Academic style refers to the total of all the choices a writer makes concerning words and their arrangements. It is the particular way of writing, characteristic of a person or profession, e.g. journalistic style, academic style, or Jane Austen’s style. Using academic style means expressing ideas with clear and precise language. Academic style is grammatically correct and more formal than the style used in newspapers, fictional books, informal correspondence or everyday conversation. It is objective – using language techniques that help maintain an impersonal tone.
Check out the following tips for using academic style in your writing.
Avoid first person pronouns.
Avoid the second person pronoun.
Use the third person pronoun to achieve distance.
In academic writing, unless specified by your lecturer, keep to third person pronouns.
Some academic subjects prefer that you use the passive voice to give the appearance of objectivity. You might need to rearrange sentences and use the passive voice to remove a personal pronoun. Check with your lecturer about their preference regarding passive voice.
In active voice, the agent of the action is the subject of sentence.
e.g. I drove the car OR You drove the car.
I discuss several topics in healthcare.
In passive voice, the object / recipient of action is the subject of sentence.
e.g. The car was driven.
Several topics in healthcare are discussed.
Value judgements are statements in which the writer provides an interpretation based on a subjective viewpoint or value system.
e.g. The dictator was an extreme nationalist. (This is not objective as there is no supporting evidence.) Vs. “The dictator was regarded as an extreme nationalist. This is evident in his foreign policy where he…” (Offers some evidence that explains the claim.)
Academic writing includes your own analysis and critical perspective, but it should avoid personal opinions or biases. Your arguments and claims need to be backed by reliable evidence.
Gendered language is language that excludes either men or women, even if it means to include all people.
A nurse needs to care about her patients. (Exclusive to female nurses.)
Nurses need to care about their patients. (Inclusive of anyone who is a nurse.)
Since the beginning of time, man has worried about death.
Since the beginning of time, humans have worried about death.
Clichés are expressions that have come into such frequent usage that they lose their meaning. They are often able to be replaced by shorter and exact expressions.
First and foremost > first
Last but not least > finally
At this point in time > now
In a timely manner > on time
This procedure is the gold standard of knee replacement method. (Cliché.)
This procedure is the best knee replacement method.
Conversational/colloquial language is informal language common in everyday speech.
Not to beat about the bush, increasing income tax did the Chancellor no good at the end of the day and he was ditched at the next Cabinet re-shuffle.
‘beat about the bush’ (idiom): discuss a matter without coming to the point
‘no good’: useless
‘at the end of the day’ (cliché used informally): ultimately
‘ditched’: got rid of
This sentence may be made more formal and academic as shown here:
Increasing income tax did not help the Chancellor and he was replaced at the next Cabinet reshuffle.
Other common informal phrases to avoid: a lot of / lots of; kind of / sort of; kids; boss
Contractions are shortened forms of words commonly used in spoken English. They are to be avoided in academic writing.
don’t > do not
it’s > it is
can’t > cannot
we’ll > we will
they’d > they would
isn’t > is not
Choose words that are clear, to the point, and unambiguous in meaning.
Teachers should be alert to problems that might come up.
Students came up to the principal and asked for help.
Both sentences are meaningful but use ‘come up’ in different senses which may cause confusion. Instead, a one-word equivalent in each case would be more specific and concise.
Teachers should be alert to problems that might arise.
Students approached the principal for help on the matter.
Use of cautious and tentative language is called ‘hedging’ which is sometimes needed to avoid making false claims and not say that something is always the case if it is not. Certain words help to make the writing more cautious:
Modal verbs indicating possibility: may, might, can, could.
Verbs distancing the writer from the claim: seem, indicate, suggest, appear.
It could be argued that; to a certain extent; tend to.
Inadequate writing skills may be the main reason for students’ problems with plagiarism.
Information from intercultural communication can be a valuable tool for teacher education.
This study suggests the value of gathering more data on social and cultural factors.
This seems to be a misapplication of government policy.
Essay questions tend to be more complex than multiple choice, objective questions.
Choice of present or past tense in academic writing depends on whether you are writing about something that happened at a specific time or something that is ongoing.
In the following paragraph specific events are described in the past tense.
My first week in university felt quite confusing as there were so many people and it was difficult to find my way around. The first lecture was a new experience for me as it was very crowded and I was late because I had gotten lost. I sat near the back of the hall and had trouble hearing everything the lecturer said, and I began to wonder if I was going to enjoy the experience.
The following paragraph comments on the experience described above from the perspective of learning theories and uses present tense.
Research done by Bloggs (2017) suggests that such an experience is common to many first year students, stemming from general anxiety on entering a new culture. This anxiety has been demonstrated to be a significant “inhibitor” to learning (Smith & Jones, 2008). It is, therefore, important that an orientation to this culture is provided to minimize anxiety.
Past Simple is used to show an action that was completed in the past.
The doctor instructed the patient. Last year, technicians upgraded the database. The professor delivered the lecture at 3p.m.
Present Simple is often used for facts or regular events.
There is a problem with the software. There are 24 hours in a day. Computers are common in most houses.
Most students catch public transport.
Present Perfect is used to show an action that occurred in the past and still has an effect now or is still current. It is also used for an action or event which took place in the past when the exact time of the event is not specified or not clear.
Recent studies have shown that more efficient water management will be needed as global warming increases.
In the past five years several car manufacturers have developed hybrid vehicles.
I have been to London, but I have not been to NY.