There are a lot of aspects you have to consider when writing in an academic setting. Unlike writing a blog post, academic writing has some distinctive features you should be aware of. Most importantly, it has to be formal, precise, explicit and hedged.

But what does each of these terms mean? Let’s look at them in more detail:

1. Formality

  • Avoid colloquial words and expressions (e.g. stuff, thing, loads of, sort of)

For example: 
Instead of writing: “He was considered a bit shy”
You could write: “He was considered slightly/somewhat shy”

  • Don’t use personal pronouns (I, you, one)

For example:
Instead of writing: “I do not agree with this argument”
You could write: “This argument is problematic/flawed/not convincing”

  • Do not start sentences with a coordinate conjunction

TIP: The seven coordinating conjunctions are FANBOYS: For And Nor But Or Yet So
Instead of these, you could use the following: however, moreover, namely, nevertheless, meanwhile, subsequently, furthermore.

2. Precision

  • Whenever possible, give precise facts and figures

For example:
Instead of writing: “a few years ago,” or “a lot of people”
You could write the exact date “March 2019,” or the exact number “100 people

3. Explicitness

  • Make clear to the reader how the parts of your text are related, e.g. by using signalling words

For example
If your line of argument is going to change, you could begin the sentence with “However, …” “Nevertheless, …” “In contrast, …” 

If you give an example, you could write: “For example, …” “For instance, …” “such as”

If two ideas are almost the same, you could write: “Similarly, …” “In the same way, …”

If you give extra information, you could write: “In addition, …” “Furthermore, …” “Moreover, …”

TIP: Most introductory elements are followed by a comma (Moreover, Furthermore, For example, …)

4. Hedging (Cautious Language)

  • Hedging is a way to avoid making claims that are too categorical or absolute and can thus be easily criticized. It allows you to make claims that are more cautious, specific and precise.

For example
Consider the following sentence:

All English students enjoy reading.

Do really ALL English students enjoy reading? Clearly not. As you can see, this argument can be easily refuted, and your credibility might thus be questioned by readers.

Instead, you could say: “English students tend to enjoy reading.”

This way, you emphasize that this is just a tendency and there are exceptions. 

  • Hedging verbs: appear/seem, tend, suggest, contribute/help
  • Hedging adverbs: apparently, approximately, arguably, supposedly, typically, relatively, slightly/fairly, sometimes/normally/usually

If you have any further tips, comment down below!


2 thoughts on “Features of Academic Writing

  1. Great points! I like to think of the most important features of academic writing as global issues like having a clear, complete argument backed up by credible evidence. I think the local features you focus on tie neatly into that. The type of language someone employs can actually help them build a convincing argument because they’re being more nuanced when appropriate (not assuming “all” people are the same) while also being explicit when appropriate (giving specific facts and figures).

    Liked by 1 person

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