Study bites: Write like an academic

27 Sep 2021

Learning to write academically can seem like an impossible task. But it is a skill that we can learn, and it starts with imitation.

So how do we do it?

By drawing on the “nuts and bolts” of academic language students will feel more confident in structuring and expressing their ideas and should see a marked improvement in their writing quality as vocabulary expands and they become more fluid and precise.

So for instance, rather than relying on the classic “Johnson (2020) states…”, we can find a variety of ways of introducing authors, ideas and concepts. This will make for a more interesting read for your marker too, who will appreciate your efforts!

Academic phrases can be used for a range of purposes that will not only help you write more clearly and coherently, but to understand your topic in greater depth by ensuring that you are engaging with the research and scholarly conversations in your disciplinary area.

Let’s see some examples, which I have taken from Morley’s Academic Phrasebank.

Firstly, remember the importance of demonstrating critical thinking in your writing, that is, of showing that you have not taken another’s ideas as a matter of fact, but have weighed them up to see if they stand up. In doing so, you can draw on the following rhetorical devices, or academic phrases, to make your point:

A major criticism of Smith’s work is that ….

One question that needs to be asked, however, is whether ….

One of the limitations with this explanation is that it does not explain why…

Another way we can demonstrate critical thinking is by comparing and contrasting

X is different from Y in a number of respects.

X differs from Y in a number of important ways.

Likewise, when using specific academic terms, like the kinds you can develop in your DIY glossary it is important to define your terms clearly and appropriately to avoid misinterpretation.  

It is necessary here to clarify exactly what is meant by ….

X is a term frequently used in the literature, but to date there is no consensus about ….

There are many more examples in the book ranging from “Being cautious” to “explaining causalities” and “giving examples as support” that you will find useful in your writing, wherever you are in your learning journey and whatever the assessment task.

Take a look and have a practice, it’s the best way to improve your writing, and indeed your understanding of the subject matter.


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