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The Special Characteristics of Academic Writing

October 8, 2021| Category: Writing Tips

Being the main method of communication in an academic environment, academic writing is the most important skill students should obtain. At the same time, not all students can master this skill successfully. To understand this aspect better, one should learn what academic writing is, figure out its key features, as well as understand the main instruments for developing advanced skills.

What Is Academic Writing?

In its essence, academic writing is a means of communication that enables an individual to communicate their ideas, broadcast information, or present the results of a research in a written way. One may divide this broad concept into two types: student and expert academic writing. The first type is used as a form of assessment in educational institutions. The second type is intended for publications in academic journals and other media. Both types should adhere to the same standards, which can be too difficult to understand for students. The main characteristics that distinguish academic writing from other writing forms are as follows:

  • It is evidenced;
  • It is structured;
  • It is balanced;
  • It is critical;
  • It is objective;
  • It is precise;
  • It is formal.
Main Features of Academic Writing


When writing a paper, one should support all arguments and opinions with solid evidence. Very often, the work is based on the information collected from reputed experts in a certain field. Thus, it is necessary to reference the information properly paying attention to both in-text citations and the reference list.


Academic writing requires following a traditional structure. This structure usually depends on the paper type. For example, a research proposal will include an introduction, literature review, methods, discussion, and conclusion. When one is writing a simple essay, they should include an introduction, the main body part, and a conclusion. No matter what kind of paper you are writing, it should be logical, coherent, and cohesive. To structure the paper, one should plan the work formulating the main focus.


Successful academic writing is always balanced. It means that the writer should consider all the important perspectives of the topic and avoid bias. As it has been already noticed, presenting all arguments and evidence can be a great challenge, but it is very important to show awareness of the subject. One can do it with the help of hedges. For example, it is possible to use phrases such as this can be caused by…, as the evidence suggests…, etc. Alternatively, one may use booster phrases such as the research indicates that…, clearly…, etc.


When working on a paper, you are supposed to do more than just describe the subject. This means that you cannot accept any information you read as a fact. Instead, you need to evaluate, interpret, and analyze this information making judgments about it before you integrate this data into your own work. This can be done with the help of applying critical thinking skills. In fact, critical thinking is a particularly important instrument for a deeper understanding of any topic. Thus, in many colleges and universities, critical thinking is cultivated by different means.


Academic writing is always objective as it puts the main emphasis on solid arguments instead of writer’s personal perception of the topic. As a result, it requires using nouns and noun phrases more frequently than verbs and adverbs. What is more, the writer needs to use more passive voice structures instead of active voice. For example, it is necessary to say The topic was studied instead of I studied the topic.


When working on an academic paper, you need to use precise and clear language to make sure your audience can understand what you are trying to say. When you need to explain a complicated concept, you need to use simple terms to facilitate the understanding of your topic. If the term is not commonly used by scholars, it is better to explain it so that it could be clear to your target audience.


Finally, academic papers should be written in a formal style. This style requires using longer words and complex sentences. Also, you should avoid informal or colloquial words that are common in spoken English. If you want to familiarize yourself with the words that are used in academic writing, you can have a look at the lists collected by reputed scholars. For example, you may use the Academic Vocabulary List, the Academic Word List, or the Academic Collocation List. By studying these lists, you will understand how to write your texts in a formal style.

Things to Avoid

Now when you know the main features of successful academic writing, you should also learn what things to avoid. Your paper should not be:


When you are writing an academic paper, you should avoid being too personal. Although it is acceptable in personal or narrative papers, most papers require objectivity and research.

We strongly recommend you to avoid addressing your reader with second-person pronouns. For generalizations, you need to use the impartial pronoun “one.”

Although the use of the first-person pronoun “I” is accepted in some assignments, it is not recommended to use it in many papers. In case you are not sure whether you can use the first-person pronouns, you need to have a look at your professor’s prompt where you will find all the necessary guidelines and details for creating your paper.


Many writers believe that successful papers are always long-winded and  too complicated, though it is incorrect. Instead of including long and meaningless descriptions in your paper, you should try to make the text clear and concise. If you manage to move directly to the point and make your arguments clear right at the beginning, you will make your essay engaging for your target audience.

If there is a term that can be cut or replaced by a more straightforward word without compromising the meaning, you should do it. If the audience misinterprets the terms and concepts you include in your paper, they won’t assess your paper well. Also, you need to avoid redundant phrases by replacing complicated phrasal verbs with their alternatives.

Although repetitions are often used (for example, you may need to summarize the previous argument before starting a new one), it is necessary to avoid unnecessary repetitions. When revising the text, you need to make sure none of the sentences are repeated.


Academic texts are different from journalistic, literary, and marketing ones. Although you have to be persuasive, using the techniques that are acceptable in the abovementioned styles is forbidden in academic context. In particular, you should try to avoid expressing emotions and making inflated claims.

Although you may write a paper on a topic that is sensitive to you, you should communicate your ideas clearly, without any exaggeration. Sometimes, writers are tempted to use flowery language and unsupported claims. However, we strongly recommend you to stick to clear arguments grounded on sufficient evidence.

Boost Your Skills

Given the challenging nature of academic writing and its specifics, it may seem too challenging at first. However, you can develop your skills by learning from your mistakes and paying attention to the comments of your tutors. Another efficient way to develop your skills is to read more. By reading texts written by other people, you will familiarize yourself with many different forms and styles of writing.