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Writing is one of the most important skills for success in higher education [1]. Publications are still the primary means of assessing a researcher’s output, and the single most important criteria for hiring and promotion in the academic system. Therefore, being able to write efficiently (maximizing the limited amount of time available for writing) and effectively (being able to clearly communicate ideas in writing) is critical for advancement. Furthermore, excellent writing skills are also needed in order to have talks or papers accepted for conferences, to communicate with broad range of audiences, and to achieve success in the highly competitive grant system.

Academic writing requires the author to take a critical approach to the topic at hand. This can take many forms, including reviewing and amalgamating evidence on a topic, identifying critical gaps in the literature, or critiquing approaches, theories, or results. Claims are substantiated by a combination of reasoned logic, evidence, and prior research of other authors in the same or related fields [2].



You have to try and write, even if it's just for half an hour a day . . . You just have to find a time when it's possible just to close off everything, and write.

What are some of the challenges of academic writing?

There are a host of challenges that academics face in their writing, including [11][12][13]:

  • A lack of self-management skills:
    Academic writing is often not an urgent task but is nonetheless critical to your career success. Self-management skills are necessary to both manage your work and allow you to control the speed and quality of your academic output. One important strategy can be to schedule writing into your calendar (see time management).

  • A lack of strategy for composing text:
    Have a conscious strategy or process for working through your writing process, from beginning to end.

  • Problems understanding and following instructions:
    Writing requires understanding instructions before commencing work. For example, writing an academic paper requires you to conform to precise instructions and procedures which may be specific to your field, or even the journal that you intend to submit your article to. In order to successfully publish your work, you must adapt your writing to comply to those requirements.

  • Difficulties introducing the topic:
    The introduction of a paper should focus on stating the topic and a plan for development. Avoid raising questions that are not addressed throughout the text. 

  • Weaknesses in content:
    Academic papers should be rigorously written to provide strong, well-reasoned evidence for claims. Avoid providing inadequate support for statements.

  • Avoiding errors:
    After working on an article for a long time, it is easy to miss minor errors in grammar and punctuation. Make sure to proofread your work. Try taking some time away from your work so you can view it with fresh eyes.

  • Problems in understanding and accepting criticisms:
    Academic publishing is often characterized by continuously receiving negative feedback and comments about your work. It is important to develop a ‘thick skin’, improve your resilience, and treat feedback as a means of strengthening the rigour of your work. 

  • Presenting a cohesive argument:
    Reporting your data is not enough. It is important to contextualize your findings, by being clear and concise about the claims you make and supporting each claim with relevant data.

  • Writer’s block:
    All writers have had the experience of writer’s block – hitting a point where it is difficult to know how to proceed with your writing. Don’t stress when this happens! Instead, switch tasks for a while (e.g., go for a walk, change your environment, read a book, listen to music) and continue the writing process later.

  • Writing stress:
    Most writers suffer from the burden of completion. It can be a challenge to find the best way to present results so that they can be interpreted, understood, and considered scientifically valid. Avoid mental and physical exhaustion by taking frequent breaks, practicing meditation, and accepting self-care [14].

What are the key characteristics of good academic writing?

When you start the writing process, take note of the essential features of good academic writing [15]:

  • Tone. State the strengths of the arguments confidently in a neutral manner. Remember that you’re investigating the research problem from an authoritative view.

  • Dictation. Make use of concrete words that convey a specific meaning. Avoid using general words that have different meanings and interpretations.

  • Language. Use unambiguous language. Avoid vague expressions (“they”, “people”), abbreviations (“i.e.”, “a.k.a.”) and nonspecific determinate words (“incredible”, “super”).

  • Punctuation. Limit your use of exclamation points and dashes. Understand when to use semi-colons: (i) when a second section explains the first section; (ii) to describe a sequence of actions/aspects; (iii) before clauses: therefore, even so, for instance; (iv) to mark of a series of sections that contain commas.

  • Academic conventions. Acknowledge the source of ideas, data, and research findings using references. Make appropriate use of headings and subheadings, and avoid contradictions and slang.

