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Academic Writing: The Basics

A brief overview of and introductionto Academic Writing.


Academic Voice?  What is it?

So, you've been asked to write a paper, now what?

Writing assignments at a university level require a mode of writing sometimes known as "academic voice."  The "voice" that you adopt in a paper is a lot different than the one that you might adopt when writing an email, or writing to a friend.  It brings with it a few expectations.  Some of the hallmarks of academic voice are:

1. Declarative sentences

You will avoid statements that begin with "I."  In these statements the "I" will be assumed and hidden.  

Example: Instead of saying: "I think that video games contribute to higher levels of violence among adolescents.

You might say: "Video games contribute to higher levels of violence among adolescents."  

It is assumed that this is your opinion, so the "I" is not necessary.  

Many times, you can create a "declarative statement" by removing the "I" from a sentence that states your opinion.

2. Formal language

You will be expected to communicate in a "professional" manner.  A professional communication style avoids casual language.  You will imagine that you are writing for your academic peers, fellow students, your professor, and academics, not friends.  This means avoiding a casual and conversational style of writing.  To accomplish this, you will want to do a few things:

  • Avoid contractions like "can't" or "don't"  
  • Avoid words that imply storytelling like: "okay," "well," "then," "next," and "after that."
  • Avoid off color humor and language such as foul language.
  • Do not address the reader with "you." This implies a level of casual communication.

3. Be Concise

In academic writing, you want every sentence to be concise.  This means that you want to get straight to the point.  You don't want to use seven words to say something that could be said in three.  You don't want to repeat yourself. Being concise will help your reader get to the ideas quickly, and this is a clear sign of strong communication.

How do you accomplish this?

  • Avoid filler words
  • Avoid overly complex sentences
  • Keep your writing simple and direct.

4. Use specific vocabulary and precise words

Using "specific vocabulary" means using language that may be specific to your field of study.  In each field there are specific disciplinary terms.  Get to know them.  If you are studying nursing, there are specific terms used in your discipline.  If you are studying English, there are speciic terms used in your discipline.  Using them will add some precision to the language of your paper.

If you are writing a paper for a class in Education you would want to use the terms that Educators use.  

Instead of saying: The instructors used methods to engage students, such as teamwork, and focused on the outcome of self directed lifelong learning

You might include the specific vocabulary from the field by saying: The instructors used problem based learning to engage students. 

Using precise words means saying specifically what you mean.  You want to avoid vague language. The meanings of some words are imprecise.  Take for example the phrase "really good."

Instead of saying: The researchers had a really good response to the survey.

You would say: Researchers had a 75 percent response rate to the survey.  

5. Use Evidence.

When you make declarative sentences, you will want to use credible and relevant sources to support your ideas.  Without evidence, you are asking the reader to simply accept your claims as truth.  Your evidence should be from a credible source that is relevant to the topic. 

  • Evaluate your sources for reliability, validity and relevance.  You can use the sources from your MGA Library, and work with a librarian to help you find relevant sources for specific topics.
  • Cite your sources.  Citing your sources is an important part of this process.  You want your audience to know where you obtained your information, and you want to give them the information that they would need to track it down, and read it for themselves.  You also want to avoid plagiarism, and give credit for ideas that are not your own.

6. Include Your Own Ideas and Analysis

Academic writing will require that you add your own ideas, interpretations and analysis to the "scholarly conversation." You will use quotes from your credible sources as support, but you must add your own ideas and analysis.  

Ashford Writing Center. (2019). Academic Voice [Academic].
Kretchmar, J. (2019). Problem-based Learning. In Salem Press Encyclopedia. Great Neck Publishing.

Backing Up Your Claims


An argument should include three basic elements

  • a conclusion or claim
  • evidence
  • reasoning

It is considered good practice to include two further elements

  •  persuasive logic that connects the evidence to the claim
  •  alternative viewpoints or counter-claims

Keeling, J., Williams, J., & Chapman, H. M. (2013). How To Write Well : A Guide For Health And Social Care Students. McGraw-Hill Education.

Academic Tone


Academic Tone 

Academic tone helps prepare students for professional writing both inside and outside the college setting. 

1. Third person (she, he, we, they, them) is preferable to second person (you) and first person (I) in academic writing. 

2.  Avoid slang (words like y'all, cool) and idiomatic expressions ("easy as pie," "hit the nail on the head," and "think outside the box") in formal writing. Words common in verbal communication (Well, a lot, OK, being that) are often confusing in written communication and should be avoided. 

3. Avoid language with a racial, ethnic, or gender bias or language that is stereotypical.  

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) suggests the following guidelines: 


MAN has come to be so closely identified with adult male that the generic use of MAN and other words with masculine markers should be avoided. 

Original: mankind Alternatives: humanity, people, human beings 

Original: man-made Alternatives: synthetic, manufactured, machine-made  

Original: the common man  Alternatives: the average person, ordinary people  


Avoid the use of MAN in occupational terms when persons holding the job could be either male or female. 

Original: chairman Alternatives: coordinator (of a committee or department), moderator (of a meeting), presiding officer, head, chair  

Original: businessman  Alternatives: business executive, business person  

Original: policeman and policewoman  Alternative: police officer  

Academic Tone. (2019). The Writing Center. Middle Georgia State University.

Helpful Subject Guides


Citing Your Sources


Middle Georgia State University Library Quick Style Guides

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