Understanding Academic Writing: How to Make Your Paper Sound Impressive
Improve grades, reputation with your professor. Learn how to make academic paper sound impressive by following these 12 keys to successful academic writing.
by Leslie Anglesey
Academic writing is different from writing a letter, email, or tweet. This form of communication has its own rules. Mastering them will take some time, but it is worth the effort if you want your paper to be well-received.
Here are 12 Keys to Successful Academic Writing
- Read the assignment to choose the appropriate writing style. Depending on academic subject you
are writing about, you may need to approach your paper from different writing styles. Here are examples:
- First Person Style: "I [did/placed/conducted] (an experiment)..." This style of writing may be required for a science or technology paper where you are reporting the results of some work or research you performed.
- Third Person Style: "He said" or "Jones said" or "Dr. Ryan said". This style maintains a certain amount of distance between you as the writer and the subject of your work.
- Reflective Writing: If you are working on a paper for a Health class, you may be asked to provide your professional judgment to provide an informed opinion. In this instance, you will still have to provide supporting facts.
- Self-Reflection: If part of the assignment involves describing your own view of the topic, you can use the first person to describe your impressions. ("I think..."). In this part of the paper, you can even include your emotional response about the topic, if appropriate.
- Present your thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. Don't leave your reader guessing about what you are going to be discussing in the paper. Set out a clear thesis statement in the first paragraph of your paper. If you are writing a short essay, end the introductory paragraph with your thesis statement. In a longer paper, you may need more space to list your points, but make sure the reader understands what you are going to be covering in your work.
- Stick to one idea per paragraph. Each paragraph should discuss one idea only. Your reader should be able to pick out the main point when reading your paper. Start each one with a specific topic sentence. The other sentences in the paragraph should modify or explain your introductory sentence. The last sentence in the paragraph should serve to wrap up your idea before moving on to the next one.
- Keep each topic related to your thesis. Make sure that the points you are making relate to your original thesis. Anything that strays too far away from it should be edited out. Be ruthless in this process. Save the material for another paper for the class if you wish, but don't make the mistake of thinking you should keep putting more stuff in your paper to bulk it up to make your point. Unless it relates directly to your thesis, leave it out.
- Don't necessarily be one-sided in your argument. If there is some merit in the other side of an argument you are discussing, mention it in your paper. You may want to include this shortly after your introduction or in some other appropriate part of your work. Depending on the subject you are discussing, this type of information can provide some background to the reader about your topic and give your paper some balance.
- Use formal language. When preparing an academic paper, avoid the temptation to write the way you speak. You can't use the same type of casual expressions that you would use in verbal communication. You need to write something that would just as easily be understood by someone in any major city around the world. Avoid colloquialisms or any type of imprecise language, such as "really" or "excessively."
- Get to the point quickly. Redundancy doesn't have any place in an academic paper. Your assignment may
have a minimum page requirement, but that doesn't mean you should try to "fluff" up your writing with extra adjectives or facts to
finish the work sooner. Don't write as though you are being paid by the word.
- Be professional when discussing someone else's work. Even if you don't agree with someone else's conclusions, being respectful is always in good taste. There is no need to personally attack a scientist or author when writing a research paper. Keep your focus clearly on disagreeing with the results of the work, and always back up your argument with facts that you can support. If you can't prove your argument, it doesn't have a place in your paper.
- Do not use contractions in academic writing. Contractions are used in less formal work. They are not used in technical or academic papers. Do not use them in your research paper. Go over your paper carefully and edit them out before you submit it to your instructor.
- Choose either American or UK spelling and stick to it. Authors of academic papers can choose whether they want to write in American or UK English. They need to be consistent in the style they choose. You'll want to avoid style inconsistencies where "organization" turns into "organisation" a few paragraphs further down in your paper.
- Choose a font that is clear and easy to read. Make sure that the font you choose is large enough to be easy to easy for the reader to decipher. A 11- or 12-pitch, Helvetic or Times New Roman font is a good one to choose for this purpose.
- Do not refer to authors by their first names. When writing an academic paper, it is not appropriate to use first names in the work. You should use last names. If you wish to refer to several people, use "they" or "the authors," or use each person's name in the sentence. Using "he" or "she" is appropriate when there is one author and you can determine the person's gender easily.
Final Thoughts on Academic Writing Success
By following these suggestions, you will be able to write an academic paper that will stand out from the ones written by your peers. Your grades and your reputation with your professor will improve as a result.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Leslie Anglesey is an associated educator at University of Southern California and a contributor to EssayTigers. Apart from academic life she loves travelling with her family.