Features of Academic Writing

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Information about Features of Academic Writing

Published on February 16, 2014

Author: chuckrymaunes5



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Academic Writing Principles & Features

A. Complexity B. Formality C. Precision D. Objectivity E. Explicitness F. Accuracy G. Hedging H. Responsibility


This means that the main emphasis should be on thereally wants that you want to give Nobody information to know what you The thoughts and beliefs should be based and the arguments youThey to make, rather "think" or "believe". want want to know on your lectures, reading, discussion and than you. have is related to learned and how what you This studied and the basic nature research and it is important to make this of academic led you academic writing, in this has study and to your various clear. particular. conclusions.

Being objective suggests that you are concerned about facts and are not influenced as much by personal feelings or biases. Part of being objective is being fair in your work. Try to show both sides of an argument if you can and avoid making value judgments through your use of words such as “wonderful” or “sarcastically”. Being objective also makes your work more professional and believable. Massey University 25 October, 2012

Techniques to make your writing more objective

• Move information around in the sentence to emphasize things and ideas, instead of people and feelings. Example: Instead of writing "I believe the model is valid, based on these findings", write "These findings indicate that the model is valid" or "The following section will show how the model is validated by the findings". The University of Sydney 06-Dec-2012

• Avoid evaluative words which are based on nontechnical judgments and feelings, such as "badly", "disappointment", "amazing", etc. • Instead use technical evaluations which related to academic or discipline-specific criteria and values such as "valid", "inaccurate", "reliable", "clearly demonstrates", "rigor", "out-dated", etc. The University of Sydney 06-Dec-2012

• Avoid intense or emotional evaluative language. Instead, use more moderate and graded evaluative language. Example: Instead of writing "Parents who smoke are obviously abusing their children", write "Second hand smoke has some harmful effects on children’s health." The University of Sydney 06-Dec-2012

• Use modality to show caution about your views, or to allow room for others to disagree. Example: Instead of writing "I think second-hand smoke causes cancer", write "Second-hand smoke may cause cancer", or "There is evidence to support the possibility that second-hand smoke increases the risk of cancer." The University of Sydney 06-Dec-2012

• Find authoritative sources (i.e. authors or researchers in books or articles) who support your point of view, and refer to them in your writing. Example: Instead of writing "Language is, in my view, clearly something social", write "As Halliday (1973) shows, language is intrinsically social." The University of Sydney 06-Dec-2012

• Be explicit in expressing your ideas. Example: “ten” instead of “several”; “70%” instead of “most of the population”; “three years ago” or “in 2006” instead of “some time ago”. Massey University 25 October, 2012

• Avoid language that implicitly excludes any group of people. Massey University 25 October, 2012

• Avoid intensifiers which can tend to exaggerate your writing. Example: “awfully”, “very”, “really”. Massey University 25 October, 2012

• Avoid the personal pronoun “I” but write more impersonally. Example: “It could be argued that…” instead of “I think…”. Massey University 25 October, 2012

• Despite the fact that you are not encouraged to use the personal pronoun “I” in academic writing, your viewpoints and opinions will still come through. • Although they may not be specifically attributed to you, the fact that the comments you choose to make are a part of your assignment tells the reader that you believe what you are writing. Massey University 25 October, 2012

• Stating “I think…” or “In my opinion…” weakens the text and the strength of your argument. In addition, adding such personal comments almost seems to emphasize that the writing is just your opinions or interpretations, rather than positions that are supported by logic and the evidence. • However, some lecturers and some styles of academic writing (e.g. reflective writing) allow or encourage the use of the personal pronoun. Massey University 25 October, 2012


• Clearly this was far less true of France than ... • This is where the disagreements and controversies begin ... • The data indicates that ... • This is not a view shared by everyone; Jones, for example, claims that ... • . . .very few people would claim ... • It is worthwhile at this stage to consider ... • Of course, more concrete evidence is needed before ... • Several possibilities emerge ... • A common solution is ... Massey University 25 October, 2012

• Don't write:" In my opinion, this a very interesting study." • Write: "This is a very interesting study." • Don't write: "You can easily forget how different life was 50 years ago." • Write: "It is easy to forget how difficult life was 50 years ago." Massey University 25 October, 2012

Activity 1

Objective or subjective? Do you think sentence a) or b) is more objective? a) Qualitative research is the most interesting aspect of the study of malaria. b) It has been argued by many (Hills, 2003; Smith & Jones, 2004; Andrews, 2004) that qualitative research is the most interesting aspect of the study of malaria. the answer is b). 'Interesting' is a subjective adjective (what is interesting for one person is deadly dull for another). An important point to remember in academic writing is that any views for which you do not give a citation are assumed to be your own so in sentence a) you are clearly expressing a personal opinion about qualitative research. In sentence b), however, you are reporting the fact that many others find it interesting - an entirely objective observation.

