What Is Academic Writing? Definition and 7 Types to Consider

Updated May 26, 2023

A woman sits at a desktop computer, typing in a word document.

Academic writing, or scholarly writing, helps scholars present ideas, analyze research and construct an effective argument. Though the purpose of scholarly writing can vary among disciplines, this style of writing has many common features. If you work in academia, you may benefit from knowing the characteristics and categories of scholarly writing to help you publish your original work.

In this article, we define scholarly writing, describe some of its general characteristics and list seven categories of scholarly writing.

What is academic writing?

Academic writing is a formal style of writing that researchers and educators use in scholarly publications. It focuses on evidence-based arguments and logical reasoning to guide a reader's understanding of a subject. Writers can use this format to identify and analyze a concept and propose a theory or rational conclusion. Professionals may use scholarly writing differently depending on their field. For example, scientists use this type of writing to explain their research and support their findings, while literary critics use scholarly writing to make a convincing argument through fact-based research.

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Characteristics of academic writing

Common characteristics of scholarly writing often include:

Formal tone and style

Scholarly writing uses a formal style that shows the writer's knowledge and expertise in the subject area. Writers typically use the third-person point of view throughout scholarly writing to show objectivity. Formal writing has a serious tone to give credibility to the ideas the writer is presenting.

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Objective argument

Academic writing aims to make an objective argument using evidence. Writers support their statements and key points using facts and evidence-based research. They use data and analysis to present an argument objectively, without stating their own beliefs or assumptions.

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Use of resources

Writers use scholarly writing to show their knowledge of the subject. They support their conclusions with evidence and cite those resources, often including a bibliography with their work. A bibliography lists all the scholarly articles, books or other resources a writer references throughout the text. It's important to cite sources in scholarly writing because it gives credit to others for their research and helps to support the major points of the text.

Logical structure

Scholarly writing's clear and logical structure can help readers follow the text and make connections between related concepts. It has an introduction and a conclusion and a well-defined thesis statement. A thesis statement is a summary, typically in the introductory paragraph, that defines the key point or argument of the text. The body of the text supports the thesis statement, and the conclusion summarizes the idea and explains its significance.

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Free of errors

It's important for scholarly writing to be clean, consistent and free of errors so that readers view the text as a credible source. Scholarly writing uses specific language to convey key points. It also follows grammatical rules and remains consistent with stylistic conventions, such as spelling, punctuation and verb tense.

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7 categories of academic writing

Here are seven categories of academic or scholarly writing:

1. Chapters

Scholarly writers may submit chapters for an edited volume or collection, which features submissions from different authors. These edited publications can offer different viewpoints on a single topic or idea. These chapters follow other styles of academic writing but may provide less background because readers are likely to have some knowledge of the subject already. Often, the writers of these chapters have already published scholarly documents on the topic, and they may submit shorter versions or similar pieces of writing for the collection.

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2. Essays

An essay is a short piece of writing, usually between 1,500 to 2,000 words, that presents an idea or argument. Typically, an essay aims to convince the reader of an idea using research and analysis. The writer provides context on the subject to help support their argument. Academic writers often publish their essays in scholarly journals.

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3. Research articles

A research article provides an in-depth analysis of the author's independent research. It clearly explains the researcher's processes and methods to show how they arrived at a conclusion. It usually references other data and resources to reinforce the findings of the research. Writers often submit these articles to academic journals or similar publications. Many times, peers in the industry review these articles before their publication.

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4. Technical reports

A technical report explains the progress or results of technical research. Often, researchers write these reports to submit to the sponsor or organization funding the research project. It may include recommendations based on the results of the research. These documents rarely go through a peer-review process. For this reason, researchers often use these reports as a primary draft that they can later refine before submitting their work to scholarly publications.

5. Annotated bibliographies

An annotated bibliography is a comprehensive list of sources on a topic that includes brief descriptions or evaluations of each source. It summarizes these sources, usually in a paragraph format, so that a reader can understand the general context of each one. For example, the writer may include the source's principal argument, conclusion and reliability. These bibliographies are independent documents that can give the reader an overview of the research and findings on a specific topic.

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6. Theses

A thesis, sometimes known as a dissertation, is a document that summarizes the author's research on a specific topic. Typically, those pursuing an advanced degree, such as a master's degree or doctorate, submit a thesis at the end of their program as a requirement for graduation. It usually builds on existing research to contribute new knowledge or theories on the topic. These are typically lengthy documents between 6,000 and 20,000 words. Often, writers choose to structure a thesis using chapters to break up their key points.

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7. Literary analyses

A literary analysis evaluates a literary work, such as a book or collection of poetry. Authors of a literary analysis persuasively communicate their interpretation of an idea or concept in the literature. This analysis often provides enough background and context of the work to support the author's argument. It usually focuses on one specific part of the literary work, such as a character or theme.

Academic writing tips

If you use an academic writing style, here are some tips to remember:

Cite all the resources you use

It's critical to cite any sources that you use in scholarly writing using a consistent style. This makes it easy for the reader to understand how you interpreted other people's work to arrive at your conclusion. Depending on your academic field, you can use style guides from various associations as a reference to help you format these citations. Citing your sources correctly can help show that your work results from independent thinking and analysis.

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Write concisely and summarize

Though some academic works, such as a thesis, can be lengthy documents, it's important to keep your writing concise to summarize your key points. This can help readers follow your argument, particularly when you're writing about complex topics. Look for places in your writing where you may repeat concepts you stated previously or where you use redundant phrases. When possible, divide sentences of more than 25 words into two or more sentences. This can improve the readability of the text and make it easier for readers to understand your ideas.

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