Mastering the Art of Academic Essay Writing

a student learning academic essay writing
a woman perfecting academic essay writing in a beautiful environment

Why Academic Essay Writing Takes Time to Master

When it comes to academic essay writing, mastering the art involves more than just presenting information—it requires an understanding of the key elements of the form. Formal tone, proper structure, and the use of appropriate language are paramount for effective communication and academic success. Additionally, students who wish to master essay writing need to be skilled in research and revision.

These key elements make academic writing unique in comparison to business, creative, and even high school essay writing. Truly, many English professors and instructors spend a good deal of time “unteaching” the high school essay format to incoming students, as the structure often leaves a lot to be desired. High school essay rules are designed to teach students writing basics and are extremely limiting. They tell students to stick to a five-paragraph structure, stick to one side of an argument, and follow a strict format for introductory and conclusion paragraphs. College professors allow – and expect – a more creative, cohesive approach that encourages students to think critically and outside the box.

As a result, it can take time, even years, for anyone to master college essay-writing skills. You’re not just learning new skills but unlearning old habits. Indeed, it’s the main reason why most colleges require English or composition courses for first-year students and why most don’t allow students to test out of the courses. Even those who earned perfect scores on their ACT or SAT writing portion usually have to take some form of writing course in college.

Key Elements of Academic Essay Writing

Mastering the art of academic essay writing involves a multi-faceted approach that requires the adoption of a formal tone, logical essay structuring, precise and compelling language, thorough research and proper citation, and the crucial process of editing. Integrating these elements into your writing routine not only allows you to meet the expectations of academic standards but also elevates the overall quality of your work.

Keep reading to learn more about each element and how you can begin improving your academic writing style.

a man happy with his grades after learning academic essay writing skills

1. Tone

One key aspect of academic essay writing is adopting a semi-formal to formal tone and learning to balance style with structure. Notably, not every assignment you receive in college will call for a strictly formal tone. Make sure you read the course expectations and just get to know your instructor. More often than not, they’ll prefer a paper that is interesting and intertwined with creative language and phrases than one that is dry and lifeless. Truly, a highly formal tone is often only used in higher levels of research, where everyone knows the technical terms and statistics. These papers don’t need to be compelling or argumentative, but, often, academic papers do. Lighten up your writing to keep it interesting, compelling, and informative.

Additionally, you’ll need to write with confidence, authority, and clarity in a way that is understandable to a peer. Remember, you’re often asked to write as though you’re speaking to your classmate, not your professor. Explain concepts that your peers would not be masters of. Your professor wants to know if you understand these ideas. Also, remove words and phrases like “I think” and “in my opinion” from your papers. Think of using these phrases as pulling a punch – it reads as though you’re not confident enough to speak with authority.

Finally, make sure to be clear, concise, and free of slang. Avoid overly casual language that would be more at home on social media. Steer clear of repeating or overly explaining yourself to meet the word limit requirements. This method is more likely to cost you the points you would’ve lost trying to meet the minimum. Instead, go back and see if you can add quotes, transitional phrases, or another supporting argument entirely.

2. Structure

Structure in academic essay writing plays a crucial role in conveying ideas logically. This element is often difficult for students new to the style, as they’re trapped in that high school format mindset. However, throwing that five-paragraph structure away early on will help you become more creative, organized, and confident faster.

Begin with a clear introduction that presents the thesis statement. Your thesis statement should be present in the first few sentences of your paper. Ideally, it will be clear in that first sentence. It gives your audience an idea of what you’re arguing right off the bat and prepares them for the paper they’re about to read. When it comes to your professor, it will likely affect what they’re looking for when grading. That means if your paper does not match the thesis you set up (intentionally or otherwise) in those few sentences, your grade will suffer.

Next comes the body of your essay. In a masterful essay, these well-organized body paragraphs will each focus on a specific point. Remember, you can use multiple paragraphs to argue each point you’re using, not just one. But you must watch out for two technical issues: one, in academia, a full paragraph is considered four sentences, and two, you need to spend an even amount of time tackling each of your points. Thus, if you have three sentences dedicated to one topic and four paragraphs dedicated to another, something is wrong with the content of your paper that you need to revisit.

In the conclusion, don’t restate your introductory paragraph in the high school format. Rather, you should have a strong, engaging ending that reinforces the main argument. Think of it as bringing all of the pieces of your puzzle together. Let your reader see the full picture and drive that thesis home.

a woman writing at a table outside

3. Research and Citation

A well-supported argument is key to effective academic essay writing. As the writer, you must gather relevant and credible sources that bolster your claims and contribute to your analysis. For many new students, this process is not only hard to master but scary. Indeed, accidental (or intentional) plagiarism is a big issue in academia and one that comes with high risk. Colleges take plagiarism seriously as it is considered theft and dishonesty. As such, students can find themselves failing or getting dropped from courses or even kicked out of college as a result of plagiarism. And these consequences follow you, meaning if you’re expelled for plagiarizing at one school, you can be barred from enrolling in others.

Thankfully, most colleges offer resources to help students avoid accidental plagiarism and introductory course professors are aware that new students may not be aware of what they’re doing. Make sure you utilize your campus library, tutors, and writing center in addition to the endless resources available online. Today, you can find multiple citation generators that will remove much of the work of putting your references together in the proper format. Just make sure you know if your class or program requires MLA, APA, Chicago, or any other citation format.

4. Revision

Finally, an often overlooked but crucial aspect of mastering academic essay writing is the art of revision. The first draft is the raw material; revision is the refining process. It is the time when you can and should catch typos, errors, and confusing sentences. You may want to try reading your paper out loud. While it can feel silly, this process can often help you catch issues you wouldn’t otherwise.

Take the time to review and refine your work, checking for clarity, coherence, and the flow of ideas. Add transitional phrases when necessary. Double-check your citations (do you have a floating quote with no owner?). And ensure that each paragraph contributes to the overall argument. Sometimes, we realize that something we thought was a genius addition turns out to be confusing fluff.

This meticulous revision process not only enhances the quality of your writing but also allows you to grow as a writer and student. You’ll discover errors that you make regularly and learn to catch them in the drafting process instead of in revision. You may get a better grasp of transitions and logical flow. And you could even find yourself with a better understanding of the content altogether.

Lakewood University

Lakewood University is an accredited online school that offers a variety of degree and certificate programs. We have rolling enrollments and asynchronous courses. In other words, you don’t have to worry about missing a lecture or running late to class. If you plan on enrolling in college while working, Lakewood University offers the flexibility you need to earn your degree.

Don’t hesitate – reach out to our admissions department today to learn more!