Academic writing

The writing you need to do for your assignments is different to every-day writing. It is more formal, objective and structured.

While different assignment types and subjects may have different writing conventions, academic writing has these common features

  • It has a formal tone
  • It uses third person rather than first person perspective (i.e. I or me)
  • It follows a specific theme or answers a specific question or questions, using a logical argument.

Academic writing should also

  • be well-organised with a recognised structure
  • be well-researched and referenced (acknowledging other writers and sources)
  • provide evidence showing you have thought about, researched and understand the topic

Watch our guide to academic writing video


Commonly used words

Often the words used in academic English aren't the same as the words used in everyday spoken or written English.The sites below contain some useful words and phrases to help you write academically.

The academic phrasebank - University of Manchester website (opens in a new window)

Academic writing phrases - Academic English UK website (opens in a new window)

Different subjects may have writing conventions

Even though the basic principles of academic writing are the same irrespective of the subject area, different academic disciplines may have different writing conventions. This means that different subjects may:

  • Use different words and/or phrasing, and words can sometimes mean something different, depending on the subject
  • Require a different writing style, such as a report-style of writing
  • Require a different structure and organisation to the assignment.

To find out what type or style of writing is required in your subject area check your course page, learning material and/or the set text for advice. If you're still not sure what's required ask your lecturer/tutor.

The websites below have more detailed information, but remember that the requirements may differ at different educational institutions:

Writing - Monash University website (opens in new window)

Writing scientifically - Engage website (opens in new window)

Writing in psychology - Purdue Online Writing Lab website (opens in new window)

Writing in the disciplines - University of Richmond website (opens in new window)

Reflective writing

As part of your studies you may also be required to write reflectively or show evidence of reflective thinking. This type of writing is more personal than most other academic writing. It usually involves analysing an event or idea, and explaining what something means to you and/or how it has affected you personally. Assignments requiring students to write reflectively include:

  • learning journals or diaries
  • portfolios
  • blogs
  • reflective essays.

More about reflective writing

Reflective writing - Deakin University website (opens in new window)

Reflective writing - University of New South Wales website (opens in new window)

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