Top 8 Tips for Better Academic Writing
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Grammar, punctuation, and writing style are critical components of academic writing. While writing may come naturally to some people, there are those of us who find academic style conventions a bit intimidating. However, scientific writing is a skill that you can rapidly improve upon if you keep certain guidelines in mind. Let’s look at eight ways in which you too can become a better academic writer.
1. Use ACTIVE rather than PASSIVE voice to shorten sentences
ACTIVE VOICE: Describes what someone or something does.
PASSIVE VOICE: Describes what is being done to someone or something.
Don’t say: “Concerning findings were revealed by the study.” (Passive voice.)
Say instead: “The study revealed concerning findings.” (Active voice.)
2. Expand your use of PUNCTUATION
Commonly misused and misunderstood punctuation marks include:
The semi-colon (;) used to link two closely related independent clauses. Example: “The study comprised three stages; over 100 participants were interviewed.”
The colon (:) used between two independent clauses to indicate that the second clause is an elaboration or explanation of the one preceding it. Example: “All three students received offers from their universities: Tanya will study mechanical engineering, Diane psychology, and Stephen literature.”
The dash (—) is made by typing two hyphens (-) and can be used to bracket off some explanatory information. Example: “Even other researchers—who were not as familiar with the subject as Jonathan—agreed that further investigations were needed.”
3. Avoid REPETITION
Don’t say: “The results were indisputable and undeniable.”
Say instead: “The results were indisputable.”
4. Be CONCISE
On average, sentences in academic writing do not exceed 12-17 words in length.
Don’t say: “However, it should be considered that a clearer environmental focus could have positive effects on climate change.”
Say instead: “A clearer environmental focus could also help climate change.”
5. Eliminate REDUNDANCIES
due to the fact that ➞ because or since
in the case that ➞ in case
and also ➞ and
in order to ➞ to
as a result of ➞ due to
6. Build a Writer’s VOCABULARY
Look up unfamiliar words when reading. Consider examples of how they are used and start putting together a list that documents new words as you learn them. Begin incorporating new words into your writing as you become more comfortable using them in context.
7. Strive for language that is FORMAL
Academic writing is always formal. Here are a few ways to ensure that your manuscript adheres to the expected conventions:
Define acronyms in full at first mention.
Avoid contractions such as “it’s”, “they’re”, or “wasn’t.”
Avoid abbreviations and acronyms in the abstract and conclusion.
Avoid phrasal verbs: Don’t say: “We don’t know how many side effects will play out.” Say instead: “It is yet unknown whether to expect side effects.”
8. Mind your LATIN ABBREVIATIONS
Et al. is short for et alia, meaning “and others.” It is commonly used in academic citations when referring to a source with multiple authors:
Example: “Merke et al. (2020) argue that …”
Never use et al. unless there are more than two authors.
There is always a period after “et al.”
Et al. always takes a plural verb form.
I.e. stands for id est, meaning “in other words” or “that is to say.”
Example: “We will only recruit certain age groups for our study (i.e., no participants under the age of 18 will be contacted).”
E.g. is short for exempli gratia and means “for example.”
Example: “The board will require only the basic presentation slides for the New York conference (e.g., Summary of Findings, Background of Study, etc.).”
Note: E.g. and i.e. are lowercase when they appear in the middle of a sentence.