Academic Language and writing

What vocabulary is needed and why it's important

How to ensure your writing fits within the conventions necessary for university along with making an explicit focus upon discipline specific vocabulary.

Generally, academic language and writing is underpinned by three key features: formalised writing style, objective and explicit and impersonal. Whether you are writing an essay, report, audiovisual presentation or case study it's important that you conform to the three aforementioned principles (as opposed to the three examples listed above).

Formalised writing style:

Typical linguistic structures should be precise and not lend themselves to language styles you might use within a conversation. Often, informal language can be interpreted differently which is why it's important to use formal language to ensure that your argument and discussion is specific and clear to the audience. At times, the nature of the English language can make this aspect difficult hence why it's always helpful when someone external reads your writing; if it doesn't make sense to them, it's not clearly written.

Objective and explicit:

A key feature inherent to academic writing in general and necessary for success within the university system is to be able to write clearly, succinctly and with purpose. Your discussion should primarily be objective, factual and supported with literature evidence. At the end of the day, part of academic writing is convincing your audience and your argument needs to be clear, robust and evidence led, these aspects will help to 'convince' your marker and develop and improve your writing.


Typical academic writing and language is written either in the passive voice, the third person or encourage things to be the subject of discussion rather than people. These aspects help to give you strategies to avoid incorporating discussion that is considered to be in the first or second person.

Personification is generally avoided, whilst this does vary to some degree depending on faculty and assessment tasks (reflective writing as one example), a general rule of thumb is to avoid personification (I/we etc)

Discipline specific vocabulary:

Academic language specific to the vocabulary of your discipline helps to convey more information and demonstrate further knowledge and understanding. Moreover, often your assessments are designed for your audience to be within the field unless it's otherwise stated. Therefore, it's important to be aware of how people in the discipline talk about these concepts. Whilst it's not possible for me to provide an exhaustive list given the wealth of pertinent language across the disciplines. Instead, I'll share an example from my experience within health sciences.

Health sciences (Nursing/Paramedicine)

Examples from case studies and essays involving a patient where you need to discuss physiology, pathophysiology, interventions or treatment. Often, students will incorporate discussion along the lines 'The patient has a heart rate of 140 and a blood pressure of 80/50 mmHg. Normal heart rate is 60-100 and the normal blood pressure is 120/80 (Insert a reference for this information). And then go on to discuss relevant details for the assessment.

In contrast, 'The patient is tachycardic and hypotensive, displaying haemodynamic instability'. As you can tell, this sentence is short, sharp and punchy and demonstrates depth and understanding.

For teaching students, this example could be altered to reflect pedagogy instead of a cluttered sentence involving teaching methods. If you're outside of these disciplines, consider how the themes embedded throughout this discussion could be incorporated within your discipline. These aspects are important as they allow you to navigate word count, delve into greater depth and breadth of discussion and it declutters your writing making it more succinct and purposeful.

Resources to help: