using personal address such as questions and commands. Often students attempt to answer the question with a question or toss in a question to give the impression of putting in a point of view. This point of view should be expressed as a statement. Sometimes writers try to invite the reader along.

This is not surprising as many journalists use this technique to write much of our everyday reading matter e. Directly addressing your reader is not appropriate academic writing as you tend to use personal pronouns and issue commands rather than using statements.

The first issue is to find ways to assist students to avoid plagiarising in their academic essays. Many students become creative with fonts e. Comic Sans and font styles e. However, this is NOT required. These tools follow set conventions that must be adhered to. Fonts Use only those fonts recommended in your study guide. Readability is the key issue. If headings are permissible, you may use variations in font size and font style to mark the hierarchy importance of main headings and section headings.

Academic Skills Self-paced Tutorials. Recognising the appropriate academic style Study these paragraphs and select the correct comment about the writing style. Comment on the above paragraph Formal, straightforward, clearly written, correct academic style incorrect.

Informal, like spoken colloquial language, incorrect academic style Correct! Too formal, uses too many words, incorrect academic style incorrect. Formal, straightforward, clearly written, correct academic style incorrect. Informal, like spoken colloquial language, incorrect academic style incorrect. Too formal, uses too many words, incorrect academic style Correct!

Formal, straightforward, clearly written, correct academic style Correct! Objective writing Academic writing is objective i. An objective tone in your writing is achieved by: Clarity Clarity in your writing ensures that the person who is reading marking your work can understand what you are saying.

It could be said that Smith's argument illustrates that Freud's theory supports the view that The Industrial Revolution had an impact upon society in a number of different ways. The interviews were conducted with a group of parents in the Leicestershire area. Rather than; 'don't', 'can't', 'it's', 'should've', You could try: Smith's bit of research is ok. Smith's research is significant because Rather than using words such as: The denotation was obfuscated by the orator.

The meaning was hidden by the speaker. Crusade against crime Example 2: Campaign against crime The word 'crusade' has connotations of a battle and is more aggressive in tone than the word 'campaign'. The theorist called Sigmund Freud wrote a significant piece of work called On Narcissism which offers valuable insights into Freud offers valuable insights into


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Academic writing is relatively formal. In general this means that in an essay you should avoid colloquial words and expressions. Formality. Precision. In academic writing, facts and figures are given precisely. Precision. Objectivity. Written language is in general objective rather than personal.

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Academic writing style Key words: formal/informal, objective, discipline terminology, standard English, correct English, non-discriminatory language, colloquial language/slang For most academic essays, you are expected to use a formal writing style.

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Unlike fiction or journalistic writing, the overall structure of academic writing is formal and logical. It must be cohesive and possess a logically organized flow of ideas; this means that the various parts are connected to form a unified whole. Formal writing is often used for academic and business work To decide between an informal or formal writing style, consider your audience first Formal writing has a serious tone, facts, standard.

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Formal writing is used in academic and scientific settings whenever you want to convey your ideas to a wide audience, with many possible backgrounds and assumptions. Unlike casual conversation or emails to friends, formal writing needs to be clear, unambiguous, literal, and well structured. Writing for professional purposes is likely to require the formal style, although individual communications can use the informal style once you are familiar with the recipient. Note that emails tend to lend themselves to a less formal style than paper-based communications, but you should still avoid the use of "text talk".