Academic English

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Academic English is the kind of English that you are expected to use when writing assignments and so on in HE, and also when talking about the subjects of your study. It is English in a formal register, whose formality is - in its best forms - designed to make the writing as clear and as unambiguous as possible. Academic writers are trying to communicate (often) difficult ideas in such a way that no reader can misunderstand them, no matter where in the world they may be read.

  • So there must be no colloquialisms which may not be known in the reader's culture; there must be no slang.
  • Academic writing prefers logic over emotion to convince the reader, and likes to use evidence to do so. It is dispassionate.
  • Good academic writing also seeks to persuade its readers logically of the truth of the arguments it is putting forward. So it is careful not to exaggerate or mis-state its points, and is careful to add qualifying remarks such as "Our findings show that there is a probability better than 95% that such a course of action will improve the situation", "Let us examine this suggestion in a little more depth", and "We may speculate that about Marx's thoughts at this point, but we cannot know."
  • Academic writers should be careful to include both sides of any dispute - they are aware of the arguments that have been made, and, if they do not agree with another author, try to show why their own position is stronger - as well as bringing out any flaws in the position(s) of their opponents.

Every student should aim to acquire the skill of writing academically. This may not seem possible to those starting their first courses, and good writers are no more common in academic writing than in other sorts of writing: it is not easy to become good at it. Nevertheless all students who succeed in passing their exams have acquired it to an adequate extent, so you probably can too. Our advice to students is always try to follow your models - write like your text-books.

There is a leaflet published by the Study Advice Service at the University of Hull which gives some more detailed tips: Academic writing. This may help you. But remember that all good writers have their own style, and all this leaflet will do is help you to form your own style, within the broad tradition of academic writing. And of course, such help forms the whole subject matter of this database, the Academic Writing in English bank of guidance.