Academic Writing

By Rosemary Jones

Looking at the big picture

Academic writing is based on analysis - the process of breaking down ideas - to increase one's understanding. It uses deductive reasoning, semiformal voice, and third person point-of-view.

Characteristics of academic writing


General purpose - to present information that displays a clear understanding of a subject

Specific purpose - varies according to the assignment:

Argument and Persuasion - To persuade readers to accept the writer's opinion
Exposition* - To explain something
Description - To describe something
Narration - To tell a story

* The purpose of writing in HSC English 181 and 182 is exposition.

What is expository writing?

Expository writing is an explanation of a topic by answering the following questions:

What types of development are used for expository writing?

Structure of academic writing


The introduction (opening paragraph) basically accomplishes two goals:

  1. Gains the reader’s attention
  1. Identifies the focus, or thesis, that is developed in the main part (body) of the essay

There are several ways to draw the reader’s attention to the subject:


Developmental paragraphs (body paragraphs) are the heart of an essay.

The paragraphs should flow smoothly from one to the next, e.g. the first sentence in each new paragraph serves as an effective link to the preceding paragraph. In addition, minor supporting ideas are linked together within the paragraphs in a smooth manner.


The conclusion is the summary paragraph. It should accomplish the following:

·         Remind the reader of the paper's thesis by paraphrasing it

·         Tie together all of the important points in the essay by way of a summary and draw a final conclusion for the reader.


General-to-specific sequence

The topic sentence should be the first sentence in a paragraph. The topic sentence is a general statement introducing the paragraph and is followed by specific details that expand, explain, or illustrate the topic sentence.


All the sentences should relate to one topic.


Supporting ideas should be developed enough to cover the topic.


Coherence equals connection and consistency. All sentences in a paper should be related logically and grammatically to make a whole that allows the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought step by step. Body paragraphs should flow smoothly from one to the next, e.g. the first sentence in each new paragraph serves as an effective link to the preceding paragraph. In addition, minor supporting ideas are linked together within the paragraphs in a smooth manner. Within a paragraph, there are three major ways to develop coherence through related sentences:

1.      Repetition of important words and pronouns - Repetition of key words helps the reader follow from sentence to sentence as important terms are defined and the relationship between them is explained.

2.      Synonyms and substitutions - Synonyms are two or more words that have nearly the same thing. Substitution is a word that describes the subject.

3.      Transitional expressions - Transitional expressions are words and phrases that point out the exact relationship between one idea and another, one sentence and another, e.g. therefore, however, for example, finally, etc.

Just as the sentences within a paragraph should flow smoothly, so the paragraphs within an essay should be clearly linked one to the next. The first sentence of each new paragraph is linked to the thesis statement or to the paragraph before. The following are four ways to link paragraphs:

1.      Repetition of key words or ideas from the thesis statement

2.      Reference to words or ideas from the preceding paragraph

3.      Use of transitional expressions

4.      Use of transitional sentences

A closer look at development

Comparison and Contrast

There are two ways to present similarities and differences between two things being compared or contrasted.

Block (whole vs. whole)

This method presents all the information about A and then provides parallel information about B.

First all A:     Point 1

                        Point 2

                        Point 3

Then all B:      Point 1

                        Point 2

                        Point 3

This pattern is good for short compositions. The reader can easily remember what was said about A by the time he or she gets around to B.

Point-by-point (topic by topic)

This method moves back and forth between A and B, presenting one point about A and then going to the parallel point about B. Then, it moves to the next point and does the same.

First A, Point 1            Then B, Point 1

First A, Point 2            Then B, Point 2

First A, Point 3            Then B, Point 3

This pattern is better for longer papers, where it might be hard for the reader to remember what the writer said about A by the time he or she gets to B a few paragraphs later. By going back and forth, the writer makes it easier for the reader to keep the contrasts or comparisons in mind.

Extended Definition

There are five basic methods to expand a definition:

1.      Comparing it to something else

2.      Telling what it is not

3.      Describing it in detail

4.      Classifying it by explaining the different kinds

5.      Using exemplification


There are two kinds of process essays:

1.      The how-to essay gives readers directions on how they can do something, e.g. perform a chemistry experiment. This process is generally written in the passive voice.

2.      The explanation essay tells readers how something develops, e.g., photosynthesis, plasmodium, the life cycle of the malarial parasite, etc. This process is generally written in the active voice and uses simple present tense.

Citing sources

Why use quotations, paraphrases, and summaries?

Quotations, paraphrases, and summaries serve many purposes:

·         Provide proof or credibility to one’s writing

·         Refer to work that leads up to the work the writer is doing now

·         Give examples of two or more points of view on a subject

·         Add depth or breadth to one’s writing

What are the differences between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing?


Quotations must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.


Paraphrasing is putting another person’s ideas into one’s own words using one’s own sentence structure and style of writing. A paraphrase simplifies a selection; it does not necessarily shorten it. Paraphrased material must also be attributed to the original source.


To summarize, one must put the main thoughts or ideas into one’s own words, but it is only necessary to include the “main points.” Summarizing cuts a selection down to about one-third of its original length. Its purpose is to shorten a passage without sacrificing its basic meaning. Once again, it is necessary to attribute the ideas to the original source.

What is meant by APA reference and parenthetical citation?

The reference page and parenthetical citation are necessary in essays that contain ideas that are not based on background knowledge and are not commonly known; in other words, this is information that comes from source material.

Science students use the APA reference style sheet, one of many style sheet conventions, as a guideline for accurate formatting of academic papers.

Following the guidelines of such a style sheet is important for three reasons:

1.      The reader can gain deeper knowledge of a subject matter.

2.      The reader can check for the relevance of summaries, paraphrases, and quotations.

3.      The reader can verify quoted, summarized, and paraphrased material.