UC Davis geotechnical engineering graduate students discuss research posters, one common genre of academic writing
It has been suggested that Scientific writing be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2024.

Academic writing or scholarly writing refers primarily to nonfiction writing that is produced as part of academic work in accordance with the standards of a particular academic subject or discipline, including:

as well as undergraduate versions of all of these.[1]

Academic writing typically uses a more formal tone and follows specific conventions. Central to academic writing is its intertextuality, or an engagement with existing scholarly conversations through meticulous citing or referencing of other academic work, which underscores the writer's participation in the broader discourse community. However, the exact style, content, and organization of academic writing can vary depending on the specific genre and publication method. Despite this variation, all academic writing shares some common features,[2][page needed] including a commitment to intellectual integrity, the advancement of knowledge, and the rigorous application of disciplinary methodologies.

Academic style

Academic writing often features prose register that is conventionally characterized by "evidence...that the writer(s) have been persistent, open-minded and disciplined in the study"; that prioritizes "reason over emotion or sensual perception"; and that imagines a reader who is "coolly rational, reading for information, and intending to formulate a reasoned response."[3]

Three linguistic patterns[4][page needed] that correspond to these goals across fields and genres, include the following:

  1. a balance of caution and certainty, or a balance of hedging and boosting;[5][6]
  2. explicit cohesion through a range of cohesive ties and moves;[2][page needed] and
  3. the use of compressed noun phrases, rather than dependent clauses, for adding detail.[7]

The stylistic means of achieving these conventions will differ by academic discipline, seen, for example, in the distinctions between writing in history versus engineering, or writing in physics versus philosophy.[8][page needed] Biber and Gray propose further differences in the complexity of academic writing between disciplines, seen, for example, in the distinctions between writing in the humanities versus writing in the sciences. In the humanities, academic style is often seen in elaborated complex texts, while in the sciences, academic style is often seen in highly-structured concise texts. These stylistic differences are thought to be related to the types of knowledge and information being communicated in these two broad fields.[9]

One theory that attempts to account for these differences in writing is known as "discourse communities".[10]


Main article: Academese

Academic style has often been criticized for being too full of jargon and hard to understand by the general public.[11][12] In 2022, Joelle Renstrom argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on academic writing and that many scientific articles now "contain more jargon than ever, which encourages misinterpretation, political spin, and a declining public trust in the scientific process."[13]

Discourse community

See also: Community of inquiry

A discourse community is a group of people that shares mutual interests and beliefs. "It establishes limits and regularities...who may speak, what may be spoken, and how it is to be said; in addition, [rules] prescribe what is true and false, what is reasonable and what foolish, and what is meant and what not."[14]

The concept of a discourse community is vital to academic writers across all disciplines, for the academic writer's purpose is to influence how their community understands its field of study: whether by maintaining, adding to, revising, or contesting what that community regards as "known" or "true." To effectively communicate and persuade within their field, academic writers are motivated to adhere to the conventions and standards set forth by their discourse community. Such adherence ensures that their contributions are intelligible and recognized as legitimate.

Discourse community constraints

Constraints are the discourse community's accepted rules and norms of writing that determine what can and cannot be said in a particular field or discipline. They define what constitutes an acceptable argument. Every discourse community expects to see writers construct their arguments using the community's conventional style of language, vocabulary, and sources, which are the building blocks of any argument in that community.[15]

Writing for a discourse community

For writers to become familiar with some of the constraints of the discourse community they are writing for, across most discourse communities, writers must:

The structure and presentation of arguments can vary based on the discourse community the writer is a part of. For example, a high school student would typically present arguments differently than a college student. It is important for academic writers to familiarize themselves with the conventions of their discourse community by analyzing existing literature within the field. Such an in-depth understanding will enable writers to convey their ideas and arguments more effectively, ensuring that their contributions resonate with and are valued by their peers in the discourse community.

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is a comprehensive educational initiative designed not only to enhance student writing proficiency across diverse disciplinary contexts but also to foster faculty development and interdisciplinary dialogue. [16][17][18] The Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse provides resources for such programs at all levels of education.

Novel argument

In a discourse community, academic writers build on the ideas of previous writers to establish their own claims. Successful writers know the importance of conducting research within their community and applying the knowledge gained to their own work. By synthesizing and expanding upon existing ideas, writers are able to make novel contributions to the discourse.


Intertextuality is the combining of past writings into original, new pieces of text. According to Julia Kristeva, all texts are part of a larger network of intertextuality, meaning they are connected to prior texts through various links, such as allusions, repetitions, and direct quotations, whether they are acknowledged or not.[16] Writers (often unwittingly) make use of what has previously been written and thus some degree of borrowing is inevitable. One of the key characteristics of academic writing across disciplines is the use of explicit conventions for acknowledging intertextuality, such as citation and bibliography. The conventions for marking intertextuality vary depending on the discourse community, with examples including MLA, APA, IEEE, and Chicago styles.

