Academic writing: purpose, features and rules

Academic writing: purpose, features and rules

Have you heard any transfer rumors regarding David De Gea? Squadra azzurra was really good last night. “Red Devils” always have a tough experience at Stamford Bridge. Now these kinds of questions are specific to one particular sports field – soccer. Most of the sentences above make no sense to people who don’t know anything about the game. If one wants to join the conversation about soccer, there are terms he/she has to be familiar with in order to understand the talk. More than that, if you want to be an effective participant, you have to learn how to play their language game with all of the specific terms and values. And just like with soccer (or any other sports really), academic discourse also has its own lingo. In other words, there are certain terms you must accept and use in order to be successful in this field. So basically whenever you enter any college or university, you enter an academic community that has its values and shares certain ways of writing and speaking. In this article we would like to focus on features of academic writing which will hopefully help you be a better student and handle assignments efficiently.

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Features of Academic Writing

Many people ask “How does academic writing differ from other forms of writing?” This is a good question, and the answer will clear things out about what academic writing style is all about. Obviously, there are many distinctive features, but before we get to that, one has to know some rules of academic writing. First of all, it is correct grammar, clear organization of written content and proper academic writing format. These are fundamental things (not even rules actually) one has to adhere to in this type of writing. The actual rules are all about the proper use of literary devices, word choice, style and values. The general purpose of academic writing is to present information in order to display a clear understanding of a particular subject. There are different types of academic writing however, and each of them has its specific purpose (explain, describe, retell, persuade, etc.) Now as we have covered the basics, let’s move on to the actual features of this type of writing.


Effective academic writing assumes the abundant use of specific dates and figures. Vague word combinations like “a lot of people” or “someone said” aren’t considered good academic writing expressions. 50 thousand, 76%, 1789 miles, year 2011 – these are the words that fit the academic context much better. This would be quite typical academic sentence, for example: Biologist had attempted to synthesize molecular developments for the previous 10 years.

Another example:

“A study conducted in 2019 found that 87% of participants reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety, compared to only 43% of participants in a similar study conducted in 2009.”.

This sentence uses specific dates and figures to convey precise information about the study and its results. Instead of using vague words like “many” or “some,” it provides exact percentages and years to support its claims. This type of precision is important in academic writing because it helps to ensure accuracy and credibility in the research being presented.


If you compare your everyday talk with academic writing, you will easily notice that written language is more complex. It is more sophisticated also from the grammatical standpoint as it utilizes more subordinate and “that-to” complement clauses as well as more attributive adjectives. Academic writing also features more lexical variations in comparison to spoken language. For example, if you could say to your friend something like “Violence has changed once quiet US cities” in academic writing it would look more like “The cities in the United States of America had once been quiet, but they changed when people became violent.”

Another example:

“Through a comparative analysis of three different novels, this study aims to examine the intricate ways in which cultural identity is represented and constructed within the literary discourse of postcolonial literature.”.

This sentence is more complex than everyday language because it contains multiple clauses and uses a more formal and academic tone. The sentence includes a subordinate clause (“through a comparative analysis of three different novels”) and a relative clause (“in which cultural identity is represented and constructed within the literary discourse of postcolonial literature”). Additionally, the sentence uses attributive adjectives (“cultural,” “literary,” and “postcolonial”) and more precise and formal phrasing (“aims to examine the intricate ways” instead of “wants to look at how”). These elements contribute to the complexity of academic writing and help convey a more formal and academic tone.


Informal language assumes the abundant use of colloquial expressions like “sort of”, “stuff”, etc. along with abbreviated forms of words and phrasal word verbs (for instance, put off). If you have ever read any of the articles on academic writing tips, you must know that the aforementioned informalities are not appropriate in this context.

Here is an example of a sentence that demonstrates formality in academic writing:

“When writing academically, it’s important to avoid using colloquial expressions like ‘sort of’ and ‘stuff’, as well as abbreviations and phrasal verbs like ‘put off’. These informalities might be fine in everyday conversation, but they don’t meet the formal standards required in academic writing.”

This sentence maintains a conversational tone while still conveying the necessary information about formality in academic writing. It uses contractions and a more natural sentence structure, while still conveying the importance of avoiding informal language. Additionally, it uses simple phrasing and avoids overly technical or complex language, making the information more accessible to a wider audience.


This may well be the hardest requirement of academic writing for students as they often tend to focus on what they feel and believe when writing their assignments. The thing is that when we are talking about objectivity, we mean that the main emphasis should be on the presented information and/or arguments rather than what you “think about the issue”. Professors in colleges aren’t particularly interested in just what you think; instead, they need to know what you have studied, how you can back up your arguments, and how you can draw your conclusions. So if you have to write an academic paper, forget about appealing to reader’s emotions as well as using “I”, “me”, “in my opinion”, etc.

Example of objectivity: “Recent studies have indicated a correlation between excessive social media usage and increased levels of anxiety and depression among young adults.”

In this example, the writer presents a factual statement based on research findings without inserting personal beliefs or opinions. The statement focuses on the relationship between social media usage and mental health issues as indicated by scientific studies. This objective approach allows the reader to evaluate the evidence and draw their conclusions based on the presented information.

In contrast, a subjective statement might look like this: “I think social media is ruining the mental health of young adults, as I’ve seen many of my friends become more anxious and depressed after spending too much time online.”

In the subjective example, the writer relies on personal observations and opinions rather than empirical evidence. By using phrases like “I think” and “my friends,” the writer makes the statement about their perspective, which is not the main focus in academic writing.


Being accurate in the use of vocabulary is another important requirement for all academic papers. In everyday conversations, words like “money”, “cash” and “funds” can be used interchangeably. However, when you work on an academic paper, you have to be accurate in using these terms appropriately because each one of them has its specific meaning and context. Despite the fact that they all seem to present pretty much the same concept, these terms have their own distinctive features and applications.

Example of accuracy: “During an economic crisis, central banks may inject funds into the financial system by increasing the money supply, which can be in the form of cash or electronic deposits.”

In this example, the writer demonstrates accuracy by using the terms “money”, “cash”, and “funds” appropriately and distinguishing between their specific meanings within the context of economics. “Money” refers to the general concept of a medium of exchange used for transactions, which can take various forms. “Cash” specifically denotes physical currency, such as banknotes and coins. “Funds” pertain to financial resources or assets, which can be allocated or transferred for specific purposes.

By using these terms accurately, the writer conveys a clear and precise understanding of the economic concepts involved. This clarity allows readers to grasp the intended meaning without confusion or misinterpretation.

In contrast, an inaccurate statement might look like this: “During an economic crisis, central banks may inject cash into the financial system by increasing the funds supply, which can be in the form of money or electronic deposits.”

In the inaccurate example, the writer has interchangeably used the terms “cash” and “funds,” leading to confusion and a lack of clarity. This imprecision hinders the reader’s ability to fully comprehend the intended message.

Now that you know the academic writing definition and the distinctive features of this kind of writing, you can be more productive when handling your college assignments. There are a lot of students who have a difficult time when tasked with writing essays and research projects simply because they don’t understand the requirements of academic writings and, consequently, what they are asked to produce. A lot of them are shocked to find out their grades when they receive their papers. The problem is that the majority of students don’t understand what academic writing is all about. If you learn the aforementioned features and do your best to adhere to them when working on your college assignment, then most likely you won’t be disappointed with your essay grades ever since.

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