9 Tips to Improve Your Academic Writing

Writing’s an important part of your coursework. It’s how you’ll communicate your ideas and show the progress you’re making.

Of course, writing well doesn’t come easy. It takes practice. But once you get the hang of it, it’s enjoyable.

Faculties provide guidelines that they expect students to follow in their papers. They tell you how to format text, add citations and reference lists. Yet most students consider these rules a bother, and at worst, threatening.

Here, I’ll provide you with a set of tips that can help you out. Though I’ve simplified them, they’ll still apply to the bulk of your academic writing.

1. Attribute you sources the correct way

There’re various ways to do this. There’s the APA, MLA, or Harvard way. The first step is to know which format your course uses. And sometimes, the choice of format depends on your instructor.

Remember, these formats are not suggestions on how to attribute your sources. They’re the guidelines you should stick to throughout your papers.

A common mistake in citations is the wrong use of punctuation. For example, when using the APA format, a comma goes between the author and the publication year.

Wrong: (Author1 & Author2 1999)

Correct: (Author1 & Author2, 1999)

2. Use relevant sources

If you want your essay to have authority, you should use reliable evidence. Develop your research skills to be able to tell good sources and great apart.

There’re several aspects to this. And the first item you should start with is the currency of the source. See, old research studies hold little value if you’re discussing a modern issue.

Next, check whether the author has a history of bias in her work.

But most of all, stick to quality resources. Keep away from blogs and Wikipedia.

3. Don’t use a casual tone


Writing for academia requires the use of a formal tone. Yes, the same type that you find in your textbooks.

Your history homework, for example, shouldn’t sound conversational.

So, instead of contracted word forms like “Shouldn’t” you’d have to write, “Should not.”

Same for the choice of vocabulary: use “Omit” instead of “Leave out.”

4. Use acronyms, but spell them out first

The reader won’t know what you’re talking about when you use acronyms like NAFTA. Okay, okay, some are just obvious. You wouldn’t have to spell out the “US” each time you use it, for example.

Still, this is academic writing, and we don’t assume anything.

Some paper formats, especially the long ones, even have a section dedicated to acronyms. If you have one, go ahead and list all the acronyms and their meanings.

But for an essay, it’s okay first to mention The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Then, you can go on to give your arguments on NAFTA in the other paragraphs.

5. Watch out for the use of person

In most cases, you refer to the third person. Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, avoid making your writing personal.

That way, your tone becomes formal. Sort of the way they do in legal briefs.

See, in academics, your work tackles concepts and theories. We talk about how an issue affects people. Not how it has an impact on a particular person.

Save your “I” and “We.” You’ll sound more like a scholar if you refer to “The individual” and “That person” instead.

In other cases, though, you get to write in the second person. Let’s say you’re referring to a “manager” in one sentence, for example. In a related sentence, you’d call the manager a “her.” Yes, if you can’t tell the gender of your subject, you’d be safe to assume she’s female.

6. Don’t be verbose

You shouldn’t try to fill your paper for the sake of meeting the word-count. It’ll show. Just be prudent with your words.

Otherwise, if you are struggling to fill a thesis, maybe your research is wanting.

Also, there’re times when you go beyond the word-count and have to cut out parts. Your first suspect should be the filler content that adds no value.

But to be safe, don’t stuff your writing with adjectives and needless adverbs.

Also, feel free to check-out our ultimate guide about argumentative essay!

7. Use an active voice


Academic writing doesn’t tolerate passive sentences. You must be direct in showing how one thing affects the other. It’s unlike other forms of writing where meanings can remain vague.

So, make sure you include a subject, object, and action in all instances.

Take this sentence, for example:

The dog was fed.

While this might work for casual writing, it will be out of place in formal writing.

Here, the dog is the object, and the action is feeding. To make it active, we’ll add a subject (the doer).

The girl fed the dog.

8. Stick to your format’s style

Your handbook will suggest how to treat numerals, capitalization, and etcetera. Once you’ve understood the guidelines, be consistent with how you apply them.

For example:

  • Always write “%” as “”
  • Spell out the single-digit numerals. Thus, write out “5” as “five,” “1” as “one” and so on. Though, you should write larger numbers using numerals, e.g. 18, 56, 100, etc. The only exception is at the beginning of a sentence where you should spell out all numbers.
  • Always write years using the numerals.

Remember, it’s important that you follow the set style for the whole paper.

9. Know how to use your tools

On its own, writing is an involving process. Yet, you can make it easier if you know how to use your tools well.

Look at what you use to work on a research paper, for example. There’s the digital library, the word processor, and other online aids. If you can manage to become an advanced user of these, you’ll write faster.

Consult the manuals, practice or ask for expert help. Do whatever it takes to improve your typing speed, for example. That way, you’ll save time to focus on your content.

After writing, it’s good practice to read your essay and edit out the mistakes. Also, make sure that your paragraphs have a logical flow. And to improve the organization, divide the paper into several sections.

Still, you’ll not find all tactics of good writing from a how-to resource. Read more books and articles from your subject discipline. See how the authors use language and formatting techniques.

But most of all, keep on writing!

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