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Critical Thinking About Sources

Basic Components of Academic Writing

When students hear the terms academic writing or speaking in a scholarly voice, they are often unsure of what to do or what to avoid. This page provides some basic guidelines and tips for writing essays, lab reports, theses, and dissertations. 

"Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in universities and scholarly publications. You’ll encounter it in journal articles and books on academic topics, and you’ll be expected to write your essays, research papers, and dissertation in an academic style."

Academic writing is: Academic writing isn't:
  • Formal and unbiased
  • Clear and precise
  • Focused and well structured
  • Well sourced
  • Correct and consistent
  • Personal
  • Long-winded
  • Emotive and grandiose

Academic Writing: Dos and Don'ts

The following graphic provides a good list for writing your paper using a scholarly voice:

While the list above represents a sound guideline, here are a few additional tips:

Write in a clear, plain, style: A typical mistake of newbie researchers is to use a super complex vocabulary or a ton of technical jargon, some of which they don't even understand. Use technical terms as appropriate, otherwise they are considered overkill (and you can't explain them). Also, plain does not mean dull, rather, express your ideas in a clear intelligent manner while also avoiding contractions, slang or casual language. 

Regarding the usage of first person pronouns: There are some professors and types of assignments, particularly within qualitative methods, that encourage the use of the first person. 

Pay attention to tenses!: For example, when writing in APA style, note that any references to prior studies should be in the past tense and while the tip states the future tense is rarely used, an appropriate place for it could be in a discussion or future implications section.

A couple of tips that aren't mentioned:

Avoid speaking in absolutes: Particularly when drawing conclusions--whether it's your own results or studies that support your paper--avoid words such as prove, always, or never (i.e., The study's results clearly prove...and instead use...The research suggests...).

Avoid using the words It and ThisWhenever you write the words it or this, in most cases what they refer to are probably clear to you but vague to the reader. It and this should only be used to support what directly proceeded the what

  • Avoid beginning a new sentence or paragraph with It or This. In other words, if you use either of these words, ask yourself  is it clear what IT or THIS actually is?  In many cases, you'll find you can drop it or this altogether and instead substitute clearer wording.
  • Example 1: For the purposes of this handout... OK, as the what is clearly identified.
  • Example 2: This proves it beyond a reasonable doubt...Not OK, because of THREE words: it, this and proves. First, what happened for 'it' to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and second, what is it? Lastly, avoid absolutes like proves: The results of numerous prior studies suggest that self-regulated learners...

An overuse of the words That and The: That and the are frequently overused in a sentence, so read it back to yourself and decide if either are necessary. You should be alerted if either term appears more than twice in a sentence. This page provides excellent examples of that for improving your scholarly voice (courtesy of Walden University). 

The more that you read and write, the easier it --- What is IT?! --- Your comfort level with scholarly writing --- will become. One of the most recommended ways to improve your academic writing skill is by reading similar types of published works and replicating the researchers' syntax, organization of content, and writing style.

Lastly, don't forget about the Writing Center! You can visit the Writing Center by appointment or drop into the Learning Commons with or without an appointment to receive help with your academic writing. Virtual services are also available for students who are not on campus. 

Additional Resources and helpful links:

Additional Recommendations for Doctoral Students

  • Doctoral students can check with your school for and ask for the Dissertation Style Guide for your program. Style guides are also generally available in the program's doctoral handook, which is usually available online. 
  • Doctoral students also have dedicated libguides and library liaisons to assist in their research needs. 
  • The video below is part of a Leadership Lab series from the University of Chicago Department of Social Sciences. In January of 2023, the Chronicle of Education recommended the following video and stated: "Lawrence McEnerney (who recently retired after four decades of service), has become something of a public figure. His lectures on YouTube have been viewed over a million times. In the dynamic, charismatic style of a TED Talk speaker or megachurch pastor, McEnerney tells his audience that good writing is not about following “rules,” or even working through one’s ideas, but creating “value” for readers."