Academic Writing

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Academic Writing

  • Jennie Blake
  • TLSO

What are we doing today?

  • General Overview—what do you need from today?
  • Scientific/Academic Writing Types
  • RAFT—begin as you intend to finish
  • RUNLAW—how to break down a prompt
  • Organization, Organization, Organization
  • Questions

What do you need from today?

  • Tell me!

Types of writing

  • Case Study
  • Lab Report
  • Literature Review
  • Research/Grant Proposal
  • Thesis


  • Role—Who are you? Whom do you represent?
  • Audience—whom are you writing for?
  • Format—essay? Lab report? Professional paper? Thesis?
  • Topic—what, exactly are you writing about?

Before you begin

  • Know the expected conventions and format. Be aware of what information and format you need for citations, graphs, illustrations, etc.
  • Have a general (mental OR written) outline. It is rarely efficient to start writing without planning.
  • “It says/I say/ And So”—Results, Analysis, Conclusion


  • Read—the prompt or the call for submissions
  • Underline—key points
  • Number—those points
  • List—to organize
  • Add details
  • Write


  • Explain why it is not possible, using a single telescope, to directly detect an extra-solar planet by the visible light reflected from its star
  • Draw a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, clearly labelling the axes. Show the main sequence and regions on the diagram where red giants, blue super-giants, and white dwarfs are located.

Goals of Scientific Papers

  • If your work is any good, others will try and repeat it.
  • You need to be honest and clear about your methodology.
  • You need to be adding to humanity's knowledge (or at least your research community's knowledge).
  • How well you've done this will be judged by your peers.

Qualities of Good Academic Writing

  • clear - it avoids unnecessary detail;
  • simple - it uses direct language, avoiding vague or complicated sentences. Technical terms and jargon are used only when they are necessary for accuracy;
  • impartial - it avoids making assumptions (Everyone knows that ...) and unproven statements (It can never be proved that ...). It presents how and where data were collected and supports its conclusions with evidence;
  • structured logically - ideas and processes are expressed in a logical order. The text is divided into sections with clear headings;
  • accurate - it avoids vague and ambiguous language such as about, approximately, almost;
  • objective - statements and ideas are supported by appropriate evidence that demonstrates how conclusions have been drawn as well as acknowledging the work of others.

Choice of Language

  • Use objective rather than subjective language
  • Objective language is language that is impartial and states a fact or process; subjective language is open to question or interpretation as it implies personal thought or belief. For example:
  • objective   The car travelled at 38 kilometres per hour is a clear, objective statement of fact. However:
  • subjective  The contents of the test tube turned a beautiful blue colour
  • uses beautiful in a way that is subjective because it cannot be measured or accurately explained to the reader. Always use language that is concrete and specific rather than vague and personal.

Passive vs. Active Voice

  • Choosing a 'voice'
  • Scientific writers have a tendency to use passive rather than active expressions; stating that a was affected by b uses the passive voice while stating that b did something to a uses the active voice. The following example shows a sentence written in both the passive and active voices.
  • passive     The experiment was designed by the research officer
  • active        The research officer designed the experiment
  •  The passive voice is particularly useful when:
  • you wish your writing to be formal and depersonalised:
  • passive     It was agreed that the experiment should be...      
  • active       We agreed that the experiment should be...
  • information about the agent is obvious or unimportant:
  • passive   The water pipe was broken in three places       
  • active      Something/someone had broken the water pipe in three places
  • However, the use of the passive voice can lead to clumsy and overcomplicated sentences.
  • passive  Difficulty was experienced in obtaining the product in a high state of purity
  • is rather convoluted way of saying
  • active    The product was difficult to purify
  • which is a much clearer and more straightforward statement.

A very simple outline

  • Topic
  • Main Idea—support—support—support
  • Main Idea—support—support—support
  • Main Idea—support—support—support
  • Conclusions and ideas for further study

Some things to think of

  • For writing the text you need to:
  • think about who will read your report and modify your writing style accordingly. If you are writing for a professional audience, there will be less need to give detailed explanation of fundamentals, whereas if you are writing for a ‘lay’ audience, you will probably have to explain complex issues in a simpler way;
  • provide an abstract (or summary) that outlines the aims of the experiment, observational process or theoretical platform, give a brief verbal outline of the outcomes and what you have concluded from these (in the case of a scientific report) or a clear conclusion based on the ideas you have explained in the main body of the report (in the case of a non-scientific report). You may find it easier to write your abstract once you have finished the main body of the report;
  • follow the prescribed format and ensure that each section includes only material relevant to that section heading. Note that many disciplines encourage the use of sub-headings often numbered in a decimal notation, for example, 1 (mainheading), 1.1, 1.2, 1.3…(sub-headings);
  • use paragraphing within the sections and sub-sections of your report. Some sections can be lengthy and paragraphs can usefully break up the points and provide a clearer route for your reader in understanding the points you are expressing;
  • if you have used abbreviations that use specialist words or everyday word used in a specialised way, then you should consider creating a glossary

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