Summarizing and integrating other texts in academic writing is often metaphorically described as "entering the conversation," as described by Kenneth Burke:[17]

"Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress."

Key elements

While the need for appropriate references and the avoidance of plagiarism are undisputed in academic and scholarly writing, the appropriate style is still a matter of debate. Some aspects of writing are universally accepted as important, while others are more subjective and open to interpretation.

Contrary to stereotype, published academic research is not particularly syntactically complex;[18] it is instead a fairly low-involvement register characterized by the modification of nominal elements[19] through hedging and refining elaborations, often presented as sequences of objects of prepositions such as what, where, when, and whom.
Logical structure
Writing should be organized in a manner which demonstrates clarity of thought.[20]
Appropriate references
Generally speaking, the range and organization of references illustrate the writer's awareness of the current state of knowledge in the field (including major current disagreements or controversies); typically the expectation is that these references will be formatted in the relevant disciplinary citation system.[21]
Typically, this lists those materials read as background, evidencing wider reading,[20] and will include the sources of individual citations.
Avoidance of plagiarism
Plagiarism, the "wrongful appropriation of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions", and the representation of them as one's own original work, is considered academic dishonesty, and can lead to severe consequences.[22] However, the delineation of plagiarism is not always straightforward, as interpretations of what constitutes plagiarism can vary significantly across different cultures. This complexity is further amplified by the advent of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), which have both complicated the detection of plagiarism and introduced new considerations in defining originality and authorship.

Academic genres

Academic journals collect research articles and are often categorized as "Periodicals" in university libraries. Here, the periodical collection of the Foster Business Library at the University of Washington

Academic writing encompasses many different genres, indicating the many different kinds of authors, audiences and activities engaged in the academy and the variety of kinds of messages sent among various people engaged in the academy. The partial list below indicates the complexity of academic writing and the academic world it is part of.

By researchers for other researchers

Technical or administrative forms

Collating the work of others

Research and planning

Newer forms

By graduate students for their advisors and committees

By undergraduate students for their instructors

By instructors for students

Summaries of knowledge for researchers, students or general public

Disseminating knowledge outside the academy

Personal forms often for general public

These are acceptable to some academic disciplines, e.g. Cultural studies, Fine art, Feminist studies, Queer theory, Literary studies

Emotions in higher-education academic writing

Participating in higher education writing can entail high stakes. For instance, one's GPA may be influenced by writing performance in a class and the consequent grade received, potentially stirring negative emotions such as confusion and anxiety. Research on emotions and writing indicates that there is a relationship between writing identity and displaying emotions within an academic atmosphere. Instructors cannot simply read off one's identity and determine how it should be formatted. The structure of higher education, particularly within universities, is in a state of continual evolution, shaping and developing student writing identities.[23] Nevertheless, this dynamic can lead to a positive contribution to one's academic writing identity in higher education.[24] Unfortunately, higher education does not value mistakes, which makes it difficult for students to discover an academic identity. This can lead to a lack of confidence when submitting assignments. A student must learn to be confident enough to adapt and refine previous writing styles to succeed.[25]

Academic writing can be seen as stressful, uninteresting, and difficult. When placed in the university setting, these emotions can contribute to student dropout. However, academic writing development can prevent fear and anxiety from developing if self-efficacy is high and anxiety is low.[26] External factors can also prevent enjoyment in academic writing including finding time and space to complete assignments. Studies have shown core members of a "community of practice" concerning writing reports are more of a positive experience than those who do not.[27] Overall emotions, lack of confidence, and prescriptive notions about what an academic writing identity should resemble can hinder a student's ability to succeed.


A commonly recognized format for presenting original research in the social and applied sciences is known as IMRD, an initialism that refers to the usual ordering of subsections:


Standalone methods sections are atypical in presenting research in the humanities; other common formats in the applied and social sciences are IMRAD (which offers an "Analysis" section separate from the implications presented in the "Discussion" section) and IRDM (found in some engineering subdisciplines, which features Methods at the end of the document).

