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Academic writing

Having a fundamental understanding of what academic writing is, will ensure that your assignment work is appropriate and on task.


What is academic writing?

The following information outlines some of the fundamental features of academic writing.

Academic writing:

  • is a formal way to write in academia
  • is well structured both at paragraph level and overall 'paper' level
  • uses more formal vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure
  • uses references from academic literature to support the points being made
  • is not a casual way to communicate and differs greatly from casual 'everyday' writing
  • is a serious and professional way to communicate with your acdemic peers and university teaching staff.

Formal / Informal language

The following examples show that effective academic writing is more formal and professional in its tone.

Look at the differences here:

Casual writing = Kids education these days isn't as good as in the old days, is it?

Academic Writing = It can be argued by some that children's education is not as currently effective as has been in the past.

Too casual:

Often writing in the first person 'I', 'we', 'us', 'our' etc.

Use of contractions (isn't, won't, don't, can't etc.) is too casual.

The use of questions should be generally avoided- academic writing 'informs' not 'questions'.

Generally avoid using overly emotive language e.g. 'I really love to study...'

Do not use any casual vocabulary, slang or jargon.

Do not just write 'only opinions,' academic writing needs interpretation and research to underpin your thoughts.


Points to remember

Remember that academic writing is meant as a professional, formal and clear way to articulate an argument, theory or thought process(es) in academia.

If you are not sure of your academic writing abilities or if writing in this style is new to you – ensure your writing is:

  • well-structured
  • clear
  • 100% meaningful in English
  • polite & not casual.

Being clear about your purpose

  • Be very clear about the specific purpose of the writing task – what have you been asked to do?
  • Seek clarification if in doubt.
  • Ensure that you are following the instructions of the task strictly and carefully.
  • See the section on 'Academic writing process' for more information on how to interpret an assignment question.

Being clear about your audience

  • The most obvious audience for your assignment is 'your lecturer/tutor' who is also the 'marker'. Do not leave out any basic or essential information because you think it is too obvious for them. Your lecturer/tutor expects you to show that you know the material and the subject matter, and that you are able to perform the task at hand.
  • Imagine that you are writing for someone in order to teach the person about the topic. Consequently, you need to be explicit and clear.
  • See the writing section of this website to develop your skills in paragraph writing and meaningful sentences.

Achieving the right tone

The right tone in your writing depends on your understanding of the:

  • nature and purpose of the task
  • lecturer’s requirements
  • assignment type – e.g. case study, report, reflective journal, literature review. Each assignment type has different requirements in regards to the structure and appropriate language
  • social distance between you and your reader, which will dictate whether you should use a personal or impersonal tone, and an informal or formal writing style.

For more help

For more help with academic writing, there are many useful resources on the HELPS website, as well as in the UTS Library. You can also come and talk to the HELPS Advisors who can assist you.

Check out our video on academic writing.

Download  What is Academic Writing? (172kB, 2 pages)

Download HELPS Formal and Informal Language (180kb, 2 pages)

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More information

UTS faculties' writing guides

External online resources

Academic writing style

  • UniLearning, UOW - Introduction (opens an external site)

  • UniLearning, UOW - Words (opens an external site)

  • UniLearning, UOW - Structures (opens an external site)

  • UniLearning, UOW - Conventions (opens an external site)

Writing effectively


Editing and proofreading


Adapted from the following source:
Morley-Warner, T. 2009, Academic writing is… A guide to writing in a university context, Association for Academic Language and Learning, Sydney.

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