Academic writing style its characteristics and basic rules

Students have a lot to learn once they have entered a university or college. The knowledge base from school is not enough to quickly get used to the new learning process and living conditions. Many skills have to be learnt on their own: managing their time effectively, writing notes, doing research.

Another skill you need to master at the beginning of your studies is an academic style of writing. It is unlike other writing styles from school, and is all about being specific and objective about the topic at hand. For many students just starting college or university, this can be a real problem. To avoid this, you need to learn the basics and rules of academic style as early as possible.

Characteristics of academic writing

The most characteristic feature of academic writing style is the emphasis on adhering to guidelines and regulations, taking into account university requirements. The free “flight of fancy” is not welcomed; the text should be kept within strict limits taking into account the key characteristics which define academic writing.

Clarity and conciseness

Academic writing uses formal language. It is optimised enough for clarity and brevity that it may at first seem at odds with the use of formal language.

Formal language uses the most precise, non colloquial set of words to convey the author’s point of view, and may even include jargon. The sentences are as complex as it takes to express coherent thoughts and positions. It makes little use of literary techniques, such as metaphor, and only where they are appropriate. In general, clarity and conciseness are the ground rules. Academic writing takes an objective, detached stance from the subject at hand and the passive voice is very important, especially in the sciences.


In any type of writing, you need to adhere to the rules of grammar and style, which are taken from two sources – the style guide for the work you are working on and the generally accepted rules of academic writing. The style guides contain detailed requirements, such as whether to hyphenate certain compound words, when to write numbers in capital letters, or when to use numbers. Broader academic writing rules, like writing in the third person and maintaining an objective tone, apply to all academic writing.


As well as following certain rules of grammar and style, academic writing must be formatted according to the guidelines for your assignment. Formatting includes how you number your pages, what is included in your headers and footers, how the content of your title page is ordered, and how your citations and references are formatted.

Writing an academic paper is very different from a blog post, an email, fiction, or even other types of text that a teacher might assign, such as a critical response to a reading or a presentation to a class. The text of academic writing, whether it is an analytical essay, a research paper, a persuasive essay or other assignment in this vein, should follow a very specific style and formatting standards. It must also have an appropriate tone and vocabulary, so very often students may need academic writing assistance.