Other common sections in academic documents are:

See also


  1. ^ Nesi, Hilary; Gardner, Sheena (2012). Genres across the Disciplines: Student Writing in Higher Education. Cambridge Applied Linguistics. Cambridge UP. ISBN 978-0-521-14959-4.
  2. ^ a b Swales, John (1990). Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Applied Linguistics. ISBN 978-0521338134.
  3. ^ Thaiss, Chris; Zawacki, Terry Myers (2006). Engaged Writers and Dynamic Disciplines: Research on the Academic Writing Life. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook. pp. 5–7. ISBN 9780867095562.
  4. ^ Aull, Laura (2020). How students write: a linguistic analysis. New York: The Modern Language Association of America. ISBN 978-1-60329-468-3.
  5. ^ Lancaster, Zak (2016-02-01). "Do Academics Really Write This Way? A Corpus Investigation of Moves and Templates in 'They Say / I Say'". College Composition & Communication. 67 (3): 437–464. doi:10.58680/ccc201628067. ISSN 0010-096X.
  6. ^ Hyland, Ken (May 2005). "Stance and engagement: a model of interaction in academic discourse". Discourse Studies. 7 (2): 173–192. doi:10.1177/1461445605050365. ISSN 1461-4456.
  7. ^ Biber, Douglas; Gray, Bethany (March 2010). "Challenging stereotypes about academic writing: Complexity, elaboration, explicitness". Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 9 (1): 2–20. doi:10.1016/j.jeap.2010.01.001.
  8. ^ Hyland, Ken (2004). Disciplinary discourses: social interactions in academic writing (Michigan Classics ed.). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-03024-8.
  9. ^ Biber, Douglas; Gray, Bethany (2016-05-26). Grammatical Complexity in Academic English: Linguistic Change in Writing. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-00926-4.
  10. ^ Swales, John (1990). "The Concept of Discourse Community". Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge applied linguistics series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 21–32. ISBN 978-0-521-32869-2.
  11. ^ Pinker, Steven (2014-09-26). "Why Academics Stink at Writing". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Archived from the original on 2020-09-04. Retrieved 2021-09-01.
  12. ^ Blyth, Mark (2012-03-09). "Five minutes with Mark Blyth: "Turn it into things people can understand, let go of the academese, and people will engage"". Impact of Social Sciences. Archived from the original on 2011-01-31. Retrieved 2021-09-01.
  13. ^ Renstrom, Joelle (2022-04-06). "How Science Itself Fuels a Culture of Misinformation". The Wire Science. Retrieved 2022-06-22.
  14. ^ Leitch, Vincent B. Deconstructive Criticism. New York: Cornell UP, 1983: 145.
  15. ^ "Chapter 1.2: Discourse Communities and Conventions". myText CNM. Retrieved 2024-02-16.
  16. ^ a b Roozen, Kevin. (2015) "Texts Get Their Meaning from Other Texts." Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts in Writing Studies, Adler-Kassner & Wardle, eds. Logan: Utah State UP, 44-47,
  17. ^ a b Burke, Kenneth (1941). The Philosophy of Literary Form. Berkeley: University of California Press, 110-111.
  18. ^ a b Biber, Douglas; Gray, Bethany (2010). "Challenging stereotypes about academic writing: Complexity, elaboration, explicitness". Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 9 (1): 2–20. doi:10.1016/j.jeap.2010.01.001. S2CID 59059809.
  19. ^ Brown, David West; Aull, Laura L. (2017). "Elaborated Specificity versus Emphatic Generality: A Corpus-Based Comparison of Higher- and Lower-Scoring Advanced Placement Exams in English". Research in the Teaching of English. 51 (4): 394–417. doi:10.58680/rte201729118.
  20. ^ a b Open University, 7. Academic writing – general principles, accessed 10 January 2023
  21. ^ Giltrow, Janet and Michele Valiquette. (1994). Genres and knowledge: Students writing in the disciplines. In Freedman, Aviva; Peter Medway (Eds.), Learning and teaching genre, Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook (pp. 47-62).
  22. ^ Council of Writing Program Administrators, "Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices". Princeton University. 2012-07-27
  23. ^ Clegg, Sue (June 2008). "Academic identities under threat?". British Educational Research Journal. 34 (3): 329–345. doi:10.1080/01411920701532269. ISSN 0141-1926.
  24. ^ French, Amanda (2018-11-30). "Academic Writing: Anxiety, Confusion and the Affective Domain: Why Should Subject Lecturers Acknowledge the Social and Emotional Aspects of Writing Development Processes?". Journal of Academic Writing. 8 (2): 202–211. doi:10.18552/joaw.v8i2.487. ISSN 2225-8973.
  25. ^ French, Amanda (2018-07-04). "'Fail better': Reconsidering the role of struggle and failure in academic writing development in higher education". Innovations in Education and Teaching International. 55 (4): 408–416. doi:10.1080/14703297.2016.1251848. ISSN 1470-3297.
  26. ^ Bin Abdul Hamid, Muhammad Fadzli (2023-08-21). "The Effects of Self-Evaluation Writing Strategy Checksheets on Writing Self-Efficacy, Writing Anxiety and Academic Writing Outcomes". essay.utwente.nl. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  27. ^ Cunningham, Clare (2022-11-26). ""It's exciting and rewarding!": structured mini writing retreats as a tool for undergraduate researchers". Journal of Further and Higher Education. 46 (10): 1421–1433. doi:10.1080/0309877X.2022.2085031. ISSN 0309-877X.

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