Skills Hub

Academic writing style

Tutors expect clear, grammatically correct English that shows the quality of your thinking. Clear thinking and clear writing are deeply linked. As you read and write more, you will develop your own writing style.

Your style should reflect the reasoned and objective tone of your argument. You are trying to persuade your reader.

You can refine your style as you edit your writing. If you stumble over words or get lost in long sentences when you read your work, this is a sign you need to improve your style. 

Go to the English Language for Academic Study Canvas site for more information about developing your academic style and vocabulary. 

Passive voice 

Some students think using the passive voice makes an essay seem more objective but it can make a sentence harder to understand:

Passive voice: The information had been downloaded the day before, when she began her research.

Active voice: She downloaded the information the day before, when she began her research.

Paragraphs

It is important that your paragraphs link together so that your reader can understand your argument. If your line of reasoning is sound, each paragraph will follow on logically.

A paragraph in an essay often has three main elements: the topic sentence and development of the point; supporting evidence or quotations; and analysis and explanation of the evidence.

Make sure you are not just stringing quotes or facts together. Instead, link them to your argument and show how they support what you are saying.

The Royal Literary Fund website contains some useful information about paragraphs and links

Lots of schools have style guides - make sure you follow yours.

Write out an acronym in full the first time you use it.

Can I use 'I'?

Check what is allowed for your subject. Remember that you can have a voice in your academic writing, whether or not you use 'I'. Where you use 'I', the same rules of critical argument apply: you are aiming to persuade your reader through your reasoning and evidence, not through personal persuasion. Emotive language does not advance an academic argument. The Royal Literary Fund website includes examples of academic writing with and without ‘I’. Manchester University provides an academic phrasebank that can help you find alternatives to using the first person.

Activity

Look at the students' work below. In some essays the students use 'I'. What difference does this make to their writing? Can you identify the students' voice and viewpoint in their work?

  1. First year student: Linguistics and English Language essay
  2. Second year student: The Art of Short Fiction story
  3. First year student: International Political Economy essay
  4. Second year student: Issues in Contemporary Anthropology essay 

First-year student: Linguistics and English Language essay:

A comparative analysis of the language used on labels of Champagne and Sparkling Water bottles. [pdf 46 KB]

Reveal essay

Second-year student: The Art of Short Fiction story:

Reunion [pdf 37 KB]

Reveal essay

First-year student: International Political Economy essay:

Using a case study assess the social impact of transnational corporations in the development of the third world [pdf 816 KB]

Reveal essay

Second-year student: Issues in Contemporary Anthropology essay

Explore the meaning of 'radical evil' and the 'banality of evil' and how they might relate to understandings of evil using the cases of Idi Amin and Adolf Eichmann [pdf 50 KB]

Reveal essay

The text resources (excluding the example student essays) on this page have been adapted from original work by Moira Wilson, copyright 2009.

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