Academic Writing: Some General Guidelines

Have you ever been told that your writing style is not academic or that it is too informal? Are you unsure what rules to follow, what you can do and what you should not do?


Academic writing needs to be formal and impersonal. This means that your writing should be clear, concise and professional. It needs to follow certain rules (such as those outlined below) in order to ensure that it meets academic standards.

Supported by evidence

The most significant difference between academic and non-academic writing is that academic writing puts forward arguments and ideas that are supported by evidence, most often in the form of citing other research or studies. Learning how to reference correctly is an important part of ensuring that your arguments and ideas are always supported by evidence. You must remember that you cannot make a claim or assertion in an academic essay without supporting it.

The use of the first person

Although there are exceptions (for example, if you are discussing a field trip that you personally took in order to conduct research or interviews that you carried out), normally academic writing does not make use of the first person. This means you would not use ‘I’ in your essays. Therefore, instead of writing ‘I will argue’, you might write ‘this essay will argue’. The first reason for this is that academic writing must be formal and impersonal. Consider the difference between these two sentences:

1. ‘In this essay, I will discuss the reasons why Critical Thinking is important to the role of Registered Nurses, including its role in improving the accuracy of diagnoses.’

2. ‘Critical Thinking is important to the role of Registered Nurses because it improves the accuracy of diagnoses.’

Not only is the second sentence more formal because it does not make use of the personal ‘I’, but it is also more direct and thus sounds clearer, more concise, and more academic. Instead of stating that a point will be made, as in the first sentence, the second sentence simply makes the point directly. The second reason why the use of the first person is discouraged is that it is often redundant (unnecessary). Consider the difference between these two sentences:

1. I believe that Critical Thinking is relevant to the role of Registered Nurses.

2. Critical Thinking is relevant to the role of Registered Nurses.

It is unnecessary to state ‘I believe’. The reader knows that the statement is what the author believes, because the author is writing it in their essay. Further, which sentence sounds more convincing? The second sentence sounds more convincing because it is direct and straight to the point.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation

Correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are very important in academic writing. In order to write formally and to a high academic standard, your writing must be accurate. Writing an essay that contains correct grammar, spelling and punctuation can make a significant difference to your final grade. Accurate writing affects not only your marks for presentation. If your grammar and sentence structure are so unclear that your tutor or lecturer cannot understand the point you are trying to make, for example, you could lose marks overall. Handing in an  essay that is well written, accurate and highly polished can improve your grades.

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