Many people write very well. Yet, writing assignments in college and university are very specific. Many students are thus surprised that their excellent writing skills are not appreciated in class. That’s because in college or university you are most likely to be expected to write in an academic style. It is a very specific style of writing that has its own conventions regarding the tone, the content, and the format.
Thus, academic writing is different from other types of writing like letters or fiction. Here are some specific features of academic writing:
- Formal tone: Academic writing is written in a formal tone, which means you should avoid using colloquial language, slang, or contractions.
- Objectivity: Academic writing is objective, which means you should avoid expressing your personal opinions and instead focus on presenting facts and evidence.
- Clear organization: Academic writing follows a clear structure and organization. This usually includes an introduction, body, and conclusion, with clear topic sentences and supporting evidence.
- Citations and references: Academic writing requires you to cite and reference any sources you use. This is important to give credit to the original authors and to avoid plagiarism.
- Technical language: Depending on the subject, academic writing may use technical language and jargon that is specific to that field.
- Evidence-based arguments: In academic writing, you need to make evidence-based arguments, using credible sources to support your claims.
- Writing conventions: Academic writing follows specific writing conventions, including the use of academic language, active voice, and avoiding the use of personal pronouns.
Overall, academic writing is focused on presenting and analyzing evidence and arguments in a clear and organized manner, while maintaining a formal tone and using appropriate writing conventions.
One of the most distinguishing features of academic writing is reliance on the supporting evidence. It is quite rare that you are asked to merely write what you think, although this happens in such assignment as personal or reflective essay. But most often, you are expected to “support” your claims and opinions with “evidence”, that is knowledge and information gained by previous academic research in your field.
In academic writing, the best supporting evidence depends on the type of paper and the specific requirements of the assignment. However, in general, the following types of evidence are often used in academic writing:
- Empirical evidence: This is evidence that is collected through direct observation, experiments, surveys, or other scientific methods. Empirical evidence is often used in scientific research papers.
- Statistical evidence: This is evidence that is presented in the form of numerical data, such as graphs, tables, and charts. Statistical evidence is often used in research papers and data analysis.
- Expert testimony: This is evidence provided by experts in the field, such as researchers, scholars, or practitioners. Expert testimony is often used to support arguments and provide credibility to a paper.
- Case studies: This is evidence that is based on specific examples or case studies. Case studies are often used to illustrate a point or provide evidence in qualitative research papers.
- Literature review: This is evidence that is based on a review of existing literature on the topic. Literature reviews are often used in research papers to summarize and synthesize existing research on the topic.
- In social sciences such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology, you can use data from your own experiments, observations, interviews, and surveys. These data are often called “field research” and should be documented according to the conventions of the discipline (1)
- When writing papers on art and literature, you can use passages of text, including poetry, images, paintings, films, and other works of art.
It's important to use credible and relevant evidence to support your arguments in academic writing. Thus you need to learn how to distinguish academic sources from opinions of random people published on the internet (2). A quick rule of thumb is that academic sources are published in peer-reviewed journals. If you have the difficulty of discerning academic sources from blog posts, Wikipedia articles, and other non-academic sources, a quick hack is to conduct your research on Google Scholar. This service provides you search results of academic sources only. You can be sure that every source in Google Scholar can be used for your academic paper.
Finally, when writing your academic paper, always make sure to cite your sources properly and use evidence that is appropriate for the specific assignment and topic.
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(1) Jeffrey. R. (2022) Types of evidence in academic arguments. Pressbooks. https://pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu/eng-102/chapter/most-common-evidence-used-by-authors/
(2) University of York (2023) Working with evidence. https://subjectguides.york.ac.uk/academic-writing/evidence