10 Rules of Academic Writing You Should Follow

Communicating your ideas through writing is so important to the success in your study and career. In this article, we will introduce you to the important elements of academic writing.

There are many writing approaches you can use. However, we believe you should learn academic writing approach. The reason is that it has a good structure and can also be used at work. The list below is 10 common rules that you should consider,

1. Plan the outline
The outline of the article is the way to show readers how do you come up with the answer to the research question or the question of your assignment. Brainstorming is the most common way to create an outline. However, you should create an outline by using bullet points in simple language. Doing this way, you can be sure that your article really answers the question completely and appropriately.

2. Follow formal structure
You may have noticed that many news articles on major news sites don't really have a structure. Even if the purpose of this kind of article is to report fact, it's done hastily due to the tight deadline. So, each journalist really doesn't have time to develop a good structure. What is the example of a good article structure then? It's pretty simple,

- Article Title
- Introduction
- Each paragraph
- Sub-headline
- Conclusion

As you can see, it's not that hard to follow the formal article structure.

3. Tweak title
The title of the article dictates the direction of your writing. A good title should be specific, not too narrow and not too broad. You should write the title that most people understand, not just your professors or your boss. It should also tell readers what the article will provide, what people will get from reading your article.

4. Present ideas professionally
In order to present compelling ideas, you should make it sound neutral by avoiding your opinion.

When you use phrases such as "In my opinion", "I believe" or "I think", your readers will have the impression that your writing is just about what you believe, not a fact or unbiased information.

5. Understand plagiarism
When you use someone else's ideas without acknowledging them, it's called plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious issue and sometimes it's considered a crime. The most common forms of plagiarism are as below,

- Copy and paste text from a book
- Don't cite your sources
- Copy your friend's assignment

However, when the ideas are pretty well-known and you accidentally use without acknowledgment, you have just plagiarized someone else works.

Then, the rule of thumbs when it comes to plagiarism is to avoid "copy and paste" and "always cite your sources".

6. Choose sources wisely
Many people in both the business world and academia LOVE to use Wikipedia as the source but this is highly inappropriate. Even though Wikipedia is the encyclopedia, it can be edited by anyone from anywhere at any minute. In the literal meaning, Wikipedia is highly unreliable.

Here is the list of commonly accepted sources of information you can use,

- Journal articles via journal websites
- Academic books (textbook, edited volume, monograph, case study)
- Business books
- Leading newspaper and magazines written by full-time editorial staffs
- Blogs that provide clear information about the blog's creator, the blog's purpose and the blog's writers.

7. Learn how to use sources
There are 3 ways to appropriately cite your sources. When you use text from other books or articles, you should write in your own words "Paraphrasing". When you would like to draw a conclusion from the piece of content, you should "Summarize" it. When you would like to use the text as is, you should use "Direct Quotation".

8. Think before writing
Paraphrasing seems to be OK in the eye of students, but it may not be enough for your readers. In order to present your ideas strategically, you should challenge the ideas from the articles or books you read. If you see that the authors are not correct about what they say, try to find other sources to compare.

9. Create proper references
Citing your sources in the "references" section is so important in academic writing. Other than providing credit when credit is due, you show your readers that you spend a lot of time researching information. In short, an article with extensive references carries more weight.

There are many reference styles to choose from. But, some of the most respected reference styles are MLA, APA and Harvard. If you use Google Scholar, you can create citation easily by pressing the "cite" menu and select the style you would like to use.

10. Nail the conclusion
We really hate to say this, but we've found that even the world's reading researchers sometimes write a very bad conclusion. A 20-page article with a very sophisticated research methodology that provides 2 common sense takeaways is the example of a bad conclusion. A good conclusion should,

- Sound positive
- Include 5 to 10 points or ideas that readers pay attention
- Show how to apply those ideas
- Answer the questions of the article
- Tell what kind of research should be done in the future and why

Have you ever used these rules in your writing?

- Swales, John M., and Christine B. Feak. Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills. Vol. 1. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

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Last review and update: August 30, 2021
About the Editor
Ben Benjabutr is the editor of BookWorm4Life. He holds a Master's Degree in business with 10+ years of work experience and 8+ years of experience in blogging and online content production. He enjoys reading books about business, lifestyle and literature and he loves to share what he learns from books. You can drop him a line via e-mail.