11 characteristics of academic writing

Characteristics of academic writing refer to the specific style, tone and approach used in scholarly writing. It is a unique form of writing distinct from other types of writing, such as creative writing or journalism. Academic writing is used in various formats, such as research papers, dissertations and journals. It is a critical skill that students and professionals must master to communicate effectively in their respective fields.

This text will discuss the key characteristics of academic writing that differentiate it from other forms of writing.

An outline of an academic text consisting of Title, Introduction, Body and Conclusions, written on a notepad reflects the characteristics of academic writing.

Characteristics of academic writing

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘academic’ refers to of, belonging to, or associated with an academy or school especially of higher learning. In turn, academic writing refers to the formal, structured and scholarly communication of ideas, research findings and arguments within academic disciplines. Academic writing typically exhibits several key characteristics:

Formal tone

Academic writing uses a formal tone, avoiding conversational language, slang and contractions. Instead, it maintains an objective and professional demeanour.

DoCognitive neuroscience explains the intricate interplay between neural mechanisms and cognitive processes through rigorous empirical investigation and theoretical modelling.
Don’tCognitive neuroscience is all about understanding how our brains and thoughts mesh together. It’s diving into the nitty-gritty of how our minds function, running experiments and crafting theories to make sense of it all.

Clarity and precision

Academic writing aims for clarity and precision in expression. It communicates complex ideas in a clear and understandable manner, avoiding ambiguity and vagueness.

DoThe Norwegian elk, also known as the Eurasian elk or moose (Alces alces), represents a species of significant ecological importance and widespread distribution throughout boreal and temperate forests of Scandinavia.
Don’tThe Norwegian elk represents a species of significant ecological importance and widespread distribution throughout some parts of Scandinavia.

Structured organisation

Academic writing follows a clear and logical structure. This includes an introduction, thesis statement, body paragraphs with supporting evidence and a conclusion.


Academic writing relies on evidence to support arguments and claims. This evidence may come from scholarly sources, empirical research or other credible sources. Proper citation and referencing are essential.

DoIn a study conducted by the Paleontology Department at Harvard University in 2019, the analysis of fossil demonstrates remarkable development of elongated teeth in Pleistocene saber-toothed, used for precision killing and subduing of large prey, facilitating efficient predation strategies as apex predators in Pleistocene ecosystems.
Don’tWe know that Pleistocene saber-toothed cats were apex predators in Pleistocene ecosystems.

Critical analysis

Academic writing involves critical thinking and analysis. It evaluates existing literature, theories or data and may offer new insights or perspectives. It encourages questioning, evaluation and synthesis of ideas.

DoIn assessing the feasibility and efficacy of sand batteries as a form of high temperature thermal energy storage, researchers critically analyse existing literature, theoretical models and experimental data to elucidate potential advancements, challenges, and opportunities for optimising energy storage technologies in sustainable energy systems.
Don’tSand batteries are being explored as a viable option for high temperature thermal energy storage, utilising sand or similar materials as the storage medium.


Academic writing maintains an objective viewpoint, presenting arguments based on evidence rather than personal opinion or bias. Writers strive to present multiple viewpoints and perspectives, acknowledging limitations and complexities.

DoIn rural Scotland, 78% of study participants stated they had unhindered access to prenatal healthcare during pregnancy at their local healthcare provider.
Don’tPrenatal healthcare access in rural Scotland is severely lacking, revealing the government’s failure to adequately address the healthcare needs of pregnant individuals in remote areas.


Academic writing is typically concise, avoiding unnecessary repetition or wordiness. It communicates ideas efficiently and effectively, adhering to word limits and academic conventions.

DoAccess to humanitarian aid during the conflict in northern Ethiopia remained limited due to ongoing security concerns and logistical challenges.
Don’tDuring the conflict in northern Ethiopia, the ability for humanitarian aid organisations to provide assistance to affected communities has been severely constrained as a result of persistent security threats and various logistical obstacles that hinder the efficient delivery of much-needed supplies and resources.

Citations and references

Academic writing requires proper citation of sources used and adherence to a specific citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago). This includes in-text citations and a bibliography or reference list. Moreover, because plagiarism undermines the integrity of academic writing, as it involves presenting someone else’s work as one’s own, maintaining originality requires rigorous citation of sources.

DoRecent research suggests that regular practice of tai chi improves balance and reduces the risk of falls among older adults (Taylor-Piliae, 2008).
Don’tRecent research suggests that regular practice of tai chi improves balance and reduces the risk of falls among older adults.

