Skip to main content
site header image

SPH Writing Support Services: Getting Started: Academic Writing

Getting started with SPH Writing Support Services

Academic Writing

Academic writing refers to a particular style of expression that researchers use to define the intellectual boundaries of their disciplines and their areas of expertise. It is characterized by a formal tone, use of the third-person rather than first-person perspective (usually), a clear focus on the research problem under investigation, and precise word choice. Being a specialist language, academic writing is designed to convey agreed meaning about complex ideas or concepts for a group of scholarly experts.

Adapted from Academic WritingWriting Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Handbook. New York: Routledge, 2008.

To refresh, review, and test your knowledge of academic writing, please complete the Online Tutorial of Effective Writing Practices developed by Northern Illinois University. This self-paced tutorial covers the topics of grammar, punctuation, organization, and style, and it allows you to test your knowledge of each topic. Completing this tutorial is for your benefit; neither user data nor quiz scores are collected.

An Introduction to Academic Writing

1. The University of Chicago Writing Program has produced the following guide to help students with academic writing: Writing in College: A Short Guide to College Writing.  

2. The Hixon Writing Center (HWC) at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has produced a set of six videos titled "An Introduction to College Writing" that is useful to anyone who wants to learn more about academic writing.

The four video tutorials include: Making an Argument, Organizing Your Writing, Working with Sources, and Writing with Clarity.

As part of Caltech's series on college writing, HWC created the following excellent introduction to academic writing:

Stinky Academic Writing and Scientific Literacy

1. The Chronicle of Higher Education has reprinted Steven Pinker's manifesto, "Why Academics' Writing Stinks," along with advice from four experts on how to fix it, in a booklet.

A PDF version of this booklet is provided below:

2. In a Nature news feature, "Scientific Literacy: Clear as Mud," Jonathan Knight asks if the increasing trend of inaccessibility in the scientific literature can be stopped.

A PDF version of this article is provided below:

3. In a recent study, posted on bioRxiv (The Preprint Server for Biology), researchers found that "the readability of science is steadily decreasing," which hinders the scientific process by limiting accessibility and reproducibility.

A PDF version of this preprint article is provided below:

Bad Academic Writing

Denis Dutton, longtime editor of Philosophy and Literature, chronicled bad academic writing as a hobby. You will benefit from reading the following examples of how ­NOT to write your thesis and/or doctoral dissertation!

Explorations of Style: A Blog about Academic Writing

In her blog, Explorations of Style, Rachael Cayley provides readers with "an ongoing discussion of the challenges of academic writing" by discussing "strategies to improve the process of expressing our research in writing," with the ultimate goal of creating "a working approach to academic writing."

12 Common Errors in Academic English

YouTube description: "What's 'academic writing'? If you're in school or university, you must know the difference between general English and academic English. Watch this important lesson to avoid the most common mistakes students make in academic writing. ..."

5 Tips to Improve Your Academic Writing

YouTube description: "Want to become a better writer? In this video, I will share five easy and quick tips that will improve writing in formal and academic settings. ..."

Succeeding in Graduate School

These resources are designed to help you succeed in graduate school:

Managing your time is critical for success in graduate school; these resources are designed to help you manage your time effectively:

Reading lots, lots, and lots of scholarly literature is required in graduate school; these resources (videos) are designed to show you how to read faster, more efficiently and effectively:

Writing a Successful Academic Paper

These resources will help you to write a successful academic paper:

Writing Resources & Tips

Amherst College Writing Center: Online Resources for Writers

George Mason University Writing Center: Quick Guides

Harvard College Writing Center: Writing Resources

Northern Illinois University Writing Center: Resources for Writers

Penn State Graduate Writing Center: Writing Resources

University of Houston-Clear Lake Writing Center: Writing Resources

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Center for Writing Studies: Writing Tips

University of Nevada, Reno: Writing Resources

Grammar, Mechanics & Usage

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) Writing Style

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is a writing strategy used extensively across the U.S. military for efficient communication.

Academic Phrasebank

The University of Manchester has developed the Academic Phrasebank to help academic writers find the right words.

The content is centered on the following areas of writing:

Verb Tense

On pages 65-66 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.), APA (2010) states that you should use verb tenses consistently:

Past tense (e.g., "Smith showed") or present perfect tense (e.g., "researchers have shown") is appropriate for the literature review and the description of the procedure if the discussion is of past events. Stay within the chosen tense. Use past tense (e.g., "anxiety decreased significantly") to describe the results. Use the present tense (e.g., "the results of Experiment 2 indicate") to discuss implications of the results and to present the conclusions.

Refer to the following training module for more help: