What is Academic Writing: Tips for Students

by Paperpal
academic writing

Students and early career researchers need to distinguish clearly between academic and general or non-academic writing. Both types of writing have their respective styles, structures, and basic guidelines that writers use depending on the matter and the audience they are intended for. It’s crucial to understand the implications of mixing these two styles, as it can lead to confusion and a lack of clarity in your writing. In this article, we will explain the difference between general and academic writing, explain the nuances of academic writing and share some valuable tips for students and early career researchers to follow while undertaking formal academic writing assignments.   

Table of Contents

Critical characteristics of academic writing

Academic writing can be defined as a formal style of writing which is typically bound by strict scholarly conventions and is based on extensive research and analysis to support arguments. The main aim of academic writing is to contribute to new knowledge or insights within a specific field of study. Academic writing has its distinct characteristics and purpose. Some key characteristics of academic writing are:  

  • It takes a formal approach and an impersonal tone.  
  • It is usually written in the third person.  
  • The sentences are well-structured and consist of arguments and evidence.  
  • It is well-referenced, citing scholarly sources.  
  • It is evidence-based.  
  • The focus will be on a well-formulated and apparent research problem.  
  • There is an appropriate choice of words.  
  • The terminology used will be academic and discipline specific.  
  • It is usually intended for a scholarly audience.  

Hence, academic writing is not:  

  • Informal   
  • Personal   
  • Conversational   
  • Long-winded  
  • Emotional   

Types of academic writing

There are different types and categories of academic writing. Some key ones include:  


On a topic or question provided by the instructor, students are expected to write a short and focused text consisting of a central idea supporting evidence that is properly cited and share researched analysis and interpretation. Sometimes, students are allowed to write an essay on a topic of their choice.  

Research paper

Unlike essays, research papers are more detailed, scholarly, and based on independent research. They should demonstrate their knowledge of the topic, employ analytical rigour, and demonstrate strength in dealing with a variety of sources. Your study and investigation should be able to make an original contribution to the existing body of knowledge in a specific discipline. This means that your research should add something new to the field, whether it’s a new perspective, a new method, or new data. It’s not enough to summarize what others have said; you need to bring something new to the table.   

Literature review

A literature review is a comprehensive and critical review of published literature on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current knowledge in the field and helps situate your work within the larger body of knowledge. A literature review is not just a summary of what others have said about your topic; it’s a critical analysis that identifies gaps in the existing literature and provides context for your study. It’s an essential part of academic writing, as it shows that you’re familiar with the current state of research in your field and that your work is building on that knowledge.  

Lab reports

A lab report communicates the aim, method, results, and conclusions of a scientific experiment. It is usually used in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  

Dos and don’ts for students who are starting with academic writing


  1. For practical academic writing skills, focus on developing a habit of writing clearly. Spend sufficient time planning your work, creating an outline, organizing your thoughts, and managing your time.  
  1. Depending upon your institutional or discipline-specific guidelines, you have the power to choose one style manual, such as the MLA, APA, or the Chicago Manual of Style. This choice is yours, and it’s essential to use the chosen style consistently. Each manual style has its own rules regarding how to write numbers, footnotes or endnotes, citations, and references. The choice of words is essential for clear and effective writing. Be concise and avoid confusing language.  
  1. While the use of discipline-specific terminology is essential, make sure to use it appropriately and accurately.   
  1. Structure your writing well so that the information is presented logically and straightforwardly so that the reader can quickly understand it. Make sure that your text is divided into chapters or sections. Structure your paragraphs so that each one presents a central point or idea and there is a clear link between the paragraphs. The thread of your research paper’s central argument should run throughout the text.   
  1. Citing sources: Follow academic conventions and accurately cite any quoted text, data, findings, or arguments from other studies used in your text.  
  1. Always make sure to proofread and edit your work before submitting it.  


  • As mentioned earlier, academic writing adopts a formal tone. Therefore, it should altogether avoid conversational language and the use of regional dialects or slang.  
  • Avoid overusing complex jargon just for the sake of using it.  
  • Vague terms or statements that can confuse the reader should not be used.  
  • Avoid plagiarism by following proper citation styles.  

Academic writing requires a formal approach, an impersonal tone, and evidence-based arguments to support a well-formulated research problem. It is a distinct type of writing with its characteristics, structure, and purpose. To excel in academic writing, students need to understand the nuances of academic writing and differentiate it from general writing. They also need to structure their writing well, use appropriate terminology, and follow academic conventions. By following these tips, students can produce transparent, concise, and well-referenced academic papers that contribute to new knowledge and insights within their respective fields. 

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