Creative Writing vs Academic Writing

Academic Writing updated on  February 26, 2024 5 min read

The main difference between creative writing vs academic writing is that writers are free to express themselves however they want when writing creatively, while academic writing provides a set of constraints the writer must stay within.

Differences between creative writing vs academic writing

You’ll find that in the comparison of creative writing vs academic writing, creative writing is whatever the author wants it to be, while academic writing has a myriad of restrictions.

1. Purpose

Academic writing aims to provide information or evidence for an argument, so it speaks to other scholars. It draws on previously shared information and/or newly gathered data to support its assertions, which means it contains citations.

Creative writing, on the other hand, is more about self-expression or entertainment. The writer’s goal is to express or share ideas, but they don’t have to defend or support those ideas. They can also choose whether to use information or ideas from other people. The creative writer may write only for themselves or for an external audience that can be narrow or wide.

Let’s say you’re writing about bears. Here are two ways you might go about it:

Creative writing: A fiction or nonfiction story about a hiker who encounters a bear on a trail. (This tells a story.)

Academic writing: A research paper including data on the eating habits of a certain subspecies of bear. (This states facts.)

2. Style

Because they have different goals, academic writing and creative writing have different styles.

Academic writing is formal and prioritizes clarity, precise phrasing, and succinctness since these traits help to communicate information more effectively. For the most part, it uses a third-person point of view.

Academic writing nearly always follows a style guide dictated by the field of study, like one of these:

  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Modern Language Association (MLA)
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • Council of Science Editors (CSE)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) / Turabian

Many style guides also require a particular structure, such as sections the writer must include or specific lengths for those sections.

Across all style guides and educational institutions, academic writing usually requires a logical flow that the writer makes clear by using headings and a statement-support-conclusion paragraph structure.

However, creative writing can be done in any style, including one that the author invents. It can take any point of view and doesn’t have to be structured in any particular way. It doesn’t even have to maintain consistency in matters like capitalization, although most creative writing still follows basic writing conventions.

3. Language

Because it prioritizes clear and concise communication over self-expression, academic writing requires formal, literal, plain, precise, and sometimes technical language. Writers must choose words that their intended audience will understand and that will not introduce ambiguity.

For example, compare the vague or generic word choices in the first column, which may have more than one meaning or are often used thoughtlessly, to the more specific phrasing in the second column:

Vague Specific
since because
many 68%, three-fourths, 2.9 million (a specific number or proportion)
this, that, these, those (demonstrative pronouns) the participants, this data (name the noun you’re referring to or add a noun after the pronoun)
good, bad, better, worse did / did not meet (listed) requirements, 17% more/less effective
where when, in which, in relation to (when not referring to a location)

In short, if you can use a more specific word, do it unless your readers are unlikely to understand it or you’re not confident you’re using it correctly.

Beyond demanding precision, word choice standards for academic writing also call for excluding idioms, figurative language, contractions, slang, and other features that can obscure meaning or make the writer appear unserious. And beyond being formal and literal, the language should be concise. The following are examples of common wordy phrases that writers can shorten:

Wordy Concise
in the event that if
vitally important vital, crucial
due to the fact that | the reason why is that because (not since!)
there are participants who | there is a species that some participants a species
it is the government that the government
when it comes to | in terms of regarding
is able to | has the (cap)ability to can

These requirements don’t apply to creative writing, which can contain any type of language the writer chooses. In fact, language shapes a lot of creative writing stories and helps the reader feel more immersed in the world.

For example, if a story takes place in the Wild West, the author might use a lot of cowboy slang, like “Die standin’ up” or “darn tootin’.”

Similarities of academic vs creative writing

Academic writing and creative writing are more different than similar, but they do have some overlap. They both benefit from creativity and tend to adhere to basic writing practices. They’re both better when their authors take advantage of writing tools, too.

1. Creativity

Don’t give in to the thought that the above requirements for academic writing inevitably lead to boring papers. Variety in word choice and sentence structure enhances both academic and creative writing. Editing is also a creative process, though we don’t often recognize it as one—finding ways to pack more meaning into fewer words requires creativity.

2. Basic writing conventions

Though it’s not a requirement like it is in academic writing, most writers use conventional grammar, spelling, and punctuation in creative writing, too. The choice depends on the writer’s goals—sometimes breaking the rules can elevate a piece or set it apart, but other times it can distract or even irritate the reader.

Depending on the type of work they’re creating, a creative writer may even follow the same style guide as an academic writer. For example, plenty of academic disciplines require students to write according to the Chicago Manual of Style, which also happens to be the most popular style guide for fiction and nonfiction books in the US.

3. Tools

In both academic and creative writing or editing, superb writing tools can offer indispensable help. Besides using a spell checker, consider bringing in a grammar checker and proofreader.

If you want a different view of your text, try QuillBot’s AI-driven Paraphraser and Summarizer. And if you’re working on an academic paper, you might find our Citation Generator and Plagiarism Checker useful.

Writers in every genre have to fight distraction now and then, too. In those moments, it’s a huge relief to have a platform that’s not only ad-free but also fully integrated. Every QuillBot tool is free of advertisements and free of charge, but QuillBot Flow combines them all into one word processor.

So when you want to bury yourself deep in your academic or creative writing pursuits, QuillBot can make it happen!

Is creative writing part of academic writing?

Creative writing is part of academic writing. Outstanding academic writing requires creativity to make the text interesting and well written. Some academic fields also directly call for creative writing, such as the study of English and literature.

What are the similarities between academic writing and creative writing?

Academic writing and creative writing both benefit from a creative approach and smart writing tools. In addition, they both typically follow the basics of English writing even though creative writers can bend or break the rules.

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Hannah Skaggs

Along with Mitchell Allen, Paige Pfeifer

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.

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