5.5 How to write in an academic style
1. Create an objective, confident voice
Use the third person (this means not using 'I')
Most of the time you will be expected to use the third person as it enables you to show that you are being objective.
You could try using:
- This essay discusses the importance of ...
- This research shows that ...
- It could be said that ...
Consider your use of tenses
You need to be clear about whether you are discussing something that happened in the past or something that is having an impact upon the present.
The present tense:
- Smith's argument illustrates that ...
- Freud's theory supports the view that...
The past tense:
- The Industrial Revolution had an impact upon society in a number of different ways.
- The interviews were conducted with a group of parents in the Leicestershire area.
2. Use appropriate language for your audience and purpose
Academic writing need not be complicated, but it does need to have an element of formality. Your choice of words for an academic assignment should be more considered and careful.
- Rather than; 'don't', 'can't', 'it's', 'should've',
You could try: 'do not', 'cannot', 'it is', 'should have'
Use the full forms of words
- Rather than: 'TV', 'memo', or 'quote' You could try: 'television', 'memorandum' or 'quotation'
Avoid using informal words
- Rather than: Smith's bit of research is ok.
You could try: Smith's research is
significant because ...
- Rather than using words such as: 'get', 'got' or 'a lot'
You could try: 'obtain', 'obtained' or 'many'
3. Be clear and concise
Keep words simple:
- Rather than: The denotation was obfuscated by the orator.
You could try: The meaning was hidden by the speaker.
Aim for the right word for the right occasion:
- Example 1: Crusade against crime
- Example 2: Campaign against crime
The word 'crusade' has connotations of a battle and is more aggressive in tone than the word 'campaign'. 'Campaign' implies a more considered approach
Make every word count:
- Rather than: The theorist called Sigmund Freud wrote a significant piece of work called On Narcissism which offers valuable insights into ...
You could try: Freud (1914) offers valuable insights into ...
Avoid any vague words or phrases:
- Ensure that your reader knows who or what you are referring to when you use words such as: 'it', 'them', 'they'.
- Words such as 'people' and 'ideas' have the potential to be vague. So, avoid saying: 'according to many people'. Ensure that you explain which people or which ideas.
- When talking about events that have happened in the past, avoid phrases such as: 'in the past' or 'in recent times'. You need to be specific.
Avoid using clichéd phrases:
- A cliché is a phrase or expression that is overused to such an extent that it losess its value. For example, 'as bright as a button' or as 'clear as mud'.
4. Use language sensitively
Avoid expressing strong opinions too directly Academic writing is concerned with presenting your discussion in an objective way, so there is no need to assert your opinions too strongly
- Rather than: Smith has an extremely important point to make because
You could try: Smith's view is significant because ...
- So avoid words like: 'very', 'really', 'quite' and 'extremely'.
Lean towards caution
We need to be aware that our views are contributing to a much wider debate surrounding your given topic. Your use of language must show that we you making suggestions which contribute to this wider discussion:
- Rather than: 'This view is correct because ...'
- You could try: 'It could be said that ...', 'It appears that ...', 'It seems that ...'
Avoid using taboo language
- In academic writing it is important not to offend your reader – you want her/him to trust your judgment and authority. Using swear words or making offensive comments will upset the balance of your writing and undermine your point of view.
Do not stereotype, generalise or make assumptions
- This especially applies to individuals or groups on the basis of their gender, race, nationality, religion, physical and mental capacity, age, sexuality, marital status, or political beliefs.
Your use of language should always remain neutral.
- Rather than: fireman or policeman Try using: fire fighter or police officer
- Rather than: mankind
Try using: humankind
In the past, you might have had problems getting that polished, professional feel to your essays, but you couldn’t quite figure out why. Are your ideas too underdeveloped? Is your thesis statement not good enough? Do you not have enough support for your arguments?
Sometimes the problem with your essay is simply the point of view you choose to write in. Using third-person writing can make a world of difference in giving your essay the right tone.
Three Different Points of View
If you’re not sure what the different points of view are, I’ll give you a run-down and some examples to help you see more clearly. And for an added bonus, I’ll give you a couple clips from the king of narration himself, Morgan Freeman.
When you write in first person, you use I and me. Think of yourself as the “first person”–any pronoun that indicates something you do or think is going to be first person. You see this a lot when you’re reading books from the main character’s perspective.
Typically, however, first-person writing is not very effective in writing essays. (We’ll get to why that is in a second.)
