Academic writing

Academic writing or scholarly writing is nonfiction writing produced as part of academic work. Writing that reports on university research, writing produced by university students, and writing in which scholars analyze culture or propose new theories are all sometimes described as academic writing. Though the tone, style, content, and organization of academic writing vary across genres and across publication methods, nearly all academic writing shares a relatively formal prose register and frequent reference to other academic work.

Academic style

Academic writing often features a prose register that is conventionally characterized by "evidence...that the writer have been persistent, open-minded, and disciplined in study"; that prioritizes "reason over emotion or sensual perception"; and that imagines a reader who is "coolly rational, reading for information, and intending to formulate a reasoned response." The particular stylistic means of achieving these conventions can differ considerably by academic discipline, however; these differences help explain the distinctive sounds of, for example, writing in history versus engineering or physics versus philosophy. One attempt to account for these differences in writing is known as the theory of "discourse communities," as explained in more detail below.

Discourse community

A discourse community is essentially a group of people that shares mutual interests and beliefs. "It establishes limits and regularities...who may speak, what may be spoken, and how it is to be said; in addition prescribe what is true and false, what is reasonable and what foolish, and what is meant and what not."
The concept of a discourse community is vital to academic writers across nearly all disciplines, for the academic writer's purpose is to influence how their community understands its field of study: whether by maintaining, adding to, revising, or contesting what that community regards as "known" or "true." Academic writers have strong incentives to follow conventions established by their community in order for their attempts to influence this community to be legible.

Discourse community constraints

Constraints are the discourse community's written and unwritten conventions about what a writer can say and how he or she can say it. They define what is an acceptable argument. Each discourse community expects to see a writer construct his or her argument using their conventional style of language and vocabulary, and they expect a writer to use the established intertext within the discourse community as the building blocks for his or her argument.

Writing for a discourse community

In order for a writer to become familiar with some of the constraints of the discourse community they are writing for. Across most discourses communities, writers will:
Each of theses above are constructed differently depending on the discourse community the writer is in. For example, the way a claim is made in a high school paper would look very different from the way a claim is made in a college composition class. It is important for the academic writer to familiarize himself or herself with the conventions of the discourse community by reading and analyzing other works, so that the writer is best able to communicate his or her ideas.

Novel argument

Within discourse communities, academic writers build on top of the ideas established by previous writers.
Good academic writers know the importance of researching previous work from within the discourse community and using this work to build their own claims. By taking these ideas and expanding upon them or applying them in a new way, a writer is able to make their novel argument.


Intertextuality is the combining of past writings into original, new pieces of text. Usually attributed to Julia Kristeva, the concept of intertextuality is helpful for understanding that all texts are necessarily related to prior texts through a network of explicit or implicit links, allusions, repetitions, acknowledged or unacknowledged inspiration, and direct quotations. Writers make use of what has previously been written and thus some degree of borrowing is inevitable. One of the most salient features of academic writing irrespective of discipline is its unusually explicit conventions for marking intertextuality through citation and bibliography. Conventions for these markings vary by discourse community.


Factoring in intertextuality, the goal of academic writing is not simply creating new ideas, but to offer a new perspective and link between already established ideas. This is why gathering background information and having past knowledge is so important in academic writing. A common metaphor used to describe academic writing is "entering the conversation", a conversation that began long before you got there and will continue long after you leave. A quote from Kenneth Burke encapsulates this metaphor:
Intertextuality plays into this because without it there would be no conversations, just hundreds of thousands of writings not connected or able to build on each other. The listening until you can join the conversation can be seen as doing research. All of the research you read, is built on research instead of self-knowledge.

Key elements

A number of areas of importance in all academic and scholarly writing are:
;Formal style or register
;Appropriate references

Academic document types

These are acceptable to some academic disciplines, e.g. Cultural studies, Fine art, Feminist studies, Queer theory, Literary studies.
A commonly recognized format for presenting original research in the social and applied sciences is known as IMRD, an initialism that refers to the usual ordering of subsections:
Standalone methods sections are atypical in presenting research in the humanities; other common formats in the applied and social sciences are IMRAD and IRDM.
Other common sections in academic documents are: