Academic writing

Academic writing

Strategies and advice on how to communicate your ideas using an appropriate academic register On this page:

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Introduction to academic writing

Producing written work as part of a university exam, essay, dissertation or another form of assignment requires an approach to organisation, structure, voice and use of language that differs from other forms of writing and communication.

Academic writing is a language that no one is born speaking. Understanding more about the conventions of your discipline and the specific features and conventions of academic writing can help you develop confidence and make improvements to your written work.

Academic writing is part of a complex process of finding, analysing and evaluating information, planning, structuring, editing and proofreading your work, and reflecting on feedback that underpins written assessment at university.

Here we focus on the key principles of academic writing as a way to communicate your ideas using appropriate language, structure and organisation.

Academic writing is defined by conventions rather than rules. This means that they are flexible and adaptable at least some of the time.

The point is not for you and your peers to produce identical pieces of work, but to provide a shared framework of communication that allows specialists within a field to access information, ideas and concepts quickly and easily.

It goes without saying that academic writing uses a more formal register than everyday communication. The following are four important conventions to follow that will help you to hit the right level of formality in your writing: Use formal language

Academic writing tends to adopt formal language derived from Latinate, rather than Anglo-Saxon roots. This distinction is particularly evident in the use of verbs in academic language.

In general, phrasal verbs are used when speaking (eg in presentations), whilst Latinate verbs are used in academic writing (eg essays). Phrasal language is more informal, whilst Latinate verbs sound ‘posher’ and more formal.Phrasal verbs tend to come in two parts: they use a verb together with an adverb or preposition.There is often a one-word equivalent, which usually comes from Latin root, reflecting the origins of formal English among educated Romans and the Church.Examples include: Carry out = perform Talk about = discuss Look up to = respect Why is this useful? Latinate verbs use fewer words, so can help you develop a more concise writing style.Latinate verbs can also be more specific than their phrasal equivalents, for example, the phrasal verb ‘set up’ has several Latinate equivalents: Set up a room: I’m going to arrange the room for the meeting. Set up an experiment: The experiment was prepared. Set up an organisation: The NSPCC was established in 1884. You may wish to use a mixture of phrasal and Latinate verbs in your writing, and to tailor it to your assignment. For example, if writing a more informal blog post, you may want to use more phrasal language.Some common examples of academic verb use include: Carry out: Perform “The experiment was carried out/performed…” […]

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