Academic writing is a broad term that applies to all forms of communications at high academic level, including articles in peer reviewed journals, university and college papers as well as theses and dissertations. Despite a relatively broad spectrum of academic fields and versatility of publishing formats and media, there are some universal standards of academic writing that should be kept in mind.
First and foremost, when writing an academic paper, it is important to remember that your primary audience are other academics in the same or similar filed. Thus, certain level of prior knowledge should be assumed and not much background information on the general topic is necessary. It is sufficient to give a brief introduction, in particular if your area of expertise, or an idea you are trying to put across, is relatively new and innovative. However, this can be effectively supported by referencing key prior works in this field, rather than giving extensive information in the paper itself.
This brings another excellent point about academic writing—citing! When it comes to citing, the ‘less is more’ rule does not apply. Citing relevant sources is not only required, as it avoids plagiarism if ideas and data in your paper are adopted from elsewhere, it also shows that you have extensively researched the topic of the paper. Given the technological advancements, the days of searching through archives and libraries for relevant information are long gone. Internet provides a vast expanse of information at your fingerprints, which can easily be searched by keywords, instantly bringing results. This can be both advantageous as well as problematic, as reliability of published sources and information has to be carefully scrutinized. Thus, it is always better to cite other academic sources, in particular recent peer reviewed journal articles. However, it is important to not only select relevant sources, but to provide a wide range of viewpoints or findings reached by extant publications. That will help structure your paper and place it in the context of the current knowledge in the field.
This is another key point about academic writing—it has to present new knowledge in the field and yield a valid contribution to the body of knowledge in the specific area of your research. Your contribution has to be clearly stated and how your work helps expand the field and future work must be identified. It is also useful to state who the main beneficiaries of your work are. For example, if writing on a public health issue, clearly the key stakeholders are heath service providers, but the public as potential users would also find your work beneficial. Moreover, other academics in the field may use your results to expand their work, or build upon your results. Finally, policy makers, funding organizations and government agencies will clearly have keen interest in the results. This certainly raises profile of your work and helps you establish yourself in the field.
Finally, given that you have established the clear focus, benefit and context of your work, it is important to pay attention to the structure and style of your paper. The points below might be helpful, in particular if you are a novice writer. However, if you are writing for a specific journal, or your college has written guidelines, these will obviously take precedence over more general points presented here:
- Create a concise and well-defined introduction that clearly explains the purpose and context of your work.
- Provide sufficient background and cite relevant sources that will guide the reader towards the relevance of your paper
- Present your objectives clearly, avoiding emotional statements and personal opinions. Present facts and support them by valid evidence and/or data, depending on the field of study.
- If experimental work is covered by your paper, list all materials, methods, procedures and participants, bearing in mind that this should be concise, but informative enough as to guide the reader through the process you carried out.
- Present analysis and results, using tables and graphs where appropriate
- Draw conclusions that are based on the work above and reiterate how your findings contribute to the field of study
- Create extensive list of references that corresponds to the works cited in your paper
- Acknowledge any contributors to your work
This will certainly be a good starting point in writing you paper. Do not get discouraged if it is not accepted at first attempt. That experience in itself will be beneficial learning process and you will soon master the craft of academic writing.
However, if in doubt, you can always enlist help of a professional academic editor, who will have vast experience in writing, publishing and editing academic papers and will help you achieve academic success!