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MISST Subject Guide: Getting Started

This guide provides resources on writing papers, using databases, and citing sources.

What is academic writing?

Academic writing refers to a particular style of expression that scholars use to define the boundaries of their disciplines and their areas of expertise. Characteristics of academic writing include a formal tone, use of the third-person rather than first-person perspective (usually), a clear focus on the research problem under investigation, and precise word choice. Like the specialist languages adopted in other professions such as law, academic writing is designed to convey agreed meaning about complex ideas for a group of scholarly experts.


From: Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College.

Characteristics of Academic Writing

Adapted from Dartmouth College Writing Center:

Tone and Style of Academic Writing:

1. Don't rely on your feelings. You need to back your writing with research.

2. Don't be too casual. Using "I" or "me" is too casual for most academic writing.

3. Do not use phrases like "I will show" or "I feel."

4. Be sensitive to the use of pronouns. Using the male pronouns "he" and "him" excludes female and transgender readers. Some writers use "he or she," but this is usually too wordy. "They" and "them" used to refer to a single reader is incorrect grammar. Two solutions: Use "she" and "her", or alternate between "he" and "she."

5. Avoid mechanical, spelling, and grammar errors. Do not rely on spell check and grammar check in Microsoft Word and other word processing programs.

6. Use the appropriate style for your discipline. Know if your professor requires MLA, APA, or Turabian. Keep in mind that the style guide does not apply just to your references page. The style guide also tells you how to set up your paper, where to type your name, etc.

7. Avoid using too much jargon. Too many abbreviations alienate your reader. Spell out an abbreviation once and then use the abbreviation throughout the rest of the paper.

8. Introduce your quotes. Do not begin a sentence with a quotation; instead, set the context for your reader.

Bad quotation: "Students who take notes by hand during class are more likely to get a passing grade."

Good quotation: In her article "Predictors of Student Success in the Freshmen Composition Classroom, Rebecca Johnson (2008) writes, "Students who take notes by hand during class are more likely to get a passing grade" (p.199).