Academic writing is different from other types of writing, and the academic writing skills that you need are different.
The skills needed for academic writing can be divided into two sets; the skills to do with the writing itself and the skills needed to with everything else.
In academic writing you need to be able to explain quite complex ideas or arguments and have them understood by other people, who might not be experts in the same field as you. This means that you need to write with clarity. If your writing is clear people will be able to understand the concepts you’re trying to explain.
You can do this by keeping your language simple.
Being able to write in a formal style is an important academic writing skill. The readers of your writing will expect that it’s written in a certain style, and the main component of that style, is that it’s formal.
You need to learn to write naturally in a formal style without having to think about it. If your first draft is always written in an informal style you’ll waste a lot of time correcting it. It’s better to write in a formal style whenever you’re writing academically.
Using the passive voice is a big part of writing in a formal style, but it’s also slightly separate. You can write in an active voice and still be formal. But in academic writing, for the vast majority of the time, you’ll be expected to use the passive voice.
Referencing source material
In academic writing you need to reference the source material that you read to form your ideas and arguments. Each time you include something, as a quotation, paraphrase or summary, from your research, in your written document you need to reference it fully so that you won’t be accused of plagiarism. Many new academic writers find this skill hard to master. You need to get used to recording all the source material you read and use; then referencing it when you refer to that information in your writing.
Planning is an important academic writing skill. It’s used to order your writing, so that your essay is easy to understand. You need to plan the order of the points in your writing so that they’ll make sense to the reader.
Planning is also used to make sure that you’ve enough time to compete all your different assignments. You need to be able to plan your time so you can fit all your classes, course work and socializing into your day.
Following on from planning you need to be able to meet all the deadlines that you’ve got. If you don’t plan well it’ll be harder to meet your deadlines.
It’s important to try to meet all your deadlines as it’ll be good practice for when you’ve got a job and it might become really important to get your work done for when it’s needed. Also if you miss one deadline and have to ask for an extension it’ll mean that you might not have enough time to get your next piece of coursework completed and handed in on time.
Writing is generally an individual activity, especially as an undergraduate, where it’s being used to test your ability. This means that when you’ve got a writing assignment you need to be able to work by yourself and finish on time without anyone else to push you.
Academic writing involves lots of thought. To be successful academically you need to be able to think and have the confidence in your own abilities to express your thoughts in your academic writing.
By Jolyon Dodgson, copyright © 2011-2013
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