Characteristics of formal academic writing


Formal academic writing



The academic writer tries not to let His personality intrude too much into the writing, in order to allow the facts and the evidence speak for themselves.

1.  Personal pronouns, especially ‘I’

Feelings are generally avoided. Pronouns like ‘it’ ‘one’ and ‘there’ are used



The academic writer is cautious about making very definite or categorical statements, or arriving at conclusions too hastily.  The truth is complex and new facets of it are being uncovered all the time.   

There are few things we can be completely

sure of, but we can say what seems to be true,

 Judging from evidence at present available.

1.  Verbs such as ‘seems to’, appears to’,

Is likely to’ tends to’, may or might’, could’,

would’, indicate tentativeness

2.  Adverbial and adjectival qualifiers such as ‘apparently’, ‘seemingly’, ‘probably’, ‘maybe’,

‘perhaps’, generally’, ‘often’, ‘on the whole’,

 Indicate tentativeness.


Accuracy is of paramount importance in academic writing.  Objectivity and tentativeness (above) both can accurate tribute to accuracy. 

1. Precise evidence is given for facts which are presented.  Facts are carefully distinguished from opinions. 

2.  Sources are carefully used and acknowledged.  A generally accepted system of quoting and referencing is used. 

3.  What is written is relevant to the topic and not repetitive.     


4. Words are used with precision.

5.  Sentences are clear and constructed carefully to show precise relationships between ideas.  This means careful use of linking words. Ideas are expressed concisely and not in verbose and elaborate phraseology designed only to impress.

6.  Punctuation marks such as commas and full-stops, and sometimes colons and semi-colons are accurately used.



A formal style is used in academic writing. 

1.  Full forms are preferred to short forms.

More formal, abstract words with Latin or Greek origins are often preferred, e.g. conduct, discover, and investigate.  In bad academic writing, such words can be used merely to impress or bewilder the reader, rather than to express precisely what is meant.

Non formal academic writing



The non-academic writer usually writes from a very personal point of view.


1. Personal pronouns are often used and personal and views expressed.



The non-academic writer, speaking from a personal

viewpoint, is often very sure of himself/herself, and may make wild generalizations or draw conclusions from insufficient evidence.








A personal viewpoint is presented which is not necessarily accurate.

1. Feelings, facts and opinions are not clearly distinct from one another.  Personal opinion may be presented as fact.  This is totally unacceptable in an academic text. 

2.  Sources may be carelessly used, plagiarism may occur.  This is totally unacceptable in academic writing.

3.  There may be irrelevancy and repetition

4.  Words are used loosely; their meaning is not always precise.

 5.  Sentences may be shorter, and not so carefully constructed.  They may be long and rambling, wandering from one idea to another without much direction or purpose.  Verbose and elaborate phraseology, which says little, may be used.

6.  Dramatic punctuation marks, such as exclamation marks, are probably more common than colons and semicolons which express precise logical relationships.  Punctuation may be careless.


A less formal style is used

 Short forms and contractions are often used, e.g. I’d, won’t

2.  Shorter, less formal, more concrete words are often used.  These include phrasal verbs and compound words, e.g. carry out, find out, and look into.  Non-academic writing often contains idioms, images, slang and colloquialisms.


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