‘Your academic writing isn’t academic enough.’
If you’ve ever got this kind of feedback for one of your essays, it can be a bit of a blow. You’ve tried hard to meet the expectations of your assessment criteria by including content you thought was necessary, but something about the way you’ve written the essay doesn’t quite fit the bill. What does ‘not academic enough’ mean?
The paragraph you have just read includes some language that is not appropriate for academic writing. The tone is informal, using expressions we might use in conversation with a friend. Notice the clichés (bit of a blow, fit the bill) and the contractions (‘you’ve’ instead of ‘you have’).
So how is academic writing different? In general, academic writing is more formal. One way you can achieve this is through the use of suitable verbs. Academic writers generally use powerful, single-word verb forms instead of phrasal verbs (verb + preposition). For example, instead of writing ‘bring about’ change, you could say ‘effect’ change’; instead of ‘wipe out’, you might use ‘eliminate’.
For more examples of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate academic language, this is an excellent resource:
‘Using Appropriate Words in an Academic Essay’ (NUS)
4 April 2019
Look through your essay and underline your reporting verbs. Then decide whether you have used the most suitable verb in each case.
To raise the quality of your writing, check your verbs. Select verbs that say exactly what you mean and carry the right amount of weight.
Here’s an enjoyable way to learn how the different parts of speech affect your writing style.