Definition of Academic Writing With Examples

, Staff Writer
Updated February 17, 2017
academic writing at desk by woman
    academic writing at desk by woman
    damircudic / E+ / Getty Images

It’s important for students to know what academic writing is and be able to write in this style. Discover key characteristics of academic writing and review some original academic writing examples.

What Is Academic Writing?

Academic writing is the formal writing style used in colleges and universities. It’s what students are expected to produce for classes and what professors and academic researchers use to write scholarly materials. High schools sometimes require academic writing style in certain classes.

Writing for Higher Education

A simple academic writing definition is hard to come by because there are many types and forms of academic writing, produced for a variety of reasons.

Different types of academic writing include:

While this is not an exhaustive list of every possible form academic writing can take, it does contain the most common types.


Key Characteristics of Academic Writing

While specific requirements may vary based on the particular form of academic writing or the class or publication for which a work is produced, some characteristics are common to all academic writing.

  • formal tone - A formal tone is always used in academic writing. It is not lighthearted or conversational in tone. Slang and clichés do not belong in this type of writing.
  • precise language - In keeping with the formal tone, it’s important to choose precise language that very clearly conveys the author’s meaning.
  • point-of-view (POV) - Academic writing is usually written in third person POV because its focus is to educate on the facts rather than to support an opinion or give advice.
  • research focus - Because most academic writing involves reporting research results, it tends to focus on the specific research question(s) being studied.
  • organization - Academic writing should be organized logically in a linear, matter-of-fact fashion. Use headings to delineate each major section.
  • source citations - Most academic writing includes at least some secondary research sources. Be sure to properly cite all sources and include a bibliography.

Of course, individual assignments may sometimes have different requirements. Always review submission guidelines carefully to verify you are following the proper format and style.


Academic Writing Structure

Papers written in an academic style have at least least three distinct sections: the introduction, body and conclusion.


In the introduction, you must grab the reader's attention and identify the thesis of the paper. Depending on the type of paper you are writing, there are several appropriate hook approaches to consider for the introduction. Consider beginning your introduction with one of the following options:

  • statement of the research question
  • declaration of the work’s primary focus
  • relevant quote from a famous work or person
  • some interesting facts or statistics
  • operational definition of important terms related to the work

Example introduction for an academic paper:

The purpose of this paper is to explore the themes discussed in The Metamorphosis (Kafka, 1915). An example of surrealist literature, this book is much more than a classic story about a man who transitions into an insect. The primary theme of this work relates to the dehumanization of man in a capitalistic society. This paper will provide specific examples from the text that relate to the notion that, in a capitalist system, the value of an individual is inextricably linked to the person’s ability to bring in an income.



This is the main part of the work. The paragraphs must be clearly written and arranged in a logical order. For example, it could be arranged chronologically or in order of importance.

  • The first sentence in each paragraph should link to the preceding paragraph so the whole section flows smoothly.
  • Within each paragraph, the sentences need to flow and refer back to the topic.
  • Achieve cohesion by repeating important words, using synonyms for the main subject, and using transitional words (like however, such as, therefore, and for example).

Example excerpt from the body of an academic paper:

While the terms diversity and inclusion are sometimes used interchangeably, they do not have the same meaning. Diversity is about the state of being different, while inclusion addresses the extent to which people are truly included. Diversity and inclusion are certainly closely associated with one another, but they are different constructs that have different implications in the workplace.

Whether the staff of a company in the United States is diverse is related to whether or not the employer complies with equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws and regulations. If the diversity that exists in the larger population relative to the types of jobs for which a company hires is not represented in the workplace, that may be an indicator of discriminatory hiring practices. Companies with an appropriately diverse employee population are likely complying with EEO requirements, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re inclusive.

In determining if a workplace is inclusive, it’s important to consider whether all of the organization’s employees are truly valued, welcomed and respected for who they really are – not in spite of their differences, but because of who they are, differences and all. A company that has a diverse employee population, yet expects workers to leave part of their true selves at home when they come to work is one that does not have an inclusive work environment.



The purpose of the conclusion is to cleanly bring the paper to a close for readers. It should reiterate the thesis and summarize the main points or findings. If the paper is summarizing the results of a research study, it is generally best to suggest an area for further research or study, based on the conclusions presented.

Conclusion example appropriate for an academic paper:

With regards to the question of whether or not fear appeals are effective in advertising focused on preventing substance, the results of this study seem to indicate that such messages may actually have no impact on behavior. The results indicate that, while viewers do find such messages to be frightening, they tend to tune out the messages rather than attending to them. These findings suggest that such messages may create cognitive dissonance that keeps them from being effective. More study is needed to explore this possibility.


Prepare for Academic Writing Success

Whether you are writing a research paper, a thesis or a paper for a conference, these tips can help you approach your academic writing assignments and projects from the proper perspective. Remember to write with an authoritative tone and ensure that your work flows coherently. That way, readers of your paper will be able to follow your reasoning and understand the conclusion and its implications. Now that you know what academic writing is, focus on expanding your academic writing skills further.