What is academic writing?

As reading week rolls around you might find yourself wondering exactly what it means to write academically at university level. Ultimately, practice makes perfect and the more academic work you read the more it’ll make sense what is expected of you. But for your first few assignments, here’s some advice on how to learn to write academically… By Amy Preston

The transition from the writing style you were used to at A Level to university level can seem quite a daunting one. You might be feeling there is little guidance given and worried your essay style writing is ‘wrong’ – but don’t worry, I’m a Masters student and I’m still not entirely sure what is expected of me! Some tutors will like your writing style and others won’t, but at the end of the day your assignments are *your* own projects, so why not put a personal stamp on them? You were accepted into Warwick because Warwick wants you to be here – your professors want to hear *your* voice.

That being said, there are some dos and don’ts when it comes to learning to write academically. Here are a few things to watch out for:

Thinking critically

In essays you’ll be expected to cite the arguments of other scholars. But one fundamental thing I’ve learned during my time at Warwick is to not let the argument of another academic stifle your own point. It’s easy to read too much of what other people have written until you forget what you wanted to say in the first place. A great tip I was told is to write down your own opinions first. Then turn to seeing what else is written out there and insert the quotes to back up your own argument. Another rule of thumb is to never use a quote if you don’t have something smart to say about it – in other words, it looks great to the marker if you show you can think critically and argue against the scholar. This comes with practice so don’t worry if you struggle at first. By the end of your final year you’ll be used to finding pitfalls in the arguments of acclaimed scholars.

Practice makes perfect with referencing

It should be well known to you by now that you are expected to cite information. After you’ve used a quote or paraphrased a point from another published work you will have to cite them. Get familiar with your department’s guide to referencing. My favourite for MLA is this website but there are plenty of other languages. Practice makes perfect with learning to reference but my number one tip is to always, always reference as you go along. This means starting your bibliography when you begin researching, so keep a note of who you’re reading and where it comes from and type the citation out correctly. You don’t want to be the one panicking an hour before the deadline because you can’t remember the name of the book of where the quote came from. For more advice, read our recent post on referencing here.

Learn the art of writing topic sentences

This is something I’m still trying to master now, but I find it works the best for clear and concise writing. When you’re editing your essay, read back through each paragraph and write one sentence that summarises the main point of it. Insert this sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. This is now your topic sentence and is a great opener – it might not sound too elegant, but it will make understanding your argument easier for the reader. Imagine you are taking the examiner by the hand and guiding them through the argument of your essay. This should be the aim of your topic sentences.

Say goodbye to flowery and elegant writing

If you are like me and were sighed at in school for writing too much, university will feel like a shock to the system. In my first year I was told off for writing too ‘flowery’ and the hardest thing for me to learn was to write in short and concise sentences. So, tips: 1) The aim of the sentence is to make a point. 2) Consider whether those three sentences could be condensed to one. 3) If faced with a tight word limit, delete all phrases like: “One could argue…” / “Moreover…” / “On the other hand…” / “Perhaps…”


Ultimately, write with confidence. Be direct and to the point, and if you trust in what you are saying, your tutor will do too.


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Cover image: typewriter-mechanical-retro-vintage-407695 /Free-Photos / CC0 1.0

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