What is Academic Writing?

Written by Scott Wilson

what is academic writing

What is academic writing? Academic writing is a formal style of writing that is used in scholarly works or for educational purposes. It may adopt a wide range of different formats and be used for class assignments, proposals, academic texts, or presentations.

Academic writing prizes the logical, systematic construction of arguments and presentation of important points of knowledge. It is designed to educate by delivering both established, verifiable facts, and applying rigorous logic to various arguments in favor and against the thesis of the work.

Although academic writing is not as popular or celebrated as some other forms of written work, it’s one that every American is familiar with. There are no Nobel Prizes awarded for great works of academic writing; they are never found on best-seller lists, and it can even be difficult to find them in bookstores off college campuses.

But students around the world both learn from academic writing and are taught the basic format and objectives as a part of their schooling.

Writing understandable and informative works for audiences of students and scholars is the goal of academic writers.

That makes academic writing critically important in both education and in industry. The body of knowledge that stands behind such critical fields for modern civilization as medicine, physics, engineering, and biology is enshrined in academic writings. And progress in all those fields and more, both the hard and social sciences, relies on strong, understandable academic writing.

What Is Academic Writing Used For?

Academic writing is used to build the body of knowledge in a discipline. It provides documentation of new evidence or theories in those fields. Academic writing is used in work products such as:

These pieces are designed to inform or offer interpretations for evidence or observations made in a particular academic field. Those fields take in the entire scope of modern research and education, from particle physics to gender studies. Academic writing offers a broadly understood, well-accepted format for presenting ideas and theories to both professional scholars and students.

Who Needs to Master Academic Writing?

Most American students have to achieve some level of ability in academic writing as a part of their basic education. It’s a style that is taught beginning in elementary school, although it may not be identified as such. Term papers, book reports, and all kinds of homework assignments are expected to be written according to academic writing standards.

Although all American students will learn academic writing skills, most will move on to the world of business or other types of professional writing once they are outside the educational system.

Skills in academic writing are most valuable to:

Grad students, professors and faculty, and researchers could all have occasion to be published in journals, to present at conferences, and to publish the findings of research projects. The ability to communicate to peers and collaborate in the academic environment depends on strong academic writing skills in those jobs.

How Creative Writing Degrees Can Improve Academic Writing Skills

As closely as academic writing is associated with higher education, it’s an interesting fact that there is no such thing as a degree in academic writing. Many schools have individual courses or programs designed to teach academic writing skills, but you will not find full degree programs in the field in the way that you will in technical or professional writing.

That means getting a formal education that will boost your academic writing skills depends on earning a degree in a more general or a related field, and then applying those lessons in academic work.

A degree in technical writing may be the most closely aligned with the nature and style of academic writing, but a degree in creative writing can offer unexpected benefits to academic writing skills.

Creative writing degrees focus on both reading and on actual writing practice. With regular review and critique from professors and fellow students, you learn about the use of structure and tone in many different kinds of written works. You will also polish your grammar, style, and vocabulary.

That kind of breadth of study and skill-building can all be put to use in academic writing as well, where the discipline of format and structure are key.

Why Does Academic Writing Require Strict Formatting?

Academic writing is presented in a formal tone. That tone is set, in part, by standardized formatting.

The most common structure in academic writing is often known as IMRD, standing for:


An overview of the existing state of knowledge in the field and a brief statement of the objectives of the piece.


How the research or experimental effort being described was conducted.


A presentation of the objective results of the research.


A recap of how the results impact the current knowledge in the field as well as other implications and possible further avenues of study revealed by the current effort.

This presents information to the reader in a familiar way, mirroring how a logical supporting argument is framed and advanced.

Different Academic Fields Often Have Slightly Different Formatting Standards

Although academic writing is characterized by strict formatting, that formatting may differ between different academic disciplines. Reading a paper discussing the political implications of dining table seating in the 16th century courts of European monarchs will be a very different experience than one comparing the strengths and weaknesses of carbon fiber construction materials versus stainless steel.

In part, this is because the audiences for academic works are relatively narrow, and the writer can make many assumptions about their background and level of knowledge within their discipline.

Academic writing allows for heavy use of jargon for brevity, something that is frowned upon in other types of writing.

The fact that many academic works build on existing knowledge within a discipline also makes citation very important in academic writing. The writer is expected to provide substance and evidence for factual statements, with references that readers can check and verify. The style and structure required for effective citation dictates formatting standards such as the use of footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies.

With a full understanding of these kinds of tools and standards that come out of creative writing programs, any graduate is well-equipped for hitting all the marks in academic works.