How To Improve Your Academic Writing Style

Writing academically comes easily to very few. Many authors view the formality and precision required in academic communication as constraints on their expression. But, whilst there are strict rules and conventions, it is still possible to find your own voice and write original, engaging content.

Here, we’ll discuss some key ways to improve your academic writing style.

1.     Vary your sentence structure

One common pitfall in academia is using repetitive sentence structures and phrasing. This can make it difficult for a reader to engage with your work; variety makes them much more likely to maintain their interest.

There are four different sentence structures that are available to you:

Simple sentences: A simple sentence consists of one independent clause—a sequence of words containing a subject and verb, and usually object, that expresses a complete thought.

He enjoys reading.

The experiment was conducted.

Compound sentences: Compound sentences are made up of two independent clauses that are connected by a conjunction (underlined)—a word or phrase used to connect clauses (e.g., and, but, although, as soon as).

The participants were interviewed and their responses were recorded.

The weather is warm, but it is meant to rain later.

Complex sentences: These are constructed by connecting an independent clause to a dependent clause—a collection of words that do not express a complete thought and require an independent clause to make sense (underlined).

After the meeting was finished, the employees went back to their desks.

Although she was tired, she decided to go for a run.

Compound–complex sentences: These sentences contain two independent clauses joined by a conjunction as well as a dependent clause.

After completing the literature review, we continued on to carry out our methodology, and then we recorded the results.

Whilst training, runners must make sure to follow a strict exercise calendar, but they should also listen to their bodies to prevent injury.

Using a mix of these sentence types introduces rhythm to your paper, making it a much more pleasing and engaging read.

2.     Mix up your punctuation

As using the same sentence structure can be tedious for the reader, so can not varying your punctuation. There are a multitude of ways in which to punctuate sentences. By using different punctuation marks, you can place more emphasis on various aspects of your work, and when used correctly they can avoid misinterpretations.

Below are two punctuation marks that can be used to add variety to your work and improve your academic writing skills.


Semicolons (;) can be used to signify that two independent clauses are related, and can be used in place of conjunctions. For example:

The student submitted their paper on time; they no longer felt stressed.

The man woke early; the sun wasn’t up yet.

This helps illustrate the relationship between both clauses and allows a smoother transition and flow.

They can also be used to separate complex items in a list. For example:

On their travels, they visited Sydney, Australia; Bali, Indonesia; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

We established the phylogeny of the following species: shelduck, Tadorna tadorna; eider, Somateria mollissima; and goldeneye, Bucephala clangula.

Em dashes

The em dash (—) is a versatile punctuation mark that can be used in place of a comma, colon, and bracket. It is used to add on information to a clause. It is also great for adding emphasis and breaking up the flow of your sentence into logical, digestible components.

As a comma: Em dashes can be used to break up independent and dependent clauses like commas. But, they place more emphasis on the following information than a comma does.

The artist was experiencing creative block—though this was nothing new to him.

A second dataset was created—one without the repeated values.

As a colon: They can also introduce lists and text in the same way as a colon.

We went to three UK cities—London, Manchester, and Birmingham.

They had one aim—to reduce costs.

As parentheses: The em dash can also be used in place of brackets and commas to break up parenthetical information.

They finished the project early—much to everyone’s surprise—and moved onto the next task.

They had to set off at 8 o’clock—even though the event didn’t start until 11—to get there on time.

Varying your punctuation allows you to emphasize your ideas effectively, clarify your meaning, keep the reader’s interest, and ultimately develop your own unique style and voice in academia.

3.     Transition words and sentence openers

Most authors are familiar with using transition words to link sentences and paragraphs, allowing their work to flow smoothly from one point to the next. Words and phrases like However, Furthermore, and As a result give a paper structure and allow the reader to see the links between ideas.

There are many ways in which to use transitions—to show cause and effect, to clarify, to contrast, for emphasis, and more. However, many authors find a select few they like, and use them on repeat throughout their paper.

Below are some common transition words that can be used in these contexts to improve your academic writing skills:

Addition: Additionally; Furthermore; Moreover; In addition

Cause and effect: Thus; As a result; Consequently; Hence; Accordingly; For this reason

Comparison: Similarly; Likewise; Compared to; Correspondingly

Contrast: However; On the other hand; Conversely; Nevertheless; Whereas; In contrast

Example: For instance; For example; In particular; Specifically; Namely

Time: Meanwhile; Subsequently; Afterwards; Simultaneously; In the meantime

Developing your voice

By implementing these suggestions in your work, you can go beyond adhering to rules and conventions—you can develop your own unique style. Paying attention to sentence structure, punctuation, and transitions allows you to create flowing, compelling prose that engages and impacts the reader.

If you want to read any more articles to develop your academic writing skills, look at our posts on writing with clarity in academia and 3 grammar and punctuation mistakes to avoid.

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If you want to ensure your thesis or dissertation is free from any grammatical and punctuation errors, MDPI Author Services offers language editing services to students. We provide a comprehensive language edit, correcting grammar, punctuation, and phrasing. Users of our Rapid Service will receive their edit within 1 working day.

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