How academic writing differs from non-academic writing

Academic writing is very different from other writing that you use every day and it is also different from writing in the workplace. It is more formal with an emphasis on creating an argument.

You need to do more than provide or describe information. You need to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely and evidence your opinions with references from reliable sources. The language used is formal and cautious.

Other dos and don’ts include not using contractions such as ‘don’t’, and avoiding colloquial vocabulary.

Poor grammar and punctuation can distract the reader from the discussion points in your writing, this may result in grades that do not reflect your knowledge. You can refresh your memory of grammar and punctuation here in this free, online, short course Writing in English for University – Online Course – FutureLearn.

The Academic Phrasebank provides examples of appropriate phrases you might use in your writing. It is organised in themes such as introducing work, being cautious, and referring to sources.

You will need to support your written work with evidence. You are expected to refer to ideas from others (including other academics and authors). You must accurately attribute those ideas, including ones generated by AI such as ChatGPT. To ensure correct referencing, use Cite Them Right and see the Referencing guide.

The writing process

All types of academic writing involve reflecting, thinking, reading, making notes, planning, and structuring as well as drafting, redrafting, writing, and rewriting. You will need to regularly review and edit your initial plan and structure. You may need to rearrange or remove some text to maintain the document’s flow. You are advised to regularly stand back from your writing and ask yourself if the writing flows, does it contribute to your argument, and is it in the right place. You will also redraft sections of writing. You will need time before the deadline to look out for presentation, grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. It is best to have a gap from editing your work before you do this. Try to proofread your work in a different place from where you usually work, change the colour of the font, and use the ‘read aloud’ function in Word (or read it aloud yourself / ask someone else to). Click here for more tips on editing and proofreading your work

Ensure you check all guidance you are given as part of your course and in the assessment brief. 

It can be hard to start writing. You need to take time to reflect on what the assessment brief asks you to do. See getting started 

Different types of academic writing

Always check the assessment brief to ensure that you write your assessment using the correct type of academic writing. Each type has its own requirements – the main types are listed below: click on them for further guidance. If you do not see your type below and you are unsure of what is expected, please contact your tutor(s) and/or HE Study for further support 

Reflective writing 

Writing reports 

Writing essays 

Literature Review 


Thinking about grammar 

Grammar is the system we use for organising language so that it is deliberately meaningful. It is not a set of absolute rules, but a kind of code that we all agree to as English language speakers so that we can communicate ideas to each other. In informal writing, like texting or instant messaging, grammatical errors are usually overlooked. In creative writing and colloquial speech, the system can be tweaked for effect; if you are studying any form of creative writing as a primary text, you will get used to analysing the kinds of effects that are caused in this way.  

However, in other situations, where it is necessary to convey ideas accurately and clearly, writing grammatically is important. In academic writing, where you are expected to demonstrate your understanding of complex ideas, it is essential.


Academic style conventions and word count

Assessments are usually the product of many hours of hard work, so poor presentation can spoil an otherwise excellent piece of work and you will not receive marks if you are not following certain academic conventions.

It is essential that you keep a separate copy of your work in addition to the copy submitted for marking, this can be in electronic or paper form. You should also keep any digital or paper receipts from work handed in.

Thinking about words

Presenting work

Font Style Arial, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS or close equivalent
Font Size 12 points for the main text, 10 points for footnotes, and no less than 10 points for tables
Line Spacing 1.5 line spacing for all submitted work
Indentation Normal – no greater than 2.6 top and bottom 1.5, 2 left and right margins
Justification The main text justified left
Page Numbers Bottom centre of every page
Printing Print on both sides of the page if possible to save paper costs and use black ink
Headers UCSD student number and module code

Word Count

Your assessment brief, within your module guide, will state the required word count and time frame. You are permitted to exceed this by 10%, to include all in-text references and text within tables.

If you go over the word count/time limit by more than 10% the marker will stop marking, this will result in the rest of your work not being read and this will impact your grade.

Essay X word count required 1500 words

Work submitted length Outcome
up to 1500 All work marked and graded
1500-1650 All work marked and graded
1651-1800 The first 1650 words marked and graded, the remaining words not read or marked
1801-2000 The first 1650 words marked and graded, the remaining words not read or marked

Download a copy of the Academic style guide

Useful links

PDF study guides  25 study guides to support the development of key academic skills required to succeed in higher education.

Library – information on using the library, searching for physical and digital resources, and accessing inter-library loans.

eResources – browse and search the Library’s online resources, including eBooks and online databases.

Primo (UoP students) -Ignore any “sign in” buttons when searching for and accessing a resource until you are taken to a Microsoft sign-in screen featuring the University of Plymouth logo. You will be prompted to sign in with your UoP email address and password.

HE Study – Contact the HE Study team for support and guidance via email or on Teams.