Would you write an email to your boss using the same word choices and style that you’d use to send an email or text to your friend? Would you start your email to your boss with “Hey dude, wassup?”
Why? Because writing to your boss demands a higher level of professionalism and formality than does writing to your friend.
The same is true for academic writing.
You wouldn’t write “I’m gonna write this paper about how much I love playing video games” as your thesis. And you wouldn’t write one giant paragraph about how playing video games is the best pastime ever (even if that’s how you feel).
Why? Because academic writing requires a specific format and style. It needs to be organized, clear, and professional.
But how do you improve your academic writing? What specifically should you do to make your academic writing more professional?
Well, you can start by reviewing these 15 ways to improve your academic writing.
15 Ways to Improve Your Academic Writing
Good academic writing takes practice, and you simply can’t improve your writing all at once. I’ve divided the 15 tips below into five categories to help you practice one skill at a time.
1. Master Academic Format
It may sound simple, but if you’re writing an academic essay, remember to use proper essay format.
All formal essays require an original title (that gives readers an idea of what your paper is about), one or more introductory paragraphs, at least several body paragraphs to explain the key arguments of the essay, and one or more concluding paragraphs to wrap up the essay. (Learn how to create a persuasive essay outline).
2. Use Standard Font, Margins, and Spacing
Before people even read your paper, they’ll look at the format. Incorrect format looks sloppy. A sloppy paper is like showing up to a job interview with a dirty T-shirt and ripped jeans. It creates a horrible first impression! Make your paper look professional by following the basics:
- Use a standard font and size (usually Times New Roman 12)
- Set one inch margins on all sides
- Choose double-spaced lines
Check out this Essay Formatting Survival Guide (infographic) for more tips.
3. Cite Your Sources
Most academic writing requires the use of sources, and if you’re using sources, the sources must be cited. (Without citation, you’re plagiarizing, so don’t forget this step!)
Before you begin researching, and certainly before you begin writing, know what citation style is required. Most academic writing uses MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association).
These are not the only forms of citation, however. You may also be asked to use other styles, including CSE or Chicago.
4. Choose Your Words Carefully
You want readers to find you credible. You want readers to respect you. You won’t be considered credible or respectable if you’re rude, condescending, or sarcastic. Your tone should be formal and professional.
5. Write in Third Person
In most cases, write in third person. Academic writing is usually quite formal and does not directly address the reader; thus avoid second person (you/you’re). It’s too informal.
6. Use Formal Language
Formal, academic writing requires formal language. In other words, don’t write like you speak. If you always use slang, you’ll need to edit it out of your academic writing. Slang should be saved for texting your friends.
7. Explain Concepts Your Audience Doesn’t Know
Your audience consists of intelligent, educated readers. There’s no need to define basic words or explain simple concepts that your readers already understand. Don’t waste their time by explaining what doesn’t need to be explained.
At the same time, do spend time explaining any concepts that your audience isn’t already familiar with.
Take the time to consider what your audience believes and understands about the subject.
If your audience is a group of environmentalists and you’re writing about a recycling program, for example, appeal to your audience by explaining how your proposed program will benefit the environment.
9. Be Sincere
While you should appeal to your audience, don’t go so far as to try to excessively compliment or flatter your audience. This will likely turn readers off, and they won’t feel you are sincere.
10. Support Your Arguments
Because academic writing isn’t just your own opinion, you’ll need to use sources to support your arguments. Even if you’re a self-proclaimed expert on the benefits of sleeping in until noon, chances are you don’t have any research to support your claim.
That’s where the experts come in.
Remember, you want readers to know that you’ve done your research, and you want them to see you as credible. Using sources to support your arguments is crucial to achieving this credibility.
11. Choose Credible Sources
And speaking of credibility, you’ll want to choose credible sources. You’ll lose all credibility if you choose unreliable resources.
After all, who would readers believe is more credible? An anonymous person who created his own website about why teens require more sleep, or a psychologist who has spent hours researching and studying sleep patterns and the science behind the importance of sleep in teens? (Read How to Wake Up Early and Never Oversleep Your 8AM Class Again)
12. Incorporate Your Own Arguments
Keep in mind that you need sources to support your arguments, but sources are there as support. They shouldn’t take the place of your own arguments.
Here’s a quick way to tell if your sources have taken the place of your own arguments: Take a look at a research paper you’ve written. Highlight all information that you’ve used from your sources. In most cases, if you highlight more than a few lines in each paragraph you have used too much information from sources.
13. Start Your Assignment Early
Good academic writing is polished. It is clear, concise, and professional. Good writing doesn’t magically appear after writing a draft 25 minutes before the assignment is due. Good writing takes time, so start your assignment early enough to leave time to revise.
Here’s a tip to help you through the revision process: Try reading your paper out loud. If while reading aloud you stumble over sentences, your readers will stumble, too. Revise your sentences until they’re easy to read aloud.
14. Revise, Revise Again
In most cases, one revision isn’t enough, so make sure to save time to revise at least one more time. Set the paper aside for a day or two and review your paper again to make sure you have a clear thesis, topic sentences, and supporting evidence. (Read Why Self-Editing is Killing Your Writing)
15. Edit Your Paper
Kibin editors are always willing review your paper and to help you improve your academic writing!
Final Thoughts on Improving Your Academic Writing
If you’re thinking that all of this is a lot to remember, and if you’re thinking it takes a lot of work to write a good academic paper, you’re right.
Though writing is a lot of work, it really isn’t so bad, and English class isn’t so bad either. But it does take practice–and lots of it!
Remember, if you follow the tips outlined in this post, and if you practice these tips each time you write a paper, before you know it, you will have improved your academic writing!
To get even more practice improving your academic writing, I recommend reading How to Improve Your Academic Writing and Nine Basics Ways of to Improve Your Style in Academic Writing.