Characteristics and Components of Academic Writing

Academic writing differs from informal writing in several ways, with the following being the most important:

Formal/academic vocabulary: This is the most obvious characteristic of academic writing. Use vocabulary specific to your discipline and the more formal word if there are synonyms. For example, use “determine” instead of “figure out.”

Cohesion: Ensure there is a smooth transition or flow within sentences by using conjunctions, such as “but,” “so,” and “yet,” and between sentences and paragraphs by using connectors, such as “therefore,” “although,” and “however.”

Logical order: Order your paragraphs and according to the most appropriate format, such as general to specific or chronologically.

Consistency: Be consistent throughout your paper in accordance with style guides, such as APA or MLA style, and the standards of your department and discipline.

Unity: Each of your sentences must support all other sentences, each paragraph must support all other paragraphs, and the entire paper must support the topic.

Variety: Try to use synonyms and different means of phrasing the same topic as much as possible. However, this is not always possible if there is only one way to phrase the topic. You don’t have to always use synonyms; don’t go crazy looking up every word in a thesaurus!

Clarity: This is the second-most misunderstood characteristic by non-native English-speaking students. When writing in English, always state your facts, ideas, and opinions explicitly. Writing about a topic indirectly might be misunderstood as a lack of confidence in your information or opinions.

Conciseness: This is the most misunderstood characteristic—and the one I spend the most time correcting as a writing professor. In English, short sentences of about two to three clauses are considered good style. Although long sentences are considered a sign of sophisticated writing in many languages, in English they may be misinterpreted as a sign of confusion. Make sure to eliminate all unnecessary words and redundant expressions. Remember your readers are busy and want to read your research as quickly as possible.

Written by Elaine Friedman (

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