English for Academic Purposes is a Piece of Cake: How to Make Your Writing Stand Out

Academic English differs from English we use every day in many ways. For example, think about how you talk to your teachers and friends. With friends, you use slang and colloquial language while with teachers you have to modify the vocabulary to sound formal.

The same rule applies to writing. Academic English differs from everyday English in writing norms, grammar, and vocabulary. All of these distinct features could be difficult to grasp because a substantial time and practice are required.

If you’re in need of academic writing tips that would improve the quality of your essays and research papers, you’ve landed on the right page. In this article, we are going to discuss a number of recommendations that can take your writing to another level.

How to make your academic writing stand out?

1. Use of Conjunctions

One of the most important elements in academic writing is conjunctions (e.g., but, or, and, yet, moreover, therefore). Mastering their use can help you to produce better sentences.

A good academic writing cannot be composed without them because they are needed to create complex sentences and advanced structures. For example, the following text contains three sentences:

I have been studying biology for two years. Sometimes it’s very difficult. I like to discover interesting things about nature.

These sentences are fine for a conversation with a friend but not for academic writing! We need to connect them using conjunctions to improve the structure:

I have been studying biology for two years and sometimes it’s very difficult but I like to discover interesting things about nature.

This example sounds much more natural, agree? Just two conjunctions turned three sentences into a nice one. But don’t use more two – you’ll get a run-on sentence.

As an English learner, you should always remember and use conjunctions in your writing. One funny way is to learn coordinating conjunctions is to memorize the following: FANBOYS.

F – for
A – and
N – nor
B – but
O – or
Y – yet
S – so

Unfortunately, there is no equivalent way to memorize correlative conjunctions, so refer to this Khan Academy video guide to learn them.

And remember: conjunctions allow you to combine ideas and compare clauses without breaking sentences, use them!

2. Sentence Structure

You’ve probably noticed that college papers, scientific articles, and other pieces of academic writing have a complex structure of sentences. This should not come as a surprise because complex ideas should be conveyed in a corresponding fashion.

Example #1: I prefer quality manufacturing. That’s why I imported a car from Germany. Just to make sure it will serve me well.

Example #2: I prefer quality manufacturing, so that’s why I imported a car from Germany to make sure it will serve me well.

The first example used three sentences to convey an idea while the second required only one. The second one also has a more complex structure, which is still easy to understand.

This is another rule that you should remember when writing academic works. This kind of writing requires the use of complex structures that are designed to deliver complex information to the reader in an efficient fashion.

However, it’s also important to understand that not all sentences should be produced using complex sentences. By doing so, you could make the text overly complex and the people might feel unengaged while reading it.

Review the following tips to improve your skills of improving structures:

  • If your writing often contains very long sentences, you should make them shorter. For example, if some of them have three conjunctions (we mentioned this above), they might be run-on sentences. Put conjunctions to improve the structure.
  • In contrast, if your academic works have short sentences, it’s perfectly okay to add words to make them a bit longer. Remember the example about the studying biology? One sentence can efficiently deliver the information of three! Find more information about simple and complex academic texts at college papers
  • Study punctuation. Using commas, quotation marks, colons, and parentheses can really improve your writing. Check out these punctuation resources from ThoughCo to know more.

3. Active voice vs Passive voice

Many English students face this problem while writing academic papers. Imagine a situation: you’re writing a college paper and found a resource to take information from. To avoid plagiarism, you want to make a great rewrite. But should you use active voice or passive voice?

In academic writing, it is commonly advised to use active voice whenever possible. Let’s analyze an example.

Active voice: the president states that the country should limit the import of sugar from foreign countries

Passive voice: it was stated by the president that the import of sugar from foreign countries should be limited.

Passive voice can be appropriate in many cases but it can also lead to a tangle of prepositional phrases, be vague, and use more words than the active voice.

To convert sentences into active voice, consider the following strategies:

  • If the source does not identify the subject, you can still use general terms to insert them into your paper, such as “scientists,” “the study,” and “researchers.”
  • See if sentences contain “by” (e.g., “by the president” in the example before). Try to rewrite the sentence using the previous tip.

4. Avoid informal language

You’re writing an academic work, so keep language formal. For example:

Informal: I’m the professor who grades your sociology papers. Well, I rejected your last essay. It was awful. I think you need to change it before you resend it to me.

Formal: this is to inform you that the submission of your last sociology essay has been rejected. In case you want to resubmit the paper, I strongly suggest you go over it and provide necessary changes.

Wrapping up

Following the rules and learning the academic style will go a long way in helping you to get high grades. As you can see, academic English is very different from English you’re using everyday with family and friends. However, don’t be discouraged even if you’re not a native speaker getting it right is just a matter of practice and time.


Diana Clark is an ESL Teacher with 5 years of successful work experience in teaching English as a second language, interactive teaching, and initiating supportive online lessons for ESL students. Feel free to follow her on twitter: @DianaCl97652243

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