An important concept of academic writing in English is that the responsibility of understanding the text is on the writer, rather than on the reader. Therefore, content, style and structure need to be presented clearly and logically in order for the reader to grasp what is being discussed.
In this short blogpost, we are going back to basics on some key features of academic writing which are important at any level of study. The following features listed are simple but not an exhaustive list. From my own experience of teaching academic writing to both undergraduate and postgraduate students, these are some of the most common mistakes I’ve encountered which tend to impede on the clarity of students’ writing.
- Avoid using contractions: these are abbreviations such as I’m, can’t, it’s, there’s. Academic writing is formal in register and these words need to be written in full without the apostrophe.
- A general rule is one idea per paragraph: each paragraph should deal only with one main point or a similar set of points. Do not cram different or unconnected points into one paragraph as this will muddle the clarity of what you are trying to say. Instead, take one main idea and start the paragraph with a leading topic sentence, then develop that idea further within the paragraph.
- A paragraph should have between 3-7 sentences: this of course is a general rule and paragraph length does depend on the complexity of the writing. However, in order to maintain clarity throughout your writing, you should aim to write a minimum of 3 sentences and up to 7 sentences. Writing more than 7 sentences can make your writing loose focus from the main idea of the paragraph, thus becoming unclear to the reader.
- Use plurals for making general statements of fact: it is important that you make clear within your writing what are general or sweeping statements and which statements are specific and require support and further development. When making generalisations, we use the plural form of nouns. On the other hand, when referring to specific situations, it becomes necessary to use articles either a/the.
- Your writing must have a minimum of 3 paragraphs in total; having an introduction, main body and conclusion is the basic structure of any academic text. You must introduce your work, ideas and main overview to the reader at the start of your writing which is in the very first paragraph of your writing; the introduction. You must make clear to the reader what he/she should expect from the text before they read through it entirely. Your main ideas for discussion should then be contained in main body paragraphs where each paragraph deals with one main point or a similar set of points. Finally, your last paragraph should tie up the entire discussion and bring your writing to an end. This is your concluding paragraph(s).
I hope you’ve found these 5 back to basics points on academic writing helpful. For more detailed guidance on essay writing, check out my book: An Easy guide to Writing Essays or join my online academy where you can have unlimited access to all my academic and study skills video tutorials, live classes and downloads.