Using an academic voice will give your writing clarity and authority.
If a piece of work has issues with language and style, tutors will often make comments such as:
- "Did you proof-read?"
- "Get sentence structure right."
- "Avoid bland quotes – paraphrase."
- "Work on your synthesis skills."
What to look for
If you receive this feedback, revisit your work and check that you have:
- used formal language
- written in the correct voice (first or third person)
- paraphrased and quoted correctly
- proofread your work for spelling and grammar.
Language and voice
Academic writing has a formal tone and avoids slang, colloquialisms or shortened forms of words. However, it need not be wordy or difficult to understand: being clear and concise is key.
Academic arguments are not usually presented in the first person (using I), but use more objective language, logic, and reasoning to persuade (rather than emotional or personal perspectives). This may not apply, however, if you are asked to write a reflective report based on your own thoughts and experiences.
Paraphrasing, summariing and using quotations
Use other people's work in your own to provide evidence and to support your arguments. You can do this by paraphrasing, summarising or using quotations, but make sure in each case you demonstrate your understanding of the other work and how it fits with your argument.
When paraphrasing, make sure you do not copy text, even small amounts. You must express the ideas in your own words. All sources used must be cited within the text and then referenced fully at the end.
Grammar, spelling and proofreading
Proofreading your work can often help you catch mistakes with spelling and grammar.
Often in our writing, we consistently make the same mistakes, so think about feedback you have had previously or look at other assignments which have been marked, then focus on these issues when checking your work.
Eliminate any small errors, typos or inconsistencies by reading your final draft a number of times; this will help make your work seem professional and polished.
Print out this table of tips on language and style (PDF).
How to feed it forward
To improve the language and style of your writing:
- Check the module handbook and marking criteria for guidance on the type of academic writing required.
- Develop your academic voice, using short, clear sentences and formal, but not over-complicated language.
- Use evidence to make your points, paraphrasing or summarising other people's work where relevant.
- Look back to see what spelling or grammar mistakes you make regularly and focus on these when proof-reading.
- Read your work aloud slowly to check that it makes sense.
For further help with this topic, take a look at our Academic writing guide.