Academic writing: what internet does not tell you

As university students, we are often tasked with writing essays that have to meet academic language standards. Thus, one important question that may arise is: How can we find the best approach to develop an academic writing style? I only gained the ability to answer this question when I became a master’s student. On the internet, people might suggest improving your vocabulary, reading books, or writing in formal English. Some universities provide guides to help students on this topic too. For instance, Academic writing is described by the University of Sydney as formal, impersonal, and technical [1]. Although these elements are at the core of academic writing, it is sometimes difficult to put them into practice. This post aims at sharing the approach that I have developed through my master’s degree to solve the issue.

What does academic writing look like? 

One highly effective method to enhance academic writing style is to imitate such a style. Articles or books written by University professors should be the first elements to look for. Students’ articles also are a great resource to learn academic vocabulary. Academic papers are available in libraries or on a variety of platforms – either with free access or requiring subscription – such as HAL, OpenEdition Journals, or JSTOR [2]. It is worth mentioning that the intention is not to plagiarize what scholars wrote, but rather to pay attention to their use of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. As an example, let’s take a look at a free access paper, available on OpenEdition Journals, written by Pr. Gilles Teulié and entitled “Orientalism and the British Picture Postcard Industry: Popularizing the Empire in Victorian and Edwardian Homes” [4]. 

Fig 1, screenshot of professor’s Teulié paper, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, OpenEdition Journal.

Take notes! 

 Another helpful practice I found was to note what I learnt in a notebook. I would recommend that you write down the sentences that catch your attention, and analyze their structure. Once written down, I would suggest learning them and using them when possible.  

Particular attention should be given to the placement of the sentences’ elements and to the different expressions. Using colors can also help to highlight these elements, as suggested by the example in Fig. 1. (Yellow for logical connectors, pink for subjects and blue for verbal forms). For instance, if I were to learn from that text, I would certainly take a look at how the artists are introduced. In this case, they are introduced by the subject “artists such as”, followed by an enumeration of names and dates: “Sydney Parkinson (1745-1771), William Hodges (1744-1797) […]”. Then, information about their role is introduced: “[…] were hired to help naturalists and other scientists to provide a visual presentation of what had been seen, found or discovered.” The following sentence is meant to develop the painters’ techniques: “These artists made sketches or full drawing […]” Here, the subject “the artists” is repeated and followed by additional details. The connector “then” adds more details and creates a connection to what was explained before: “They then took the time […]” Although this construction may seem unique, the syntax can be memorized and applied to other contexts.  

Use what you have learned. 

The best way to master academic writing is to practice. It is necessary to use what you have learned when you draft any essay. Therefore, these new possibilities of creating sentences will become natural, and they will be memorized. Using the same example, if I were to reuse some of the sentences that have been previously analyzed in an essay, this is what I would write: 

In 1972, activists such as Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Coorey gathered on the lawns opposite the Parliament House to protest for aboriginal political representation. These activists labelled their sit-in the “aboriginal embassy” and advocated for fair political representation.  

I have adapted the sentences to my context, as the activists are still alive, and mentioning dates was not necessary. 

Correct yourself 

Even though they should be used critically and with caution, automatic correctors and dictionaries available digitally can be effective for improving a writing style. As a student who struggled with spelling, anytime my software corrected me, I wrote down the correction in my notebook. Thus, it prevented me from making the same mistake again and I was able to memorize the correct spelling by writing it and re-reading it later.  

From the title to the conclusion: how to write in an academic style? 

Although your writing style matters, it is crucial to pay attention to the structure of your essay. Following the same methodology, I suggest you analyze articles published by academics and apply their methodology even if the structure of your essay might vary depending on the subject you are writing about (literature, civilization, linguistics…etc.). 

Choosing a title should not be neglected as it usually is the first element encountered by the reader. I personally think about the title once I have finished writing. A balance should be found between summarizing the paper and not saying too much, which is what Professor Teulié did: Orientalism and the British Picture Postcard Industry: Popularizing the Empire in Victorian and Edwardian Homes. His title contains keywords which summarize the paper without developing too much. 

One of the pillars of an essay is the introduction, as it is meant to present what the paper is going to be about and the questions it aims to answer. The purpose of the introduction is also to pique the reader’s curiosity and to make them want to read your work. Following the example of Professor Teulié’s paper, we notice that his introduction contextualizes the subject and raises questions. The choice he made of accumulating questions catches the reader’s attention and makes us want to discover the answers. This introduction is concluded by the purpose of the article: What is its use? What is its approach? These are elements that should be taken into consideration when writing an academic work. 

Fig 2, screenshot of professor’s Teulié paper, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, OpenEdition Journal.

Regarding the development following your introduction, it should be clear and follow your reflection. Each paragraph should develop an idea and be linked to the following one.  

Last but not least: The final impression the reader will have of your work is probably what you put in the conclusion. That is why you should conclude by answering the questions you have raised in the introduction and the main ideas you developed should be rephrased and concise.  

Acquiring an academic writing style may seem complicated, but it can be achieved with hard work and consistent practice. 



[1] The University of Sydney. « Types of Academic Writing ». Consulté le 7 novembre 2023.

[2] « Accueil – Archive ouverte HAL ». Consulté le 8 novembre 2023.

« Catalogue des revues – OpenEdition ». Consulté le 8 novembre 2023.

« JSTOR: Log in through your institution ». Consulté le 8 novembre 2023.

[3] « Hypotheses – Academic Blogs ». Consulté le 8 novembre 2023.

[4] Teulié, Gilles. « Orientalism and the British Picture Postcard Industry: Popularizing the Empire in Victorian and Edwardian Homes ». Cahiers Victoriens et Édouardiens, no 89 Spring (1 juin 2019).


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1 réponse

  1. Nayah dit :

    Thank you for this article, I’m in Master’s degree as well and still struggling to write down and structure my ideas, one of the negative points my professors said about my work. I find your techniques very efficient even if I haven’t applied it yet.

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