Writing computer

Features of Academic Language

Academic language has a unique set of rules: it should be explicit, formal and factual as well as objective and analytical in nature. Students often think that academic language should sound complex and be difficult to write and understand but that is not necessarily the case. Instead, academic writing should be clear and concise in order to communicate its contents in the best way.

This page serves as an overview of the features of academic language and the corresponding language skills that are required to understand and use academic language. These guidelines are intended to help you have a clearer understanding of the demands of academic writing and develop skills to improve your academic writing in English.

For a quick introduction to academic writing, watch this 3 minute video from Lund University:

Formal

Formal writing requires considerable effort to construct meaningful sentences, paragraphs, and arguments that make the text easy to comprehend. In general this means that conversational English should be avoided and facts and figures should be presented in a clear manner. Academic texts should be factual, concise and accurate. Choose words precisely and carefully so that the reader can accurately understand the concepts within the text.

It is important to remember that academic texts are written with an academic audience in mind and your writing style needs to conform to the conventions of the field you are studying.

Click here to view a chart that illustrates the differences between academic writing and non-academic writing.

Analytical

In academic writing, the complexity of the subject matter is acknowledged through critical analysis.  This can be done through asking questions and examining and evaluating evidence. Through critical analysis we are able to add a new perspective to a subject instead of just rewriting what has already been written.

Treating your topic and your material in an analytical manner should seep through in your language. Part of being analytical in your writing is to compare and contrast, evaluate and consider both sides of an issue. It also means that you explain, give reasons, draw conclusions, make suggestions and recommendations and support this with evidence.

Read more about having an analytical approach in your writing.

Objective

Academic writing is based on research and not on the writer’s own opinion about a given topic. When you write objectively you are concerned about facts and not influenced by personal feelings or biases. When presenting an argument to the reader, try to show both sides if you can and avoid making value judgments.

At the same time you will probably have to do an analysis or a discussion and in that manner express an attitude. In order to convey attitude without using for example “I think”, you may use words such as apparently, arguably, ideally, strangely and unexpectedly. Note that the attitude you are expressing should not be based on personal preferences but rather on the evidence that you are presenting.

For further information and examples of subjective and objective language, see this handout from the University of Adelaide.

Explicit

Academic writing is explicit in several ways. First and foremost, it means that there is a clear presentation of ideas in the paper. The text should have a well-organized structure and be easy for the reader to follow. One way to accomplish clarity and structure in your text is through the use of signposts. Signposts are words and phrases that you can use in your text in order to guide the reader along. Signposting can be divided into two different categories: major signposting and linking words and phrases.

Common pitfalls for non-native writers – and how to avoid them

If English is not your first language you may encounter certain difficulties when writing academically. This section deals with some of the most common pitfalls. If you learn what your problems are it becomes easier to avoid them and thereby become a better writer.