Do you know what academic writing is, and how to write academic papers? Follow these academic writing tips to improve your writing for college essays.
Note: If you are an English language learner, keep in mind that this post is written with Advanced level vocabulary. Use your dictionary if you do not understand the vocabulary in this article. Good luck!
7 Academic Writing Tips for English Learners
#1: Use a formal tone
Tone is the “mood” of the paper. What “mood” will your paper have? It should be serious, sophisticated, and professional. The words you choose, the content, and the sentence structures should all have this professional tone.
Remember these tips for using formal tone:
- Use the Active Voice (not the Passive Voice)
- Avoid contractions and abbreviations
- Do not use emotional language (words like “terrible” or “horrible” or “exciting”)
- Avoid qualifiers such as “a little” and “definitely”
- Avoid phrases such as “I believe” and “I think”
Tip #2: Use the third person rather than first person
When writing, always use the third person (he/she/it/they) and not the first person (I/we).
Here are some examples of first person vs. third person writing.
- In this paper, I am going to examine the negative effects of smoking on lung health, heart health, and overall health. (first person)
- This paper examines the negative effects of smoking on lung health, heart health, and overall health. (third person)
- We believe that there were many errors in the study, which led to some errors in the research data. (first person)
- This group agrees that there were many errors in the study, which led to some errors in the research data. (third person)
Tip #3: Avoid generalizations; use evidence-based arguments
Words such as “always” and “every” and “never” are used in generalizations, and generalizations are things that cannot easily be proven true. Rather, use clear statistics and data from a well-trusted source (more on that later).
Instead of writing:
- Coffee almost always increases blood flow in the body.
- Researchers state that coffee increases blood flow in the body by up to 70%.
Instead of writing:
- Almost all Americans drink coffee.
- A recent study states that 75% of Americans have at least one cup of coffee in the morning.
Tip #4: Use proper diction (word choice)
Diction is your choice of words. The words you choose (formal or informal) will help create the tone of your paper.
To understand how to use proper diction, you must first understand the difference between formal and informal vocabulary. Informal vocabulary includes slang, idioms, phrasal verbs, and words used when speaking with close friends. Standard and formal* diction includes the words used more often when writing (and used less when speaking).
Here are some examples of formal vs. informal diction.
- GET vs. OBTAIN, RECEIVE
- GIVE vs. PROVIDE
- GO UP vs. INCREASE
- GO DOWN vs. DECREASE, DECLINE
- LEAVE OUT vs. OMIT
- KEEP vs. RETAIN
- SHOW vs. DEMONSTRATE, ILLUSTRATE, or PORTRAY
- NEED TO vs. REQUIRE
- PIC or PHOTO vs. PHOTOGRAPH
- WRONG vs. INCORRECT
- CHEAP vs. INEXPENSIVE
- HARD vs. DIFFICULT
- GOOD vs. POSITIVE
- BAD VS. NEGATIVE
*Formal diction is the most formal: this includes the words your professor might use when giving a lecture.
Tip #5: Use proper punctuation
Punctuation helps make a paper more formal. Learn how to properly use the comma, colon, semicolon, parenthesis, and em-dash to increase the length and complexity of your sentences. This will give your paper a more formal tone.
Punctuation can also make a paper seem too informal. In general, avoid using the question mark (you aren’t asking questions in your paper: you are answering them!). Additionally, avoid using the exclamation point. This excited tone is not appropriate for an academic paper.
Tip #6: Have a clear thesis statement
What exactly is the purpose of your paper? This is your thesis statement. Your thesis should be in the introductory paragraph of your paper and it should clearly state what your paper will prove.
A thesis statement should not be a general claim (such as “Smoking is bad for you.”). Instead, it should be something that can be argued. According to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL):
“An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.”
Here are some examples of well-constructed, strong thesis statements from OWL.
- At least 25 percent of the federal budget should be spent on helping upgrade business to clean technologies, researching renewable energy sources, and planting more trees in order to control or eliminate pollution.
- America’s anti-pollution efforts should focus on privately owned cars because it would allow most citizens to contribute to national efforts and care about the outcome.
Tip #7: Use research from proper sources
A “source” is the place where you get the information you use to create your arguments for your paper. There are quality sources, which are trusted, and then there are sources that are not trustworthy. Examples of quality research sources include:
- Academic journals. Articles in academic journals are peer reviewed, which means that other professionals read, edit, and approve the content of the articles. Many academic journals are published online and most students have access to these journals with their student ID.
- Non-profit news (such as National Public Radio). These organizations are not-for-profit and do a great job of presenting facts and unbiased news.
- Non-fiction books with bibliographies. These books use many sources (which are hopefully accurate!) to create their content. The author presents his or her opinion based on facts, evidence, and research.
The International Education Center at Diablo Valley College offers courses to improve your academic writing. Contact IEC@DVC for more information on its courses and programs.