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Language Used in Academic Writing

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Language Used in Academic Writing

Imagine your friend asks you to describe your favorite book to him. You excitedly explain all of your favorite parts without paying attention to your use of grammar, vocabulary, or slang. Since you are talking about this book in a casual conversation, you don't have to worry about those aspects.

But now imagine you have to write an essay about the book for English class. Now you do have to think about those components. This is because essays for school require formal academic writing. Using the proper language for academic writing is important because it helps ensure easy-to-read and credible essays that make an intellectual impact in their field.

Language Used in Academic Writing, Formal, StudySmarterThe language used in academic writing is formal and specific. Flaticon.

What is Academic Writing?

Academic writing is scholarly writing done for academic institutions.

Writers need to use academic language when writing papers for an academic institution, such as a high school or university. When writers submit writing to an academic journal or organization, they also need to use formal academic language. There are several types of academic writing, and the type a writer uses will depend on the purpose of the work.

Types of Academic Writing

There are four main types of academic writing: descriptive, analytical, persuasive, and critical.

Descriptive

Descriptive academic writing is straightforward writing in which writers describe facts. For instance, a report about the effectiveness of a program or the status of global warming are both pieces of descriptive academic writing.

Analytical

Analytical academic writing is writing that requires analyzing facts and information. Analytical academic writing often includes some descriptive writing, but after presenting the facts, writers need to analyze the information to reveal insightful connections and theories.

Persuasive

Persuasive writing is a type of analytical academic writing in which a writer tries to convince the reader that their point of view on a topic is the right one. In a piece of persuasive writing, the writer states an argument and uses multiple pieces of relevant evidence to support that argument.

Critical

Critical writing is a type of writing that students at the undergraduate or post-graduate level often use. Critical writing consists of in-depth analysis and features at least two perspectives on a topic. For instance, detailed literature reviews can be examples of critical writing because they analyze the insights and limitations of previous research on a topic.

Language Used in Academic Writing, Three Types, StudySmarterAcademic writing can be descriptive, analytical, persuasive, or critical. Pixabay.

Components of Academic Writing Language

There are several key components of academic writing, including formal tone, academic features, and appropriate language.

Language Formalities and Tone Used in Academic Writing

Formal academic writing is writing that is direct, objective, and respectful. It is the opposite of how one would speak or write in a casual manner to a friend. Instead of writing with colloquial expressions, slang, and incomplete sentences, formal writing consists of full words and sentences, follows all grammar rules, and uses a formal tone.

For example, the sentence “To Whom It May Concern,” establishes a respectful tone. This is the opposite of the informal “Hey, what's up?”, which one might text message to a friend in an informal context.

Features of Language Used in Academic Writing

In addition to being formal, the language used in academic writing should be:

Concise. Writers should avoid using too many words in their writing. Getting straight to the point ensures that all parts of an essay contribute to the development of the main ideas. For example, imagine a writer is writing about the theme of justice in literature and wants to mention Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) as evidence.

Not Concise: "The American author Harper Lee also wrote a book a long time ago about justice called To Kill a Mockingbird. The book is about a little girl named Scout who loves her brother Jem and is curious about her neighbor Boo Radley. She also loves her father Atticus a lot, who is a lawyer defending an innocent African American man against a felony charge in a small town. The man is innocent, but because of systemic racism he is found guilty, which shows the problems in the justice system."

  • This writing is not concise because the writer includes unnecessary information such as how Lee wrote the book "a long time ago" and the people Scout loves.

Concise: "At the height of the United States' civil rights movement, Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a book about an African American man who is wrongfully convicted of a felony despite a clear lack of evidence."

  • This is a concise sentence. The writer only includes relevant information and immediately shows how the topic relates to the main topic of the paper.

Clear. Writing should be as direct and easy to understand as possible. To ensure this, writers should use straightforward words to describe a concept, rather than fluffy or passive language. They should also avoid esoteric vocabulary. For example, imagine a writer wants to analyze Shakespeare's use of metaphor in his poetry. The following examples show the difference between unclear and clear writing on the topic:

Unclear: "Shakespeare's extravagant metaphors were filled with passion and intertwined the concept of nature with the power of the human body.

  • This is an unclear sentence. The writer uses passive language when they say "metaphors were filled" and uses confusing and vague adjectives, such as "extravagant" and "intertwined." The point about the metaphors is not immediately evident.

Clear: "Shakespeare uses metaphors to compare nature to the human heart."

  • This is a clear sentence. The writer does not use confusing or vague language.

Evidence-Based. Effective academic writing is based on evidence. Writers should avoid making claims that they cannot support. They need to point to facts or quotes from a text to prove that what they are saying is credible.

Academic writing also typically includes citations. All information from outside sources should be cited according to the required style guide, such as MLA or APA. Citing information correctly ensures that writing is credible and original.

Types of Appropriate Language Used in Academic Writing

The language used in academic writing is also:

Impersonal. Academic writers should avoid using personal pronouns such as “I,” “you,” and “we.” They should also refrain from discussing their own lives.

