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Academic Writing for Graduate Students

Academic writing

University can be overwhelming. Leaving your home town, immersing into a strange atmosphere – it all can be too much to handle. Students often move away from home for the first time, trying to make sense of a new place and find their way into higher education. It is a big step, and at first it may seem like it’s impossible to do it all. But it is not true.

Learning how to effectively find, develop and express ideas is a key to success in higher education. Here are some general academic writing guidelines that you need to be familiar with if you want to succeed in your own writing.

Main Traits of Academic Writing

What is good academic writing? First and foremost, it must be easy to follow. Your lecturers want to be able to understand what you are saying easily, without having to reread sentences or guess what your topic is. One of the basics of good academic writing is a clear thesis statement, which tells the reader what your paper is going to be about. Expressions that we typically use in a thesis statement are “this paper argues that…” or “this report examines…”

Topic sentences must be used to make your writing legible. They tell the reader what the paragraph is about. A topic sentence is usually the first sentence of each paragraph. The example of a topic sentence is “One disadvantage of using biofuels is the high cost of production.”

If you want to get A+ in the university, your paper must be objective and evidence-based. In other words, your ideas must be supported by evidence and research.

Finally, your paper should follow a formal style. There can’t be any colloquial, slang words, exclamation marks or contractions. For example, writing “is not” instead of “isn’t.” Avoid words like “get,” “can’t” and formal words you are not completely confident about. Be particularly careful when you are looking up synonyms on the web.

Linking words are important in academic writing, but be very careful not to start sentences with “and,” “but” or “so.” Instead of “but,” you could use “however,” “although,” “despite of.” Instead of “so” you could use “consequently,” “as a result,” “hence.”

Another thing to avoid is sexist language. Try not to use “his” and “her” in academic writing. Keep your sentences as general as possible. Avoid qualifiers like “mostly,” “seems to be” or “could be called.” Instead of writing “Kant seems to neglect the importance of human nature,” you should write “Kant neglects the importance of human nature.”

Academic writing must include evidence from other experts in the field which are called references and citations. So, if you make judgments about something, you are expected to support your opinion by linking it to what another author has previously written on the subject.

Like many forms of writing, academic writing is usually objective, which means writing in the third person rather than the first one. You should avoid biased language and generalizations. An academic essay about, for example, a fictional character, a political conflict or a religious issue should present an argument that sheds light on the topic in a logical and rational manner. It cannot be a subjective statement.

Academic writing comes in many forms: essays, reports, reflective journal articles, position papers and literature reviews. These different types of academic writing follow specific styles, so always check with your lecturer what type of writing you are expected to do.

College Writing Skills

The questions I have been asking myself for a year before going to the university are “What are college writing skills?” and “Why is it important to use academic writing?”

Now, I can answer.

The main skill of college writing is to be concise. Do not use big words and long sentences to try to mask poor thinking. I recommend you do not try to write more than three lines per sentence. It seems to be the maximum amount of information the brain can process at one time. Assert your claims directly and in your own voice. Do not expect quotes to do the heavy lifting for you. In terms of your argument, you are going to have to make claims on your own behalf.

Do not be afraid to answer or debate a specific question. Do not beat around the bush. Make sure you have a clear organization and a layout, so that it follows a logical structure and is grammatically correct. These little things you usually do not pay attention to are crucial.

Steps to Write Great Academic Paper

Academic paper

Usually students are struggling to write an academic paper because they have got lots of ideas floating around in their heads, but they can’t see the links or the structure. That is why it is so important to put these ideas on paper and map them out. But how to get started?

In the first class of many university courses, students will receive a syllabus or a schedule of readings, activities and assignments. This is supposed to help you budget your time and understand what you have to do. It is especially important with your writing assignments to get started as soon as possible.

The first step to the successful academic writing is to understand what is expected of you. Your module handbooks are crucial in helping you understand the assignment criteria. Once you understand the assignment, you can follow these general steps.

Brainstorm. Find a Good Idea

You may be given a topic, or you may have the freedom to choose. In either case, you must know clearly what the teacher expects you to do on your assignment. Jot down everything you know about the topic or think about the topics which might be interesting to you. Choose the strongest one and narrow it down to something specific. For example, environmental protection is too general. Environmental protection of the water in Canada is good, but try something even more particular. Environmental protection of the Mackenzie River is exactly what you need.

Make an Outline. Organize Your Ideas into Subtopics

Now you are ready to do some general research. A good place to start looking for general information is on the library website. Try to group related ideas into paragraphs. This will help you keep your paper organized and systematized.


Get the information you need and fill in your outline. Search for books, journal articles and other publications. First, go to the library page and type in your key words. Then you should check all the Internet sources.

Write the First Draft

Now you are ready to pull it together and see what you have. Looking back to your outline and the information you have collected, get down your ideas and see how it all fits together. You may decide to alter your outline or go back to do more research.


Make your ideas clear, add details, cite your sources and improve the academic writing. Here is where you aim for greater clarity. Verify supporting ideas, evidence, examples and expert research to strengthen your paper.


When your idea is clear, it is time to switch over to the technical side of writing. Check for grammatical, spelling, punctuation errors and make your paper shine. Exchange papers with a friend and do peer editing. Examine every sentence. Read your paper aloud. Check for repetition and a variety of sentence styles. Editing well can mean a difference between an average and a better grade.

Now it is time for the final checklist. Go back to your assignment criteria before you hand in your paper. Have you followed instructions? Do you have the correct number of pages or words? Do your in-text references match your bibliography references? Lastly, do you have the right type of essay? Congratulations! You have done it.

Best Books on Writing

Academic books

Self-education is the same part of college life as lectures and seminars. Take a look at some useful academic writing books.

Now we are talking about the academic writing for graduate students – that is why the book has the same name “Academic writing for graduate students” by John M. Swales and Christine B. Feak. A perfect fit, is it not? The author uses up-to-date articles as examples and lots of appendices that address very common issues in a clear and instructional way. In the book’s critique section, students are asked to list their challenges, which is also a great task and exercise.

It is quite helpful for students’ vocabulary, terminology and data presentation skills. Sentences in that book are broken down into clear structures, so that they provide a thinking model for the students.

In his book on writing, Stephen King claims that there are two qualities that make a great writer. The first is someone who writes a lot and the second is someone who reads a lot.

Let me recommend three more books for self-education. You should, of course, read more than these three books, but I believe that every college student should read at least these three.

The first one will keep you out of the literary trouble. It is “The Elements of Style” by W. Strunk and E. White. This little book will help you follow the rules of style like which letters to capitalize in a title or a headline, whether to use “its” or “it’s.” These may seem like small things, but people will judge you based on how you follow these rules. And of course, there is the mystery of the ever-elusive Oxford comma. You will find it all in there.

The second book, “The war of art,” will keep you from being blocked or stopped by a temptation. It really is the war. The temptation is prompting you to do anything except the thing you are supposed to be doing. Steven Pressfield is there to help you out.

The final book is “Bird by bird” by Anne Lamott. If you practice what the book suggests, in a few weeks you will be a creative writer. A bolder, more daring and risk-taking writer. This is where all the rewards are. The title alludes to a personal story she opens the book with. Just that story alone is worth reading.

In the conclusion of this article, I want to answer one of the main questions – why academic success is important? It is important because it sets the tone for you. Whether you succeeded in just one subject or the whole course, you have that strange feeling of being able to move mountains. Try it, and you will never get enough.

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