Academic writing | 301 | The University of Sheffield

Producing written work as part of a university exam, essay, dissertation or another form of assignment requires an approach to organisation, structure, voice and use of language that differs from other forms of writing and communication.

Academic writing is a language that no one is born speaking. Understanding more about the conventions of your discipline and the specific features and conventions of academic writing can help you develop confidence and make improvements to your written work.

Academic writing is part of a complex process of finding, analysing and evaluating information, planning, structuring, editing and proofreading your work, and reflecting on feedback that underpins written assessment at university.

Here we focus on the key principles of academic writing as a way to communicate your ideas using appropriate language, structure and organisation. 

301 Recommends: Academic Writing Digital Workshop

Try out our interactive digital workshop to explore the key principles of good academic writing.


Academic writing is defined by conventions rather than rules. This means that they are flexible and adaptable at least some of the time.

The point is not for you and your peers to produce identical pieces of work, but to provide a shared framework of communication that allows specialists within a field to access information, ideas and concepts quickly and easily.

It goes without saying that academic writing uses a more formal register than everyday communication. The following are four important conventions to follow that will help you to hit the right level of formality in your writing:

Use formal language

Academic writing tends to adopt formal language derived from Latinate, rather than Anglo-Saxon roots. This distinction is particularly evident in the use of verbs in academic language.

In general, phrasal verbs are used when speaking (eg in presentations), whilst Latinate verbs are used in academic writing (eg

Read the rest