Peer review and revision

Academic writing often undergoes peer review and revision processes to ensure quality and rigour. Writers revise their work based on feedback from peers or instructors, striving for accuracy, coherence and academic integrity.


Academic writing must demonstrate an original contribution to the state of the field. In other words, it includes a literature review to provide context, identify gaps in existing research and support the development of new insights or arguments.

Accessible language

Academic writing must use accessible, inclusive language to ensure clarity, respect diversity and promote equal participation and understanding among readers. This means that writing about age, disability, disease, race, ethnicity, sex and gender requires precision and respectfulness.

DoIn exploring the impacts of climate change on coastal communities, it is essential to consider the diverse range of vulnerabilities faced by individuals of varying ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Don’tThe old and poor individuals in costal communities are likely more affected by impacts of climate change.

7 types of academic texts

Here are seven categories of texts that should reflect the above-mentioned characteristics of academic writing:

Annotated bibliography

Annotated bibliographies are a comprehensive overview of sources related to a specific topic, providing brief summaries and evaluations. They typically consist of a list of sources followed by concise annotations that summarise the main points, assess the credibility and usefulness of the source and indicate its relevance to the research topic. Annotated bibliographies are commonly used in academic settings as part of research projects, assignments or literature reviews. They help researchers navigate the vast amount of literature available on a topic and identify key sources for further exploration. Annotated bibliographies may be published as standalone documents or included within larger research projects or publications.


Academic articles are primary sources of scholarly research, presenting original findings, analyses or theoretical discussions on specific topics within academic disciplines. They are typically published in peer-reviewed academic journals. The purpose of academic articles is to contribute new knowledge to the field, advance theoretical understanding or address practical problems. The content of academic articles includes:

  • thorough literature review to contextualise the research
  • clear methodology section to describe the research design and data collection methods
  • detailed results or findings
  • discussion of the implications of the research.

This content usually follows a standardised structure, such as the IMRAD format: introduction, methods, results and discussion. Word counts for academic articles vary depending on the journal and discipline but generally range from 3,000 to 10,000 words. The review process involves evaluation by peers or experts in the field to assess the originality, significance, methodology and contribution of the research.


Chapters in edited volumes contribute specialised knowledge or perspectives to a broader academic discussion within a specific field. They are part of a collective work edited by one or more editors and often focus on a particular aspect of the volume’s theme. Chapters in edited volumes provide in-depth analysis, synthesis or commentary on a specific topic, building upon existing research and contributing new insights. Chapters in edited volumes typically include:

  • introduction that contextualises the topic within the broader volume
  • main body that develops the argument or analysis
  • conclusion that summarises the key findings and implications.

Word counts vary depending on the editor’s guidelines and the volume’s scope but generally range from 5,000 to 10,000 words. The review process involves evaluation by the volume’s editor(s) to ensure alignment with the volume’s theme and quality standards. Chapters in edited volumes are commonly published by academic or commercial publishers as part of a book or anthology.

Dissertations and theses

Dissertations and theses are comprehensive research projects completed as a requirement for academic degrees, typically at the master’s or doctoral level. They demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct original research, analyse findings and contribute new knowledge to their field of study. These academic documents address a specific research question or problem, advance theoretical understanding or provide empirical evidence to support practical applications. Content includes:

  • extensive literature review to contextualise the research
  • clear methodology section to describe the research design and data collection methods
  • detailed results or findings
  • discussion of the implications of the research.

Dissertations and theses follow a standardised format prescribed by the academic institution, which may include additional sections such as acknowledgements, appendices or supplementary materials. Word counts vary depending on the degree level and institution’s guidelines but generally range from 10,000 to over 100,000 words. Dissertations and theses are typically published electronically through the academic institution’s repository or database. Their review process involves evaluation by a committee of faculty members or examiners who assess the research’s originality, significance, methodology and contribution to the field.


Monographs are scholarly books that provide an in-depth examination of a specific topic, concept or method within an academic discipline. They offer a comprehensive analysis or synthesis of existing knowledge, presenting original research findings, theoretical discussions or critical interpretations. The monographs contribute to scholarly discourse by advancing knowledge in a particular field, addressing gaps in existing literature or presenting new perspectives on established topics. Content includes a thorough exploration of the topic, supported by evidence from primary and secondary sources, and critical analysis and interpretation by the author.