Authoritative "I"

Traditionally, most English-language academic guides have advised against writing in the first person. By avoiding the first-person point of view, authors were thought to appear more objective. In recent years, however, a paradigm shift to the authorial ‘I’ has taken place [3]. The ‘authorial ‘I’ reflects a writer’s awareness of themselves as author and the textual identity they construct through their writing. It demonstrates confidence in your own writing, understanding of authorship (i.e., identifying your own ideological standpoint), and a capacity to avoid plagiarism (e.g., knowing how to show which parts of your written work originated from other sources, knowing how to reference content) [4].  Writers can use the authorial ‘I’ as a strategy to demonstrate strong commitment to  their ideas[5], as it strengthens and clarifies one’s arguments and perspectives.


An important feature of academic writing is hedging: the use of cautious language. Hedging words or phrases, such as ‘It could be the case’ or ‘It might suggest that’, imply that the writer is not completely certain of the referential information he or she is presenting [8]. Hedging is important as it enables writers to distinguish between facts and claims. There are often good reasons to include hedging language in your writing, including [9]:

  1. Reducing the risk of opposition:
    Writers can downplay or soften their arguments through hedging. By toning down their statements, they can avoid criticism for being too radical or overconfident. In other words, hedging adds caution to protect claims.

  2. Allowing precision in reporting results:
    By reducing the strength of their claims, writers can more accurately represent the data/evidence presented and avoid overblown claims.

  3. Indicating a politeness strategy:
    Writers who make use of hedging come across as humble rather than being viewed as arrogant or all-knowing.

  4. Showing awareness of academic writing style:
    Hedging has become conventionalized. Writers who use hedging conform to the currently accepted style of academic writing.

Some examples of hedging language are:

  • Verbs: to seem, to appear to be, to think, to believe

  • Adverbs: certainly, probably, possibly, perhaps

  • Nouns: assumption, probability

  • Adjectives: probable, definite

Key strategies for improving your academic writing[16]

  • Create a writing habit
    Many authors identify the importance of creating a regular habit for writing. The "writing every day" strategy is about writing every day, usually for a fixed time at the same time each day. ARC Laureate Fellow Sharon Parker, for example, writes every morning for one hour. Her "rules" that she has introduced for herself include:

    • The time must be scheduled in her calendar

    • Only writing (not reading, analyses, editing)​

    • No more than an hour

    • No going 'backwards' (to avoid writing the first paragraph perfectly, but not making progress beyond this)

    • It must be every day

    • It must be first thing in the morning whilst fresh

    • It is at a coffee shop with no email and away from other distractions 

    • These are Sharon's rules - you need to create your own rules according to your own challenges!

  • Block out time for writing

Other authors have other strategies. Some, for example, prefer to block out large uninterrupted chunks of time for writing.  This blog discusses how academics have successfully used this strategy:

  • Create time and be disciplined
    Irrespective of whether you are someone who writes a bit every day, or creates large chunks of time, what is important is that you actively create a system for writing, and then stick to it. Because much academic writing does not have deadlines, this can mean that it falls into the important but not urgent category, and therefore never gets the time it needs. Scheduling writing time into your calendar is an important way to ensure you get to it.

  • Create or attend writing sessions
    At the Centre for Transformative Work Design, we hold a 2 hour "shut up and write" session in which people can come and write. At the beginning of the session, people briefly share their goals for the sessions, and at the end, we all report on our progress. This helps to keep us accountable. We also try to support a culture of writing. Researchers are encouraged to put a note on the door advising people when they are writing and do not want to be disturbed. 

  • Writing retreat
    Attend or set up a 'writing retreat'. At the Centre for Transformative Work Design, we have a 3 day retreat with PhD students and postdoctoral researchers in which we all focus on writing. We book a large house near the beach. Plenty of time is built in for thinking, reflecting, and of course socializing and enjoying the environment.

Additional strategies for improving your academic writing[16]

  • Create an outline
    What are the key points you want to convey in your article? Organize your thoughts and ideas through an outline of your arguments. Do this before you start drafting your article.

  • Use reliable sources of information [17]
    Critically evaluate your resources. Before adding a source, use a platform such as Ulrichsweb to check if a journal publication is refereed or peer-reviewed. Check to see whether the publisher is associated with a university press or commercial publisher. Avoid vanity or predatory publishers [18], which charge fees for publication without ensuring high quality peer review or academic integrity. Lastly, check the domain name to determine the authority of a website; for example, sites ending in .edu are educational websites.

