Academic Writing: Basics & Steps

Academic Writing: Basics & Steps

What is Academic Writing?

Academic writing refers is a special type of writing that has a particular formal tone and style which is used in universities and scholarly publications such as research papers, theses and dissertations, etc. Your writing is considered 'Academic' if it has the following characteristics:

1. Structured: written in a logical order, coherent, and brings together related points and material.

2. Focused: answers the question and demonstrates an understanding of the subject.

3. Evidenced: presents a clear knowledge, supports opinions and arguments with evidence (unbiased), and is accurately referenced.

4. Formal: uses appropriate language and tenses, and is clear, cohesive, and concise.

5. Using scholarly diction: conveying information and ideas using the vocabulary and basic concepts that are particular to the field that you are writing for.

Keep in mind that professional academic writers, in most disciplines, avoid using personal pronouns (I, my, you). Instead, they use the third person point of view. For example, the sentence "I reduced purchasing costs by 10%," can be replaced with "The purchasing costs was reduced by 10%."

Note that every discipline has its own writing standards. For specific advice about writing standards, check your field’s style guide, such as Chicago, MLA, or APA.

Rules concerning excellent grammar and precise word structure do not apply when quoting someone. A quote should be inserted in the text of your paper or thesis exactly as it was stated. If the quote is especially vague or hard to understand, consider paraphrasing it or using a different quote to convey the same meaning.

Steps to Write Academically

Step 1: Defining the Topic

Before you start writing, you should first define what you will write about (the topic), the purpose of the writing, and the audience you are writing for. Then, you need to to search for relevant sources (references) and gather the information you need. Typically, you can find sources either online or in a library. Search for academic papers, critical reviews, and published books.

Step 2: Planning

As we mentioned previously, the academic writing is structured, means it is written in a logical order, coherent, and brings together related points and material. To achieve this, you need to construct a plan or create an outline before writing. Always, you should have your plan in front of you. Personally, I use mind maps for planning; a mind map is a diagram that displays information visually. You can create mind maps using pen and paper, or you can use an online or desktop mind mapping tools.

You can situate your topic title at the middle of the page and branch the main sections or chapters that you will cover. Then, you can branch each section into sub-sections and each sub-section can be branched into paragraphs description or summarization to help you stay focusing and writing each paragraph without divergence from the purpose of the main subject; as shown in Figure 1.

planning writing thesis and research paper, mind map writing

Figure 1: An illustration of using a mind map for planning. Paragraph 1, 2, etc. indicates the description / outline of each paragraph that is intended to include in your writing.

This branching process for sections and paragraphs descriptions should be constructed depending on your research work (essay, research paper, thesis, etc.) and also on the data and references you have already gathered to use. For example, under each sub-section or paragraph description you can list the references that covers it. In addition, the outline does not have to be final - it is okay if you make changes throughout your writing process.

Step 3: Writing the First Draft

Once your plan is well-constructed, it is time to start writing your research paper or thesis. This is by far the longest and most involved step. Do not worry, since your sources are properly prepared and you are writing in light of your plan, everything will run smoothly.

Follow along your outline (mind map branches) and go paragraph by paragraph. Because this is just the first draft, do not worry about getting each word perfect. Later, you will be able to revise your writing, but for now focus simply on writing everything that you need to be covered. In other words, it is not a problem to make mistakes since you will go back later to correct them.

Make sure that each paragraph has a clear central focus that relates to your overall argument and use transition sentences to improve the flow of your paper, especially for the first and last sentences in a paragraph.

As you writing a piece of work, such as research paper, thesis and dissertation you need to refer (cite) the original sources within your text, and these sources also should be properly referenced in the Bibliography (References) section. The best strategy to follow when citing is adding citations to your text as you write. When you make a statement that needs referencing, put the citation in your text as you go along rather than writing your text and adding citations later. To do so, it is recommended to enter the references into a database (e.g. table form) as you come across them, in this way, you will be able to insert them into your text as you writing without having to type them every time you need to cite one.

Step 4: Revising and Proofreading

Revising what you have written is critical step. In this step, you can add or remove content and make changes to structure, reformulating arguments, and spelling corrections. It is recommended to leave your work for at least a day or two after completing the first draft. Come back after a break to evaluate it with fresh eyes; you will spot things you would not have otherwise.

You can divide the revising process into two stages. In the first stage, you revise your whole work looking for the following:

  • Ambiguous phrasings and arguments that are unclear or illogical.

  • Passages where additional information or explanation is needed.

  • Areas where information would be better presented in a different order.

  • Passages that are irrelevant to your overall argument.

In the second stage, you revise your work again looking for the following:

  • Grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors.

  • Redundancy and repetition.

  • Missing or excess spaces.

Personally, I leave my writing work again for another one to two days and come back to read my whole work line by line and looking for any potential mistakes and inconsistencies.

If you want to be confident that your text is error-free, it is recommended to choose a professional proofreading service.