The Ultimate Guide to Academic Writing

There is nothing more important for a university student - in any discipline - than learning to write well. Here's how.

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Learning how to write will completely transform your experience as a university student. But the weird thing about academic writing is that we're never taught to do it. Professors just assume that we know what an essay is.

That was my experience as a student, anyway.

This guide will walk you through, step-by-step, the tools and actions you need to write an academic essay. I discovered a lot of this material while I was studying English literature in university, where I was fortunate to have been mentored by some exceptional professors. Now that I teach writing for a living, I've hammered out my thoughts on effective writing into a streamlined system.

Pro tip: Think of this article as the table of contents for your academic writing journey. There are multiple, additional resources linked throughout, but you don't need to read them all right away. Bookmark this resource so that you can revisit it any time you have to write an academic essay and want to know where to begin.

What is Academic Writing?

Let's define academic writing. The definition of academic writing is pretty self-explanatory: Academic writing is the kind of writing we do in university.
Yes, that's different from the kind of writing we do in newspapers or emails.
However, it's also different from the kind of writing we did in high school.

Writing that is valued by academics does not simply transmit ideas; rather, it is the kind of writing that produces ideas.

The academic writer identifies a difficult question or problem that is important to his field and attempts to solve it. (The word 'essay' derives from the French word for 'to try.') We solve academic problems by gathering evidence and examining it with careful reasoning.

Scientists solve problems by designing experiments, but academics have no such laboratory. In the academy, the process of problem solving is writing.

The Stages of Academic Writing

Writing isn't an activity, really. It's more like a process, a series of stages the writer moves through as he tries to work out a solution to a problem. Not all writers move through these stages in exactly the same order. But skipping over any of these stages results in muddy thinking and bad writing.

The Stages of Writing an Academic Essay

Step 1: Finding Ideas

Making Problems: Write Academic Essays Worth Reading
The worst thing to hear from your reader is not β€œI disagree;” it’s β€œI don’t care.” Make your reader care about your academic essay by posing a problem worth writing about.

The Stages of Writing an Academic Essay

Step 2: Developing Ideas

Have you answered the question?

Does your evidence and reasoning support your claims?

The Stages of Writing an Academic Essay

Step 3: Organizing Ideas

Are your ideas organized into paragraphs?

Do the paragraphs follow a pattern of development?

Do you signal the relationship between ideas with conjunctions and sentence connectors?

Opening Gambits: Two Structures for Introductions to Academic Essays
The introduction is the audition for your essay. It better make the reader care.

The Stages of Writing an Academic Essay

Step 4: Writing an Academic Essay

Did you choose the right words to express your intended meaning?

Is there a variety of sentence structures? Or is it written primarily in simple sentences?

Next Steps

Congratulations! If you made it this far, you're well on your way to writing an academic essay.

Best Books on Academic Writing

Want more books on academic writing? Browse my full list of the best books on academic writing.

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