Example: I believe that third-person writing is the best point of view when writing an essay.
First-person writing or narration also uses us and we, as you’ll see in this example:
Second-person point of view uses the pronoun you. Second-person writing is the equivalent to a choose-your-own-adventure novel or a self-help book. It speaks directly to the audience.
However, the conversational tone of writing in second-person is not usually ideal for academic writing.
Example: You would do better on your essays if you wrote in third person.
It is important to note that when you aren’t writing strictly in third person, the point of view can shift from sentence to sentence.
In the next example, you’ll notice that both first-person and second-person points of view are present. The lyrics Freeman reads shift between using “you/your” and first-person singular pronouns throughout the clip.
Third-person writing uses the pronouns they, him, her, and it, as well as proper nouns. This is the type of writing you would see in a novel with an outside narrator.
Example: Teachers and students agree that third-person writing makes essays sound better.
Here’s one last video example, this one using third-person perspective, from the man with the golden voice:
Why Third-Person Writing is Important
Third-Person Writing Makes Your Essay Sound More Assertive.
If you write your essay in first person, you risk the chance of statements like “I think” or “I believe.” These kinds of statements sound more passive than just stating your facts. Notice the difference between the following sentences:
This is why I believe jazz is the first form of truly American music.
This is why jazz is the first form of truly American music.
The second sentence–the one that uses third-person–sets a more definite tone. You are presenting the sentence as a statement of fact instead of a personal belief.
Third-Person Writing Makes Your Support Sound More Credible.
On a related note, first-person writing makes your support sound like it’s coming from a non-credible source. Presenting facts or opinions with “I think” or “I believe” in front doesn’t give any validity to the statement.
Third-person writing encourages you to use other sources to validate your claims. The following two sentences will illustrate this further:
I believe that children should consume less sugar because it leads to higher risk of obesity.
According to the Obesity Action Coalition, children who consume a lot of sugar have an increased risk of obesity.
The second sentence pulls an authoritative source to support the claim instead of you, the writer. This makes the claim more credible to the reader.
Third-Person Writing Sounds Less Conversational and More Professional.
As I mentioned before, writing in the first or second person leads to a more conversational tone. While this may be good for some forms of writing (this blog post, for example), you want your academic writing to take on a more formal tone. Consider the following examples:
When writing a novel, you should think about what kind of tone you want to portray before choosing which point of view you want to use.
When writing a novel, authors should think about the kind of tone they want to portray before choosing which point of view they want to use.
The first sentence creates a more intimate and conversational tone with the reader, but the second sentence tells the reader what kind of person (authors) would benefit from reading the sentence.
It is more specific and, therefore, creates a more formal tone.
Exceptions to the Third-Person Writing Rule
I won’t ever tell you that it’s always a good idea to write one specific way. Third-person writing is usually a good idea in academic writing, but there are cases where first-person writing is a better call.
When You’re Writing A Personal Narrative.
Personal narrative essays are designed to tell the reader something that has happened in your life, so first-person writing would be the preferred choice here. Whether it be something that embarrassed you, angered you, or made you proud or happy, narrative essays are all about real-world life experiences.
When You’re Talking About Your Own Opinions.
Like narrative essays, using your own opinions in essays may sometimes require the use of the first person, especially if you are drawing on personal experiences. Usually, this will happen in persuasive essays.
It is important to note that you should still try to use third-person writing for your persuasive essays because, as I mentioned earlier, it will give a more formal tone and more credibility to your argument. However, if some personal experience is especially relevant, it would be okay to use the first person (unless your teacher says otherwise, of course).
When You’re Doing Other Informal Types of Writing.
Essays are not the only types of writing assignments you’re likely to receive. Short stories and poetry pop up in classes from time to time, and these can be written any number of ways. Short stories can take the first- or third-person perspective–they rarely use second person. Poetry can use any of the three points of view.
(For more, read When to Use First-Person Writing in Your Essays)
When you are concentrating strictly on academic essays, third-person writing is (usually) crucial. And it’s not hard to do. Just look at any references to yourself or the reader and change around the sentence to eliminate the I, me, you, we, and us pronouns. Doing so will make your writing stronger, clearer, and more professional.
If you still can’t quite get the hang of third-person writing, there’s no need to stress out over it. Just send your essay to one of the Kibin editors to help you out.
Now… go try your hand at third-person writing!
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