Structurally, monographs may vary in format. Typically, they include chapters organised logically to develop and support the central argument or thesis. Introductions, conclusions and appendices may also be included to provide context, summarise key points or present supplementary materials. Word counts for monographs vary depending on the topic, publisher’s guidelines and intended audience but generally range from 30,000 to 100,000 words or more. Monographs are published by academic publishers and may undergo peer review before publication to ensure quality and scholarly rigour.


Reports are comprehensive documents that analyse specific issues, topics or projects. Moreover, they provide findings, evaluations or recommendations to inform decision-making, policy development or public discourse. They are typically commissioned by governments, NGOs, corporations or research institutions. They may be assessing the effectiveness of programs or policies, conducting research studies or evaluating project outcomes. The purpose of reports is to provide accurate, objective and evidence-based information to stakeholders, policymakers or the general public. Content includes:

  • background information on the topic or issue
  • data collection and analysis
  • findings or results
  • conclusions
  • recommendations for action.

Structurally, reports may vary depending on the organisation’s requirements but generally follow a standardised format that includes:

  • executive summary
  • introduction
  • methodology
  • results
  • discussion
  • conclusion.

Additional sections such as appendices, references or glossaries may also be included as needed. Word counts vary depending on the scope and complexity of the project but typically range from a few thousand to tens of thousands of words. The review process may involve internal review by experts within the organisation and external review by stakeholders or peer reviewers to ensure accuracy, relevance and credibility.


Book reviews are critical evaluations of academic books within a particular field or discipline. They provide readers with insights into the book’s content, arguments, methodology and contribution to the field. Furthermore, they serve to inform potential readers about the quality and relevance of the book and may also contribute to scholarly discourse by offering critical analysis or alternative perspectives. The purpose of book reviews is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the book, evaluate its scholarly merit and provide recommendations to potential readers. Content includes:

  • summary of the book’s main arguments
  • analysis of its methodology and evidence
  • evaluation of its contributions to the field
  • critical commentary on its strengths and weaknesses.

Structurally, book reviews typically include:

  • introduction that introduces the book and its author
  • summary of the book’s content
  • critical analysis and evaluation
  • conclusion that summarises the reviewer’s assessment and provides recommendations to potential readers.

Word counts for book reviews vary depending on the publication venue and guidelines but generally range from 500 to 2,000 words. Book reviews are usually published in academic journals. The review process may involve assessment by editors or peer reviewers to ensure clarity, relevance and scholarly integrity.

Editing and proofreading academic writing

Editing and proofreading services are essential for improving the clarity and precision of academic writing. These services are particularly important for improving grammar, spelling and punctuation. Moreover, editing can help with applying consitency and ensuring clarity of the text.

The editing process involves reviewing the content of the written work to ensure that it is clear, concise and coherent. This includes checking for proper grammar, spelling and punctuation and ensuring that the content flows logically and is easy to understand. A skilled editor can help identify areas of the text that could be improved and provide suggestions for making the writing more effective.

On the other hand, proofreading is the process of reviewing the text to identify and correct grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. Proofreading is often the final stage of the editing process. It is essential for ensuring that the writing is error-free and polished.

By using editing and proofreading services, writers can improve the clarity and precision of their academic writing. This can help to ensure that their audience easily understands their work and that it communicates their ideas effectively. Additionally, it can help improve the overall writing quality and increase the chances of publication in academic journals.

Key takeaways

In conclusion, understanding the characteristics of academic writing is crucial for anyone who wants to write scholarly papers or essays effectively. It is a specific type of writing that requires a unique style, tone and approach. Academic writing characteristics include formal tone, precision, clarity and objectivity, among other things. These characteristics help to ensure that academic writing is clear, concise and easily understood by its intended audience.

To achieve these characteristics of academic writing, writers must pay attention to their language, structure and style. They must use formal language, avoid slang or colloquialisms and adhere to the conventions of academic writing. Additionally, they must ensure that their writing is well-structured, with clear introductions, body paragraphs and conclusions.

Editing and proofreading services can also help writers to achieve the characteristics of academic writing. By identifying areas of the text that could be improved and providing suggestions for improvement, editors and proofreaders can help to ensure that the writing is clear, precise and easy to understand.

Contact me for a free sample edit of your academic text (and remember to use my early bird discount). I am an experienced editor working with non-fiction, academic and business texts. I can help prepare your text for publication, from a big-picture analysis through highlighting your authorial voice to ensuring the correctness and consistency of the language.

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I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors.