9 Ways to improve your academic writing style

writingWhen it comes to academia, the quality of your writing has a lot riding on it. Whether you are in university or are employed as a teacher and/or researcher, the work you produce can make or break your academic career.

Strong writing (and empirical content, of course) is a major factor in whether a paper you write will be published in a reputable journal. So before you begin drafting your next article, consider these 9 ways to improve your academic writing.

1) Know your audience. Unlike other forms of writing, when it comes to academia, your readers already have the requisite knowledge needed to understand complex ideas in your chosen field. So, don’t waste time and space in your introduction establishing the foundation you’ve built your ideas on; know that your audience is primed and ready to learn.

2) Create an outline. Before you start writing anything, be sure to develop an outline for your paper and stick to it! This will help keep your argument concise, and means you’re less likely to go on theoretical tangents that might be interesting, but not essential to your paper.

3) Use clear and concise language. Avoid using ‘fluff’ words and ‘dead’ words that pad out your writing and are unnecessarily complicated. Other things to steer clear from include idioms and clichés. Try to omit such embellishments from your writing, opting for formal diction over poetic verbosity.

4) Check personalization at the door. Academic writing rarely calls for the writer to refer to himself or herself, through use of ‘I’ or ‘my.’ Aim to demonstrate objectivity by using objective language.

5) Use the appropriate style. Depending on your field, you may need to format your papers in commonly accepted writing styles, such as MLA or APA. Know which one to use before you begin writing, and create your reference page(s) and in-text citations as you write.

6) Err on the side of caution, and write formally. When in doubt, go with a more formalized way of communicating an idea. Go beyond everyday language you might use to describe it and perhaps even take the opportunity to expand your vocabulary to get there.

7) Don’t sound like a broken record. That is, don’t get too repetitive. It is acceptable to repeat ideas in a more widely accessible way in the abstract or conclusion/application portions of your writing, but try to avoid repeating ideas within the same blocks.

8) Stay away from contractions. As ubiquitous as they are in everyday speech, contractions have no place in academic writing. So before you submit your paper, do a quick search to make sure you have let any slip through the cracks.

9) Read it aloud. Reading your paper out loud is one of the best ways to pick up on any errors. You’ll notice sentences that don’t flow properly, poor use of tenses, and punctuation mistakes. It may even be helpful to ask someone else to read it out loud to you, so that you can fully concentrate on the flow of your argument and ideas.

Developing your skills as a writer is an enduring process. And while your career can go far with excellent writing and editing skills, it is also crucial to recognize the ongoing dialogue that your writing opens up. You are likely to get considerable feedback from peers, supervisors, and other industry professionals. Listen to their critique and questions with an open mind and use the advice to propel you to greater levels of writing.


Kelly Smith works at CourseFinder, an Australian online education resource. She is passionate about writing and innovations in the digital world.