Good academic writing

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One of the objects of any University education is to enable successful students to express themselves well. One of the complaints made by University teachers about students is that "They can’t write English!" One of the complaints made against teachers is that "They don’t teach us how to write English". Neither tells the whole truth. The Study Advice Service in the University of Hull has produced an Academic writing leaflet with some tips on academic style. This is longer than most of the advice pages in AWE. Here a few important points.

  • Say precisely what you mean. In formal writing, you cannot say "Oh, you know what I mean", as people do in casual conversation. It is the job of the academic writer to say what you mean, not to leave it to your reader to do all the work.
  • Aim to sound like a book. Students are training to be professionals. They work in an educational context. So sound like the professionals in the context - the academics who are teaching you, and who write the books you use.
  • Learn from your models. People learn language by copying. Copy your teachers, and your textbooks.
  • Write impersonally. You should be expressing hard-won knowledge and ideas that are rigorously tested. Your opinions as an individual and our personal ideas are not the point. As a student, you are preparing for professional life. Begin to write like a professional in your field.
  • Write formally, and as correctly as possible. The more 'proper' you sound, the more likely you are to be accepted as a professional, and respected for your knowledge, ideas, and other achievements.
  • Use the right words. Academics use 'long' words because they are the best words for the purpose, being precise, and with no alternative in the context. Good academic writers use a short word, if there is a good one available, for choice.
  • Use words with a sense of their precise meaning. Academics avoid loose application of words like crescendo, centre and so on. See also precision in academic writing.

See also Good writing, Academic essays, the Fowler brothers' rulesOrwell's Rules of style, Proof-reading and the Academic writing leaflet.