Academic writing requires the use of an appropriate style that differs in significant ways from other forms of written communication. Using an academic writing style is not just about choosing the right words; it is about setting out your ideas and arguments in a coherent, accessible and well-evidenced manner.

Getting to grips with the style of academic writing is one of the important first steps in producing good written work at university.

Academic Style

Try the 301 Academic Style Prezi to find out more.

Language and Register

Level of Formality   
Academic writing uses a more formal register:

  • State instead of say, believe instead of think
  • Publish, discover, claim NOT put out, find out, make up
  • Avoids contractions: don't, aren't, isn't, etc.

Appears Impassive
Academic writing avoids emotional language and cliché:

  • fantastic, brilliant, rubbish
  • a hot topic... the other side of the coin...
  • a beautiful sculpture

Appears Objective
Academic writing avoids personal pronouns (usually):

  • evidence suggests instead of I think
  • a sample was taken instead of I took a sample
  • Are there exceptions? What have you been told about this?

Uses Evidence
All facts and theories should be referenced using a standard system:

  • Harvard, MHRA, APA, Chicago, etc.
  • Author-date, footnotes
  • Include a bibliography of EVERYTHING you have READ!
  • Check your department policy on preferred method


Clear Overall Structure
Academic writing requires a clear overall essay structure:

  • Introduction, body, summary, conclusion
  • Different types of assignment have their own structural rules
  • See below for more info.

Clear Sentence Structure
Academic writing uses clear, effective sentence structure:

  • Avoid overlong sentences and/or excessive clauses
  • Break independent clauses into two sentences with a full stop, use a semi colon or a conjunction (e.g. because, for, since).
  • Interrogate every word in a sentence

Concise and Precise
Academic writing is concise and avoids padding:

  • Watch out for overuse of descriptive, repetitive, unnecessary adjectives
  • Be as specific as possible: '50 million people' rather than 'a lot of people'
  • Use positive, quantifiable structures when possible; The wind was strong vs. The wind measured 6 on the Beaufort scale.

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Top Tips
  • Be as concise as possible – remove any unnecessary words.
  • Changing words forms and word order in a sentence can help you to be more concise.
  • Break down very long sentences into shorter ones.
  • Check what is expected from the assignment – if it is a reflective piece then the conventions will be different.
  • Show your opinion subtly without making sweeping or unsupported statements
  • Avoid waffling – stick to the point!
  • Remember: It shows MORE skill to express a complex idea in a simple way than to express it in a complex way.
Want to know more?


  • Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Bailey, S. (2003) Academic Writing: A Practical Guide for Students. Routledge
  • Reading University - Study Resources
  • University of Manchester - Academic Phrasebank