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Academic writing style

For most academic essays, you are expected to use a formal writing style. You need to learn about the DOs and DON'Ts of this style so that you can edit your work effectively. This style may vary if you are asked to write in an informal style.

This workshop:

Key words: formal/informal, objective, discipline terminology, standard English, correct English, non-discriminatory language, colloquial language/slang

About academic writing style

Modern academic writing has a formal style. But, what does 'formal' mean? Sometimes, students think that a formal style means that they have to copy their lecturer's writing style or that of the books and journals that they read. This may result in writing that is stilted and unclear. Academic writers develop their style after years of practice and students will take time to learn this style. In this workshop, you will be helped with your writing style if you follow some basic rules.

Exercise 1: Recognising the appropriate academic style

Study these paragraphs and select the correct comment about the writing style.

1.
I think that essay writing is an important skill for all of us students. Don't you see how many marks are given for this? Lots of students agree that they are marooned if they can't write a decent essay. In my opinion (as a struggling student), we should have lessons in essay writing from day one!!!
Formal, straightforward, clearly written, correct academic style
Informal, like spoken (colloquial) language, incorrect academic style
Too formal, uses too many words, incorrect academic style

2.
It is in fact correct to say that academic essay writing is of utmost importance in the attainment of a university degree. A high proportion of marks are allocated to the compilation of essay assignments as part of a university course to the point where it could be the causation of terminating a degree program because of failure. There is somewhat of an obligation for universities in the provision of services to the student population to educate their students in the intricacies of essay writing early in their undergraduate first year.
Formal, straightforward, clearly written, correct academic style
Informal, like spoken (colloquial) language, incorrect academic style
Too formal, uses too many words, incorrect academic style

3.
Essay writing is an important skill for tertiary students. Academic essays can attract a considerable proportion of assessment marks in most degree programs. Therefore, students may require a firm grounding in academic essay writing skills at the start of their first year to assist them to succeed in their university studies.
Formal, straightforward, clearly written, correct academic style
Informal, like spoken (colloquial) language, incorrect academic style
Too formal, uses too many words, incorrect academic style

What to do

Most lecturers expect students to:

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  1. write objectively
  2. write clearly
  3. use the technical vocabulary of your subject area
  4. use standard English
  5. use correct English
  6. use non-discriminatory language

What NOT to do

There is much to learn from what is NOT wanted. Following are some of the small but specific mistakes in style that are made (mainly unconsciously) in formal written work.

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  1. Do not use colloquial language or slang
  2. Do not use shortened forms of words and phrases incorrectly
  3. Avoid using personal language
  4. Avoid using language that is emotional
  5. Avoid using words that express your opinion tooooooo strongly
  6. Avoid using unnecessary words
  7. Avoid using brackets and dashes to add information
  8. Do not use dot/bullet point lists unless you are instructed to
  9. Do not shift verb tense unnecessarily
  10. Do not use exclamation marks (!!!) in your essay
  11. Do not use questions and commands
  12. Do not misuse font and font styles (mainly italics & underlining)

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