  • Show a little style
    Academic papers often require adherence to a specific style or set of styles. Journals often stipulate a specific style for submitted publications.  Improve your quality of writing by investing in an appropriate style manual. Some examples include: The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, and The Chicago Manual of Style.

  • Proofreading leads to perfect papers
    Proofreading refers to the careful examination of a text to find and correct typographical errors and mistakes in grammar, style, and spelling [19]. Examples of online proofreading tools include Grammarly, Language Tool, and Submitting your papers for peer-review also provides an opportunity for other, similarly qualified professionals to review your work and strengthen it. A peer-reviewed article is evaluated by one or more people with similar competencies as the author of the work [20]. Academics may find the peer review process daunting. It is important to remember that the feedback you receive from peer reviewers is intended to help you improve your paper. Try not to become demoralized when receiving constructive criticism, because it will ultimately result in a better outcome.

  • Leave time for writing and editing
    All writing is improved by editing. Drafting and redrafting your work can improve the organization and flow of your ideas, creating a more coherent piece of work. By polishing your wording and eliminating verbiage you produce more persuasive and elegant papers.

Suggested videos and podcasts

Managing You - Writing Strategies
Glenda Sluga's Podcast - Interview by Sharon Parker

Effective writing strategies

Women in Research "Small Wins" Webinar
with ARC Laureate Fellows Professor Sharon Parker, Professor Adrienne Stone and Professor Hilary Charlesworth

See full reference list
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  1. Tillema, M. (2012). Writing in first and second language. Empirical studies on text quality and writing processes (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Utrecht University Repository.

  2. Fitzmaurice, M., & O’Farrell, C. (2013). Developing your academic writing skills: a handbook. Dublin: University of Dublin.

  3. Thompson Writing Program (n.d.). The first person in academic writing. Duke University. Retrieved from

  4. Pittam, G., Elander, J., Lusher, J., Fox, P., & Payne, N. (2009). Student beliefs and attitudes about authorial identity in academic writing. Studies in Higher Education, 34(2), 153-170. doi:10.1080/03075070802528270

  5. Hyland, K. (2002). Authority and invisibility: Authorial identity in academic writing. Journal of Pragmatics, 34(8), 1091-1112. doi:10.1016/S0378-2166(02)00035-8

  6. Newman, M. L., Groom, C. J., Handelman, L. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2008). Gender differences in language use: An analysis of 14,000 text samples. Journal of Discourse Processes, 45(3), 211-236. doi:10.1080/01638530802073712

  7. Holmes, J. (1995). Women, men and politeness. London: Longman.

  8. Hyland, K. (1994). Hedging in academic writing and EAP textbooks. English for Speaking Purposes, 13(3), 239-256. doi:10.1016/0889-4906(94)90004-3

  9. Centre for Learning and Professional Development (n.d.). Hedging in academic writing. Birkbeck University of London. Retrieved from:

  10. Ansarin, A. A., & Bathaie, M. S. (2011). Hedging as an index of gender realization in research articles in applied linguistics. Journal of Applied Language Studies, 3(2), 85-108. doi:10.22111/IJALS.2011.1010

  11. Lamberg, W. J. (1977). Problems in doing academic writing. College Composition and Communication, 28(1), 26-29. doi:10.2307/356889

  12. Moodley, K., James, A., & Stears, M. (2015). Reflections of a novice academic writer. Educational Research for Social Change, 4(2), 75-88.

  13. Hei Kuang, C. (2013). Challenges in academic writing: Reflections of a writer. ELT Voices - India, 3(3), 79-102.

  14. Nazish, N. (2018). How to overcome mental fatigue, according to an expert. Forbes. Retrieved from

  15. USCLibraries (2019). Organizing your social sciences research paper: Academic writing style. Retrieved from:

  16. Planning Tank (n.d.). Effective tips for successful academic writing. Retrieved from

  17. Edith Cowan University Western Australia (2019). Academic writing. Retrieved from

  18. Beall, J. (2012, Sep.). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature News, 489(7415), 179.

  19. Jilani, A. F. (2014). 100 techniques to become a genius student. England: Succes Genius Series.

  20. Reid, C., Greaves, L., & Kirby, S. (2017). Experience, research, social change: Critical methods (3th Ed.). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

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