What makes academic writing unique?

Writing at university has a distinctive style which includes the following characteristics.

Academic writing should be formal in tone, structure and style.

Avoid using:

  • colloquial language
  • slang
  • jargon
  • idioms
  • contractions—for example, don't
  • rhetorical questions.

Use discipline-specific language, or course language, to demonstrate your understanding of the content area and to support your argument.

Example

Formal:

Investigations revealed that the uptake of technology for those over 65 was limited.

Not formal:

My investigation indicated that adoption of new technology for older people, over the age of 65, was not good.

The tone used in academic writing should be objective. There are exceptions to the rule, such as reflective writing, however in most cases it should sound impartial and unbiased.

Use an objective tone by removing:

  • emotive words and phrases
  • personal pronouns like I and you.

Most academic writing, such as essays and reports, should be written in third-person—using personal pronouns like, he, she, they.

Example

Objective:

Bachelor of Engineering students were surveyed....

Survey results demonstrated that....

Not objective:

We surveyed Bachelor of Engineering students....

The responses to the survey were shocking.

Academic writing should be clear, precise and succinct to thoroughly address the assessment task.

To make your writing clear and concise, ensure you:

  • eliminate the repetition of points—say it once effectively
  • identify redundant words and phrases
  • remove extraneous words and phrases
  • replace wordy phrases with a single word
  • choose suitable verbs
  • adhere to the word count.

Allow time for editing and proofreading to ensure your writing is clear and concise.

Example

Concise:

Secondly, ....

Researchers obtained results from a survey that indicated.

Not concise:

In the second example,....

Researchers got results from a survey that said.

Academic writing should have a tone of tentativeness, or cautiousness. Research continues in every field of study, so absolute certainty rarely exists. Therefore, any claims that are made should be presented as possibilities, and not stated definitively.

A cautious tone demonstrates to the reader that you are open-minded to alternative opinions, evidence and studies that may prove otherwise. This approach strengthens your argument by positioning yourself as a critical reader, thinker and writer.

Example

Tentative:

Universities who offer more online learning courses may see an increase in student enrolment, particularly in rural areas.

Not tentative:

Universities who offer more online learning courses will have an increase in student enrolment, particularly in rural areas.

Use references in your writing

Academic writing involves using expert sources to support your arguments. See the various ways to write with academic integrity.

  • Use the author's exact words
  • Choose the words you wish to quote in your work.
  • Check that the quote supports what you are trying to communicate.
  • Use the appropriate referencing style for quoting.
  • Take care to use the quote as the original author intended.

Example

Quote

"Our study showed further that 97.7% of the population had a good knowledge about malaria, as they were able to define malaria as a febrile illness caused by mosquito bites" (Ferdinand et al. 2019:179).


Reference list

Ferdinand, DY, Nadlaou, B, Samuel, N, Oscar, BY, Raphael, M, Christophe, N, Lopes, S, Allan, R (2020) 'Evaluation of the effectiveness of community health workers in the fight against malaria in the Central African Republic (2012–2017)', Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 114(3):173-184, doi : 10.1093/trstmh/trz104.

Note: Examples use the Australian Government referencing style

  • Restate an author's words/ideas in your own words without altering the meaning.
  • Identify the passage you wish to use.
  • Establish its meaning.
  • Note key words and think of alternative phrases.
  • Write your own version.
  • Compare yours with the original.
  • Record citation information.

Example

Paraphrase

Original: "Our study showed further that 97.7% of the population had a good knowledge about malaria, as they were able to define malaria as a febrile illness caused by mosquito bites" (Ferdinand et al. 2019:179).

Paraphrase: Ferdinand et al. (2019) highlights that the public understands that the feverish symptoms of malaria are caused by insect bites.


Reference list

Ferdinand, DY, Nadlaou, B, Samuel, N, Oscar, BY, Raphael, M, Christophe, N, Lopes, S, Allan, R (2020) 'Evaluation of the effectiveness of community health workers in the fight against malaria in the Central African Republic (2012–2017)', Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 114(3):173-184, doi : 10.1093/trstmh/trz104.

Note: Examples use the Australian Government referencing style

  • Condense the key points of an author's argument or ideas without altering the meaning.
  • Read the article or text a number of times to understand the:
    • ideas and intentions
    • meaning and details.
  • Write notes in point form using keywords.
  • Write a summary directly from your notes.
  • Refer to the original to ensure accuracy.
  • Record citation information.

Example

Summarise

Original: "Our study showed further that 97.7% of the population had a good knowledge about malaria, as they were able to define malaria as a febrile illness caused by mosquito bites. More than 94% of the population recognized fever as a malaria symptom (Table 2). This could possibly be attributed to the BBC sessions conducted by the CHWs in Paoua and Carnot, which seems to be an effective strategy in the fight against malaria at the community level. Recognizing this as a major malaria symptom is essential at the community level so that parents will immediately take children with fever to the health facility or CHW. This will contribute to reducing child mortality in the community, as recommended by the WHO."

Summarise: To improve life expectancy for infants, education by community health workers (CHW) has been a successful strategy in improving society’s understanding of fevers as an indicator of Malaria (Ferdinand et al. 2019).


Reference list

Ferdinand, DY, Nadlaou, B, Samuel, N, Oscar, BY, Raphael, M, Christophe, N, Lopes, S, Allan, R (2020) 'Evaluation of the effectiveness of community health workers in the fight against malaria in the Central African Republic (2012–2017)', Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 114(3):173-184, doi : 10.1093/trstmh/trz104.

Note: Examples use the Australian Government referencing style

  • Combine a number of author's views to support your position.
  • Combine ideas from a range of sources:
    • to group and present common ideas or arguments that you have read about in the literature
    • to help develop and strengthen your argument
    • to demonstrate you have read widely on the topic
    • to be more concise with ideas when you write.
  • Use your own voice to connect these ideas and show how they link to your overall argument.

Example

Synthesise

Information provided by community health workers and village leaders in conjunction with community workshops has been a successful strategy in improving identification of symptoms and malaria control (Ferdinand et al. 2019; van den Berg et al. 2018).


Reference list

Ferdinand, DY, Nadlaou, B, Samuel, N, Oscar, BY, Raphael, M, Christophe, N, Lopes, S, Allan, R (2020) 'Evaluation of the effectiveness of community health workers in the fight against malaria in the Central African Republic (2012–2017)', Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 114(3):173-184, doi : 10.1093/trstmh/trz104.

van den Berg, H, van Vugt, M, Kabaghe, AN, Nkalapa, M, Kaotcha, R, Truwah, Z, Malenga, T, Kadama, A, Banda, S, Tizifa, T, Gowelo, S, Mburu, MM, Phiri, KS, Takken, W & McCann, RS (2018) 'Community-based malaria control in southern Malawi: a description of experimental interventions of community workshops, house improvement and larval source management', Malaria Journal, 17(1), Article 266, doi : 10.1186/s12936-018-2415-1.

Note: Examples use the Australian Government referencing style

Grammar Tips

Need some tips to write confidently and accurately?

Check out these resources from EnglishHELP to help you understand and navigate the variety of rules in the English language.

Academic integrity

As you prepare for your assignment, be sure to produce honest work so as not to breach academic integrity.

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