Did you know that college freshmen write an average of 92 pages during their first year of school?
By the time they’re seniors, this number nearly doubles to 146 pages.
That’s a lot of writing!
The type of writing used for all these many, many pages is known as academic writing.
Even if you write every day, the type of English writing necessary for academic writing is a whole different beast (in other words, it’s completely different).
It’s not the kind of writing you might use every day, like in blogs or in letters. Academic writing has a certain structure and style that you probably won’t see anywhere else.
You’ll need to write in academic English in universities, scientific institutions and many other places that value higher learning and thinking. This is something to consider if you plan to attend an English-language high school, college or university. It may also be important for some companies and organizations you are thinking about working for.
Not to mention, if you’re applying to graduate programs you’ll need to use academic English to pass the GRE.
Don’t worry. All it takes is a slightly different approach, some good tips and practice to become an expert at academic writing. If you’re heading for a university soon, at least you know you’ll be getting plenty of practice!
Before you start studying how to write in academic English, you’ll first need to understand what sets it apart from other English writing.
The Smart Student’s Guide to Writing in Academic English
Before You Learn Academic English Writing
Academic English is used in any formal learning institution where writing plays an important role. Nearly all the writing you’ll do in a university will require academic English. Whether you’re writing an essay or a lab report, you’re using academic writing.
The skills you learn for college can help you in your career, as well. Reports for office jobs, essays for scientific journals and many other careers require you to know academic writing. Learning it early and getting lots of practice is a good way to get ahead in your career!
To succeed in academic writing, we recommend that you start when you’re already at an intermediate or advanced level of English.
In order to do that, check out FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Academic writing is one of the highest forms of English writing. Even though it’s fairly easy to learn when you already know your English, it can be a real challenge if you’re still struggling with grammar and vocabulary.
Don’t let any of this discourage you! Spend some time with this guide and you’ll come out better prepared to tackle academic writing, no matter what level of English you have.
Features of Academic English Writing
Academic English writing is different from other writing. It’s more structured and formal, following stricter guidelines and rules. Even the font and font size you use are important for academic English, so don’t even think about printing out that paper in Comic Sans font!
Academic writing usually has:
- A clear introduction (beginning), body (middle) and conclusion (end).
- A strong point for the reader to come away with.
- Evidence to support the point being made.
- Impersonal writing (that is, there’s no use of the words “I” or “me.”)
- Double-spaced, Times New Roman, size 12 font.
Knowing this information brings you a huge step closer towards mastering academic writing.
To take you the rest of the way, here’s a beginner’s guide to English academic writing. Use this guide to prepare yourself and learn more about writing for universities and other institutions.
7 Beginner Tips for Learning to Write in Academic English
1. Take a course in it
Since university offers so many chances to write, you’re likely to learn academic writing by just attending an English-speaking university.
If you prefer to be more prepared before diving in, you can always take an preparatory (introductory) course. Taking a preparatory course will strengthen your English and writing skills, and it will teach you the fundamentals of academic writing through instruction and experience.
You can find local institutions offering courses on academic English writing (in fact, the college you plan on attending may have one), or you can do your studying from the comfort of your home. There are several courses available to take online, in your own time and at your own pace.
- Future Learn has courses on essay writing and research for writing available for free.
- Coursera has a series of courses available for a fee, among others. Browse around and you’re sure to find the course that fits your availability and study style.
- Inklyo offers affordable online courses on writing essays and writing persuasively. You can follow these courses at your own pace, so they’re easy to fit into any schedule. They also offer a variety of other courses and books that you can use to improve your English writing in lots of different areas, such as proofreading, grammar and more.
2. Learn to write formally
Forget everything you know about writing online. Writing for academic purposes means writing formally. What does that look like? Here are a few general rules to remember when writing formally:
- Do not use contractions. As the previous sentence shows, instead of writing “don’t,” write “do not.”
- Do not use slang or colloquialisms. Choose the most fitting words for your paper based on their dictionary definitions, not the way people use them in conversation. For instance, if you’re using the word “literally,” use it to mean “exactly, without exaggeration,” which is the original, correct meaning of the word.
- Do not use the first person point of view. This just means you shouldn’t use personal words like “I,” “me” or anything else from your perspective. Distance yourself from your writing, and let facts speak for you. Instead of saying “I think the experiment shows…” say “The results of the experiment imply…”
- Remove feelings and stick to facts. Academic writing is all about the facts. Intense and emotional language is generally not used in an academic paper. Use words that don’t show your feelings about something. For instance, instead of saying something is “bad” or “terrible” you can say it’s “inadequate” or “poor.”