Objective or subjective? Do you think sentence a) or b) is more objective? a) Brown's excellent account of the UK economic situation has been widely distributed. b) Brown's account of the UK economic situation, which is regarded by many to be wellresearched and accurate, has been widely distributed. the answer is b). In this context, 'excellent' is a subjective term. In sentence 1) you are expressing a personal opinion as to the merits of Brown's work while in sentence b) you are reporting the views of others. © 2010 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Objective or subjective? Do you think sentence a) or b) is more objective? a) The student's excellent exam results enabled her to apply for a postgraduate course. b) The student is more agreeable than most of those on the postgraduate course. the answer is a). This one is tricky! - in this context 'excellent' is an objective view. An exam result of over 70% is regarded as excellent by examination boards worldwide. Comments about the nature of the individual student as in sentence b) are, of course, subjective. © 2010 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Objective or subjective? Do you think sentence a) or b) is more objective? a) The results are astonishing. b) The results were unexpected and may potentially change our thinking on this topic. the answer is b). 'Astonishing' is a subjective (and emotive) term, although you may have been astonished, other people reading your protocol may have been unsurprised by your findings. You can, however, say they were unexpected - this is indisputable. Objectivity is a particularly important feature which distinguishes academic writing from many other genres of writing. In scientific academic writing in particular, it is vital that you present your findings as facts. In essays where a personal opinion is called for, this should still be expressed in an impersonal tone and couched in formal language. For example, rather than saying, 'The present UK coalition government has blatantly disregarded the promises made by the Liberal Democrats not to increase tuition fees.' © 2010 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine


Complexity in academic writing comes from the fact that the standard written form of the English language, which is compulsory to be used, is different than the language we speak daily. The vocabulary used by the written language is more varied than the one used in conversations. It also uses more complicated words that are not normally used when talking with someone face to face.

The grammatical aspect of the written language is also different because we don’t normally use in speaking so many subordinate clauses and passives. The phrases in the written language are noun-based and those in speaking language are verb-based. This also makes academic writing different from face to face communication or other types of writing.


In close connection with complexity is formality. Under no circumstances will academic writing make use of colloquial expression that we consider natural in daily dialogues we have with friend or colleagues. The degree of formality should thus be pretty high.


Academic writing should be very precise. Factual information, figures or charts, should all be provided and nothing written there should leave room to interpretation.


The author of an academic writing is responsible for make it explicit and for making clear how different parts of the text are connected between them and why are they relevant for the central theme. There are certain words that can be used in order to emphasis this connection and they are called signaling words.

This is best achieved by anticipating the reader's questions. When revising your work before submission, try to think what questions your reader might want answers to if reading your assignment at this stage; Example: What is the purpose of this work? What does the author mean by this? How do these two ideas (or these two paragraphs) link together? Where is the evidence for this? What is the author's view about this issue?

Tips to help you make your writing explicit:  Explain what you intend to achieve/demonstrate.  Define key concepts. If you find different definitions for the same term in the literature, explain which one you will adopt or what the word means to you.  Make sure that links between ideas are clear. Use linking words and phrases if necessary.  Ensure that every claim is supported by evidence.  Take a position in relation to the issues being discussed. In other words, make sure that your viewpoint is clear to the reader.


An accurate use of vocabulary is a must in a text that wants to be academic. Extra attention should be paid when using words with a specific meaning and the writer should know that there is a clear distinction between phonetics and phonemics. This distinction is not so important when it comes to the general use of English language.


Some academic writers choose to use a technique called hedge. This has to do with the way that writer decides to approach a certain subject and with how strong the claims he makes are.

How factual can you be?   

Language used in hedging • • • • • • • Certain modal verbs Certain modal auxiliary verbs Adverbs of frequency Modal adverbs Modal adjectives Modal nouns That clauses

Identify the hedges

Identify the hedges


Last, but not least, academic writing should be treated with responsibility. Everything stated should be accompanied by proofs and justifications and no assumptions are allowed. Sources should also be mentioned.

Thank you for listening… c h u c k

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