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What is academic English?

Academic English is usually more formal than the language used in everyday conversation and interactions. Its purpose tends to explain or analyse information and research. Often it is persuasive in nature. Writing at university looks to present your analysis of a topic as being reasonable and that your findings can be justified. As a student, you will regularly be called upon to research what scholarly sources have found about a particular topic and to argue a position about the topic using formal, academic language.

In comparison to everyday language, academic writing tends to be more densely-packed with information expressed in a more organised, formal and objective way (Biber et al., 2002). Seen as a continuum from everyday to academic, some key features of academic writing are identified in this table:

  < ----------     More everyday
More academic      ---------- >  
 informal formal 
 loosely constructed tightly knit 
 fuzzy / imprecise clear / precise 
 personally involved personally detached 
 rarely sourced or referenced regularly sourced and referenced 
 casual / spontaneous planned / deliberate 
 unreliable authoritative 
 random / haphazard rigorous /logical 
 dependant on the context of interaction independent of the context of interaction 

(Adapted from Fang, 2021, p.14)

The main difference between the active and passive voice is the way the sentence represents the relationship between the subject of the sentence to the verb.

  • Active:  a type of sentence or clause in which the subject performs or causes the action expressed by the verb.
    e.g. The student wrote the essay.
    In this example using active voice, the subject of the sentence (The student) carries out the action (wrote). The object (essay) is what was produced by this action.
  • Passive: a type of sentence or clause in which the subject receives the action of the verb.
    e.g. The essay was written by the student.

    In this example using the passive voice, the subject of the sentence (the essay) does not have an active relationship with the verb (was written). That is, the essay did not do the writing, it was done by the student.

Because of this more direct relationship between the subject and verb, active voice is more direct and can give writing more of a sense of clarity, authority and purpose. Overuse of the passive voice can lead to writing that sounds vague or unnatural. Therefore, in academic writing, active voice is preferable in most situations.

Here are a couple of strategies for converting sentences from the passive voice to the active voice:

Look for a "by" phrase (e.g., "by the dog" in the example below). If you find one, the sentence is probably in the passive voice. Rewrite the sentence so the subject of the "by" clause is closer to the beginning of the sentence. If the subject of the sentence is somewhat anonymous, see if you can use a general term, such as "researchers", or "the study", or "experts in this field".

However, sometimes the use of the passive voice does not include the "by" phrase. Sometimes the "by" is implied, or not required for the sentence to make sense. For example, both of the following sentences in the passive voice make sense:

  • Preliminary observations were made by the researchers.
  • Preliminary observations were made.

Using the passive voice appropriately

There are situations when the passive voice is useful, for example:

  • When the thing or person carrying out a particular action is not clear.
    Something compromised the research at the survey stage. (active)
    The research was compromised at the survey stage. (passive)

  • To avoid the use of first person
    I will explore Piaget's stages of development in this essay. (active)
    Piaget's stages of development will be explored in this essay. (passive)

  • To highlight or emphasise something that is being acted upon.
    Volunteer artists painted the new mural last year. (active)
    The new mural was painted by volunteer artists last year. (passive)


Note the way that the both active and passive voices are used appropriately in the following examples:

Michael Blake carried out more than 2,000 hip replacement surgeries during his career. In 2018, nearly 50,000 hip replacement surgeries were carried out in Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020).  

Most experts agree that Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays, but it has been argued that that some of his plays were written by others.


Transition, connecting or linking words and phrases ("signposts") tell the reader where the argument is going and what is coming next; essential for indicating flow of logic and argument. As you read you'll notice these signposts guiding the way. Use the list below to find the right word or phrase to connect, transition, or link the points in your writing.

  • Time links: then, next, while, since and after.
  • Cause and effect links: consequently, therefore, as a result.
  • Addition Links: furthermore, moreover, similarly, in addition.
  • Contrast Links: conversely, but, however, although, nevertheless, and whereas.
  • Adding to a point already made: also, moreover, furthermore, again, further, in addition, besides, above all, too, as well as, either, neither...nor, not only...but also, similarly, correspondingly, in the same way, indeed, in fact, with respect to, and regarding.
  • Writing in lists: first(ly), secondly(ly), third(ly), another, yet another, in addition, finally, to begin with, in the second place, moreover, additionally, also, next, then, and to conclude, lastly and finally.
  • Putting the same idea in a different way: in other words, rather, or, better, in that case, to put it (more) simply, in view of this, with this in mind, to look at this another way.
  • Introducing examples: that is to say, in other words, for example, for instance, namely, an example of this, and, as follows, as in the following examples, such as, including, especially, particularly, in particular, notably, chiefly, mainly and mostly.
  • Introducing an alternative point: by contrast, another way of viewing this is, alternatively, again, rather, one alternative is, another possibility is, on the one hand...on the other hand, conversely, in comparison, on the contrary, in fact, though and although.
  • Returning to emphasise your earlier viewpoint: however, nonetheless, in the final analysis, despite x, notwithstanding x, in spite of x, while x may be true, nonetheless, although, though, after all, at the same time, on the other hand, all the same, even if x is true, although x may have a good point.
  • Showing the results of something: therefore, accordingly, as a result, so (then), it can be seen that, the result from this, consequently, now, we can see, then, that, it is evident that, because of this, thus, hence, for this reason, owing to x, this suggests that, it follows that, in other words, otherwise, in that case and that implies.
  • Summing up or concluding: therefore, so, in short, in conclusion, to conclude, in all, on the whole, to summarise, to sum up briefly, in brief, altogether, overall, thus and thus we can see that.

Redundant words are those that repeat a concept within a phrase, and therefore serve no purpose. If you have redundant words in your writing, it is a sign that you need to do some editing. 

For example, the phrase "the chairs were small in size" is redundant because the reader would understand the meaning if you just said "the chairs were small", as the concept of size is implied in the sentence.

Consider some other ways that the removal of redundant words improves sentence clarity.

Redundant - It is interesting to note that this program has been in place since 2012. 
More concise -  This program has been in place since 2012. 

Redundant -These studies basically found that there has been a reduction in anti-social behaviours in the community over the past decade.
More concise -  These studies found that there has been a reduction in anti-social behaviours in the community over the past decade.

Redundant -The end result of the testing demonstrated benefits for the majority of participants.
More concise -  The testing demonstrated benefits for the majority of participants.

Here are more examples of redundant words:

  • has been previously
  • four different groups witnessed
  • a total of 98 participants
  • they were both alike
  • one and the same
  • in close proximity
  • completely unanimous
  • just exactly
  • summarise briefly
  • the reason is because
  • due to the fact that
  • each and every
  • basically, precisely, definately, actually, generally, kind of


Biber, D., Conrad, S., Reppen, R., Byrd, P., & Helt, M. (2002). Speaking and writing in the university: A multidimensional model. TESOL Quarterly, 36(1), 9-48.

Fang, Z. (2021). Demystifying academic writing : genres, moves, skills, and strategies. Routledge.