Hone Your Academic Writing Skills

Throughout the graduate study, you will be expected to demonstrate well-honed writing skills in your course essays, published papers as well as the dissertation. It is of great importance to train your scholarly writing and formatting consciously in everyday academic study. From language to revision phrase, we are going to focus on some practical tips to cultivate unbiased scholarly voice.


Be diverse but avoid ambiguity and be concise but avoid choppiness

It is important to vary your sentences and employ diverse sentence structures in academic writing. Clear thought and expression is the major priority in the academic production. Obscure and unclear may lead to rather long and complex sentences. Over employment of complex sentence structures may affect the clarity.

The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. But concision doesn’t mean use the fewest words, but always uses the strongest ones. When you are revising the essay, pay close attention to the weak or unnecessary words that can be deleted or replaced.

Avoid repetition and wordy expressions

International students sometimes produce wordy expressions or repetitions in academic study because of their L1 language organization habits. While in English, employing repetition or wordy expressions will decrease the readability and efficiency of the thesis. A writer should be aware of his or her wordiness and there is a line between expressive and rambling. While using online websites or apps for essay polishing and word replacing, be careful not to take them to an extreme.

Vary your vocabulary but avoid flashy words

Don’t always feel you have to use big words. It is always better to be clear and use simple language rather than showing off flashy words you are not sure about and may potentially misuse them.

Create personal academic dictionary

When you are reading academic papers, look up words you do not know. See how they are used in the academic context and pay attention to the logic in and between sentences. Start an academic wordlist on your notebook or laptop. Incorporate diverse but effective and strong vocabulary into your writing as they are appropriate.

Balance active voice and negative voice

Passive voice usually leads to longer phrases, complicated syntax, and indirect meanings. Passive voice can be more academic and objective. However, frequently employing passive voice can cause confusion on the reader’s end. If the emphasis is on the agent, try to use more active voices.

Make good use of revising process

Whenever you finish an essay or even a course assignment, take the chance to revise it after your first draft. Revision makes perfect. Make the most of your revising process and reflect the organization strengths and weaknesses of your essay with respect to arguments, focus and organization, support, and voice, as well as mechanical issues.


Examine the topic sentence or main idea of each paragraph and explain in 1 or 2 sentences to explain how this topic sentence relates to the thesis and make sure the conclusion paragraph restates the thesis and leaves the reader with enlightenment that beyond the conclusion requires. Examine all types of evidence you are using and explain how each of them supports and proves your point.

After examine the paper carefully, the writer need to clarify and focus on the arguments by defining terms, making concessions and counter-arguments, and using evidence. The revising process may involve moving or removing entire paragraphs, extending or narrowing ideas, rewriting vague or confusing text, and adding to existing paragraphs.

Besides organization revision, it is also an important step in the revision period to double check the language according to the main points we made in the first part and the aim of language revising should be to make it more effective, concise and persuasive.


Different from creating and editing phase, the revising phase requires the author to examine from readers’ point of view, and deal with the paper as a whole, ask questions, expand ideas and challenge arguments which involve discussion between the writer and the readers.

An efficient way is to discuss your work with your peer researchers, to offer questions and make observations allow the writer and reader to hold separate and valid opinions. The purpose of discussion is to expand and clarify ideas rather than “correct” them.

Recommendation: Bailey, S. (2011) Academic Writing A Handbook for International Students (Third edition)

Written by Yingru Zhao (yzhao29@albany.edu)

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