Part One Academic Writing Essentials

Unit 1 Introduction to Academic Writing

Learning Objectives

  1. To understand what academic writing is
  2. To learn the characteristics of academic writing and ways to achieve them
  3. To address some common misconceptions about writing

I. Warm – Up


computer keyboard, notebook, ear buds, and coffee
computer keyboard, notebook, ear buds, and coffee

Discuss in groups:

  1. Do you like writing in your native language? What do you usually write about?
  2. How do you like writing in English? When do you write in English?
  3. What makes good writing in your native language? In English?
  4. What is your most unforgettable writing experience in either language?
  5. What are the purposes of writing?
  6. What areas of English writing are easy for you? What areas are challenging?
  7. What expectations do you have for this course?
  8. What do you think academic writing is?


II. Definition of Academic Writing

What is writing for?  As you have just discussed,  the simplest answer is to communicate meaning.

People write for different purposes. For example,

  • Some of them write to inform, as in news stories and technical manuals[1].
  • Some write to entertain[2], as in fictions and movie scripts.
  • In daily life, people may scribble[3] a short reminder note, compose a festive party invitation, or craft a well-versed[4] love letter.
  • In work, meeting memos[5] and business reports are very common.
  • In colleges and universities, students write paragraphs, essays, research papers, lab reports, and many others. These forms of writing are called academic writing – a formal, nonfictional written piece of work for learning, teaching, and researching.

It is the last type – academic writing – that this course is introducing and focusing on. At this intermediate level, you will be learning the basic styles and uses as well as practicing editing skills associated with academic writing to be ready for higher-level compositions[6] in colleges and universities.


III. Characteristics of Academic Writing

All types of writing share many aspects in common. However, each type has its own characteristics. Academic writing is characterized by the following:

1. Logical and direct

Academic writing in English uses a very linear organizational style. This means that the writers explain their information in a straightforward way, like a vertical line – the main idea first, followed by supporting ideas to explain the main idea, and a conclusion that signals the completion of the explanation.

Main idea

Supporting ideas


Unlike the approaches[7] in some other countries, the American style requires the students to state their focus early in their writing, without “hiding” the points or “circulating” hints till the end of writing.

2. Formal

Formal, standard English is expected. This requires a good understanding of formal grammar and usage. Colloquial[8] and spoken English should not be used.

3. Clear

Writing clearly is extremely important as the purpose of writing is not only to clarify your own thoughts but also to communicate them for others to understand. To achieve this, you should not translate from your native language and should always proofread[9] your writing for accuracy.

4. Concise

Being concise means not repeating the same words and ideas unnecessarily.  Sometimes, repetition is important to emphasize a point, but most often needless duplications[10] of the same ideas may make your writing redundant[11] and inefficient.


Writing is a process. Almost no one can produce perfect writing on the first try; in fact, there is no such thing as perfect writing. Good writing takes time and repeated revisions[12]. Most importantly, it takes patience and continuous efforts to achieve the characteristics explained above.


IV. Ten Most Common Misconceptions about Writing

wrong way traffic sign
wrong way traffic sign

The following ten misconceptions[13] are very common among ESL students of all levels. Read each statement first and think/discuss whether you feel the same way.  Then click to read explanations and suggestions.



V. Unit Review Practice

Exercise:  Discuss the following topics in groups. Then choose one of them to write a paragraph.

  1. What is academic writing? What are the characteristics of academic writing?
  2. What has been your best writing experience? The most challenging writing experience?
  3. The ten common misconceptions are explained in this unit. What are the ones that apply to you? What advice will be the most helpful to you?


 NSNT Practice

a pen writing in a notebook
a pen writing in a notebook

Study Appendix A NSNT Free Writing Approach (Open Appendix A here.). Then choose two topics from the Week 1 additional prompts[14] and practice NSNT free writing.  Remember not to translate from your native language and not to stop writing once you start.


Vocabulary Review

a page in a dictionary
a page in a dictionary

The words here have appeared in this unit.  The best way to learn them is to guess the meaning of each word from the context.  Then hover your computer mouse over the number beside each word to check its meaning and part of speech. These words are also listed in the footnote area at the end of each unit.

Here, you can use the flashcards below to review these words.





  1. Academic writing is what students write for their classes in colleges and universities.
  2. Academic writing is logical, direct, formal, clear, and concise.
  3. To improve writing skills, it is important to:
  • Try not to translate from your native language.
  • Do not rely on the information on the Internet.
  • Explore your topic by brainstorming and then organize your ideas by outlining.
  • Narrow down a general topic to a more specific one.
  • Get help from your professor and  ESL tutors.
  • Be proactive in contacting your professor regarding errors in your writing.
  • Do not rely too much on the help of your family and friends.
  • Study grammar.
  • Read as much as you can.


Media Attributions

  1. manual: noun, a small book of instructions
  2. entertain: verb, provide music, stories, etc. for people to enjoy
  3. scribble: verb, write quickly and informally
  4. well-versed: adjective, with beautiful language use
  5. memo: noun, a short message or report
  6. composition: noun, a piece of writing such as an essay for a college course
  7. approach: noun, a way of thinking about things and doing things
  8. colloquial: adjective, informal
  9. proofread: verb, read and check for mistakes
  10. duplication: noun, a copy, a repetition
  11. redundant: adjective, wordy, repetitive unnecessarily
  12. revision: noun, a new copy showing improvement
  13. misconception: noun, a wrong idea
  14. prompt: noun, a topic for writing


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