TLDRoff
Writing, just like speaking, is simply a way to communicate with other people.

To communicate effectively it is important that we understand our audience and how they like to receive information. Although we might be communicating in just one language, English let us say, we use that language very differently depending on whom we are talking to. As a general rule we do not speak the same way to our grandparents as we do to our friends nor do we speak to strangers in the same way as we speak to our families. Talking formally to our boss is a very different business to talking to young children. Language is hugely adaptable and follows particular rules in particular environments.

In the academic environment of a university a written piece of work does not simply need to communicate information but it has to communicate it in a certain way if it is to be taken seriously and understood clearly by your tutors. Here are just a few tips to help you get started.

Checklist Guide

  • As a general rule most academic pieces of work attempt to give the impression of being objective and unemotional. For this reason when you write an essay you ought to avoid writing in the first person. So, instead of saying "I think that this argument makes sense" you should say something like "This argument has been seen by many as making sense". Writing in an impersonal style helps to reinforce the view that these are not just your personal opinions but the result of evidence based research.
  • Always organise your written work into paragraphs. A paragraph is a small subsection of the essay. If you look at the introduction above you will see that it falls into two paragraphs. Each paragraph ought to be making one clear point and provide some evidence to back it up.
  • Avoid using slang words, colloquialisms or text speak. Imagine that you are being interviewed for a job and that you are trying to appear professional. The last thing your tutors want to see is a lot of "lol's" and abbreviations such as "ppl" "omw" or "btw". Always write out words in full. Abbreviations can be used if the academic community acknowledges them as appropriate – abbreviations such as the BBC or the NMC are good examples of this.
  • Avoid contractions. Although we often speak and write using short cuts the academic community prefers words to appear in full. A contraction is where, for instance, two words are combined into one using an apostrophe (') So, for example, it is perfectly normal for us to say and even write in a text or letter "It's great to be on holiday, I hope that it doesn't rain" in an academic essay you ought to write: "It is great to be on holiday, I hope that it does not rain"
  • Make sure that when you use somebody's own words exactly that you indicate that this is a quotation, and not your own words by placing the words between quotation marks. By using quotations marks you are making it perfectly clear that you are using another person's words – this will help avoid any misunderstandings about plagiarism. So, for example, we could say:

As Professor Smith has argued "This evidence is entirely convincing"

By using quotation marks we have indicated that these are Professor Smith's actual words. Of course we could avoid the need for quotation marks by paraphrasing and using our own words like this:

Professor Smith has made it clear that he finds the evidence convincing.

  • Always start a sentence with a capital letter.
  • Always end a sentence with a full stop.
  • Always refer to authors by their family names never their first names.

Final Comments

Ultimately writing an academic essay has the same goal as any other form of writing, effective communication to a specific audience. Strange as it may seem, the best advice is not to try too hard to sound academic, writing confidence will come with practice. Always keep focused on writing as clearly as you can – many students make the mistake of trying so hard to sound academic that their work comes across as confusing and unnatural.

Further Information

There are a number of really useful sources available that will give you much more detailed information about essay writing. Here are a few of them:

Writing for essays and exams

My English Teacher blog

The University also runs pre-sessional courses in English for academic study

For further information on English language support at the university please contact Robert Tsukada Bright or Simon Dye

The Royal Literary Fund is a very useful project set up to support students in need of help with their written English. Click here for more information.