Objective. A critical part of evidence-based formal writing is using objective language. Language that is objective is not based on personal opinions. Writers should strive to avoid opinionated language and instead base their claims on fact.

Imagine a writer is writing an essay about a book and says, “This is an enjoyable book to read!” This is not the proper language for academic writing, because it is a casual expression of an opinion. Instead, writers need to use evidence to present objective claims. For example, the writer should say, “The author compares the seasons to the temporary nature of love through the use of metaphors and similes.” This sentence is an example of academic writing because it makes a claim about the author’s actions and uses figurative language as evidence.

Specific. Writers should avoid vague, general language that fills up space and doesn't add any substantial ideas. Words should have precise meaning. For example, writers often include vague words in their writing such as "very" or "thing." Instead, writers should use more descriptive language that relates directly to the topic at hand.

Formal language does not mean fancy language. Sometimes writers can be tempted to use lots of complex vocabulary to make a point. This may confuse readers and weaken the quality of a paper. Instead, writers should strive to be as straightforward as possible and use simple words to make complex points.

Features to Avoid in Formal Academic Writing

In addition to knowing what to include in academic writing, it is important that writers know what to avoid.

Conjunctions

Formal writing requires writing out words completely and not using conjunctions and slang. For instance, instead of using words like “didn’t” or “she’s” a writer using academic language should write “did not” and “she is.”

Idiomatic Expressions

Formal writing should also be original and direct. Idiomatic expressions are informal figurative expressions that make for dynamic conversation, but they do not belong in academic writing. For instance, the idiomatic expression: “that’s the best thing since sliced bread” is a sentence with a strong image, but it can be confusing for readers and does not support an academic thesis.

Incomplete Sentences

In addition to using complete words, language in academic writing should always use complete sentences. This means that writers should avoid sentence fragments, and they need to connect ideas clearly.

Slang

Slang words are informal words or phrases that people tend to use in informal social contexts. For example, “lit” and “no cap” are slang expressions. These should not be included in informal writing, because not all readers are able to understand their meanings.

It is important to understand the language used in academic writing when preparing for standardized exams. If students do not use academic language on formal standardized tests, they can lose points. For instance, some standardized English exams assess students on "sophistication," which scores the students' use of vivid, persuasive writing. In order to earn such points, students need to avoid the above negative features and ensure they use concise, clear, and evidence-based language.

Examples of Language Used in Academic Writing

The following is an example of descriptive academic writing about the book To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a fiction book about a girl named Scout who is growing up in the town of Maycomb, Alabama. Scout’s father Atticus is a lawyer who is tasked with defending Tom Robinson, an African-American man who is accused of a felony. Atticus proves that Tom is innocent in court, but the jury still finds him guilty because of systemic racism."

There are several features of formal language used in the above paragraph, including the following:

  • The author uses complete sentences.

  • The author uses objective language and avoids stating opinions about the book.

  • The author also avoids contractions by using phrases like “who is” instead of “who’s.”

  • The author uses straightforward and concise language. Sentences are short, specific, and to the point.

What other elements of academic writing can you identify in this passage?

Language Used in Academic Writing - Key Takeaways

  • Academic writing is scholarly writing that writers use in work for academic institutions.
  • The four main types of academic writing are descriptive, analytical, persuasive, and critical.
  • Academic writing is formal, clear, concise, evidence-based, and follows all grammar rules.
  • Academic writing should not include conjunctions, idiomatic expressions, incomplete sentences, or informal slang.

Frequently Asked Questions about Language Used in Academic Writing

Academic language uses complete words such as "did not" instead of the contraction "didn't." It also has a more formal tone. For instance, writing "To Whom It May Concern" is more formal than "Hey what's up?"

Language used in academic writing is concise, clear, and evidence-based. 

Academic language uses a formal tone, concise words, and impersonal, objective language. 

Conjunctions, idiomatic expressions, incomplete sentences, and slang should be avoided in academic writing. 

Some types of language used in academic writing are descriptive, analytical, and persuasive.

Final Language Used in Academic Writing Quiz

Question

What is academic writing?

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Answer

Academic writing is scholarly writing done for academic institutions. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a feature of academic writing?

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Answer

Idiomatic expressions 

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Question

What are the four main types of academic writing?


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Answer

Descriptive, Analytical, Persuasive, and Critical

Show question

Question

What is descriptive academic writing?


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Answer

Writing that describes facts and ideas. 

Show question

Question

True or False: Academic writing should include personal pronouns such as "I" and "you." 


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Answer

False. Academic writing should not use personal language. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following is a type of language used in academic writing?


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Answer

Specific

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Question

What is an idiomatic expression? Should they be used in academic writing? 

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Answer

An idiomatic expression is an informal figurative expression like, "it's the best thing since sliced bread!" These should not be used in academic writing. 

Show question

Question

What is objective language? 

Show answer

Answer

Objective language is language that is not based on opinion. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following should be avoided in academic writing?

Show answer

Answer

Conjunctions

Show question

Question

True or False: Academic writing is evidence-based. 

Show answer

Answer

True. Academic writers should avoid using opinions and make sure their claims can be supported with evidence. 

Show question

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