Formal writing is crucial to academic writing, as well as business writing, official letter writing and many other scenarios. It’s a great idea to learn it!
3. Use the appropriate grammar style book
Until now, you may have been learning grammar from a classroom, a textbook or the Internet. Academic writing uses its own group of rules, which combine all the grammar rules you’ve learned and standardize them, which means that they make them exactly the same for anyone who’s using them.
To do that, academic writing requires the use of a grammar style book.
These grammar books cover everything from how to capitalize abbreviations to when to correctly use a comma. They’re also really useful for citing your work, which is listing any books, articles, papers or other material you used or referenced in your research. The most common style books used in formal writing are:
- APA (American Psychological Association): This style is most commonly used in academic writing and journal articles. It’s also used in the business and social science field, which includes psychology, economics and other social writings.
- MLA (Modern Language Association): This style is most commonly used in the liberal arts and humanities, meaning any writing that deals with literature and culture.
- Chicago Manual: This style guide is one of the oldest and most complete guides out there. It’s not used as commonly, but it’s most often used in business, criminology, history and a few other areas.
Although APA is the most commonly used academic style, it’s not always the one used in schools. Different schools, departments and classes may have different requirements, so check in with your instructors about which style to use.
4. Learn by example
One of the best ways to learn academic writing, aside from practicing it, is by reading. Browse through a few academic papers and you’ll quickly understand how this writing differs from others.
Some examples of academic writing can be found online, on these websites:
- Monash University has sample essays with annotations for a variety of academic subjects.
- JSTOR is a huge database of academic journals on many topics. If you’re currently attending university, ask about it. Your college credentials may give you free access to the website’s library.
- Questia is another database of journals, which you can access for an introductory price of $1 for the first month, which is perfect for anyone who just wants to take a look at a wide range of writing in a short time span.
- To browse through free journals, check out the Directory of Open Access Journals, where you can browse by subject for free articles.
Many of the examples you’ll find above are professional level papers, so don’t be worried if you can’t understand them! College-level academic papers can be much simpler. The important part is to use the correct format and style.
5. Use outlines and drafts
Half the work in an academic paper goes into the preparation. Before you can write a paper, it’s a very good idea to plan it first. Many writers of all sorts use outlines. Even the article you’re reading right now started as an outline!
Writing an outline gives you a chance to plan what you’ll write, organize your thoughts and make sure everything fits together.
Think of writing like constructing a building. You wouldn’t want to start building until you have a plan. Otherwise your structure might not hold up well, and it might even fall down!
How your outline looks is up to you. As long as it helps you organize your paper and makes sense to you, it can even look like a tree if you want. It should be whatever works for you.
For inspiration, check out TeacherVision’s sample outlines or use Gallaudet University’s outline template to create your own.
Another important part of writing, especially when writing a paper or report, is to write drafts. A draft is an unfinished version of a final paper. Some papers go through many drafts, as the writers see what works and what doesn’t, apply feedback, edit and revise the work. Writing drafts can turn a good paper into an excellent paper. Just look at how different the first and fifth draft of this book excerpt are!
6. Form and support a strong thesis
Nearly every type of academic writing has a thesis. Your thesis is the central idea of your writing.
The thesis is the statement or claim you make in your writing, which the rest of the paper will try to prove. Your thesis can be something as simple as “divorce has changed Western society,” or it can be something much more complex.
Essays aren’t the only type of writing that uses a thesis or central idea. It’s an important part of any kind of academic writing, like lab reports, scientific writing, book reports and many others. No matter what you’re writing, you need some main idea to hold the piece together.
A thesis statement needs to be specific and concise (short and to the point). Some good examples and tips for writing thesis statements can be found at Kibin and UNC.
7. Get feedback
How do you know what to edit when you’re writing your drafts? With the help of others, of course!
Many college English classes give students a chance to peer review each other’s work, which means reading writing by others and suggesting how it can be improved. Use the feedback from your classmates, professors or even friends to improve your writing.
If you can’t find anyone who will read all 94 of your freshman year pages, you can give yourself feedback. Use a peer feedback guide like this one or this one to find areas of your writing that can be improved.
By learning about academic writing, you’ll make things easier for yourself when the time comes to actually write.
Now get out there and start practicing!