QuillBot's Guide to Academic Writing, Part 3

Academic Writing updated on  March 1, 2023 5 min read
In the last installment of QuillBot's Guide to Academic Writing, we take a deep dive into writing roadblocks and specific types of language by exploring tips #12-16.

In the last installment of our series, Part 3 of QuillBot's Guide to Academic Writing covers point #12 through #16 on our helpful infographic.

Did you miss the previous installments? Check them out below:

QuillBot's Guide to Academic Writing, Overview:

A) Why is academic writing so difficult?

B) Introducing the infographic guide

C) What does it mean to do research?

D) Tips for becoming a better academic writer

QuillBot's Guide to Academic Writing, Part 1

A) Infographic points #1-4

QuillBot's Guide to Academic Writing, Part 2

A) Infographic points #5-11

The infographic image can be found and downloaded towards the bottom of each of these pages, including this one.

12. Trying to sound sophisticated is not the way.

Using big words, complicated sentence structures, and acronyms without explanation only frustrates your readers. Trying to make your writing sound 'fancy' almost always results in a lack of clarity and conciseness.

When you are using uncommon, long words to describe your work, it often comes off as 'trying too hard'. Most readers can tell that you looked up '$5 words' to add in for the express purpose of sounding smarter. It doesn't win you any points, though many students believe it does. In fact, when using words you are unfamiliar with, you may fall into the trap of misusing the word, making you look silly, rather than smart.

Hear me, please: No one wants to have to look up obscure words that are unrelated to your field of study when reading your academic essay or research paper. Academic writing is dry and dense to begin with, so there is little payoff in making it harder to read than it already is. If you want to use a big, fancy word because it exactly describes something in your work, try to give context clues as to its meaning to aid your readers.

Similarly, overly complex sentence structures have more potential to make your writing less effective than they do to make you sound sophisticated. If you are comfortable with the rules of this realm, great. However, if you don't remember the rules for compound-complex sentences and the like, limit the number of clauses or thoughts to 2 per sentence. Beyond that, it's very easy for readers to miss the point because there are so many different ideas at play.

Acronyms, such as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), REE (rare earth elements), and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), should be defined the first time they are used within your academic paper. Again, you need to cater to your readers where you can. Once you've defined it, you are free to use the acronym as often as you like within that essay or paper.

Example: "Rare earth elements (REE) are considered critical metals, which are used for the manufacturing of components in the high technology and renewable energy industries. Carbonatite and alkaline igneous systems can contain anomalously high concentrations of REE, in some cases sufficient enough to host potential ore deposits, such as in New Mexico." (Perry, 2019)

13. Get the draft done ASAP.

It's not called a rough draft for nothing! The faster you can draft, the better off you will be because the simple action of writing makes you less susceptible to roadblocks like writer's block, procrastination, and imposter syndrome.

Everyone wants their first draft to, at the very least, not be embarrassing, but if you agonize over making it perfect, you WILL get stuck at some point on one of those common writing roadblocks. Even a very rough draft is still 100% better than no draft at all.

Commit to drafting quickly and without judgement. Why spend months drafting something you will still have to spend months editing anyway? It is much better to edit and iterate on a draft for a time than it is to fret over how bad your half-finished draft is.

Workflow tip: Drafting is one of the biggest workflow chokepoints in the whole writing and research process. Take the time to make a detailed outline, and then draft as quickly as possible. Move the ideas from your outline and your mind onto the page, preferably without worrying if it's 'good' or not. Then, you will be in a place to edit and polish it until it's something you are very proud of.

14. Plan for roadblocks.

What always seems to block your progress or make you feel 'stuck'? Whether it's a cluttered workspace or a procrastination problem, it is very helpful for you to know what issues bother you so that you can mitigate them.

For example:

If you hate drafting but love editing, spend extra time on your outline and topic sentences in order to make the drafting process less slow and painful. Then you are free to focus on editing.

If a cluttered desk makes you anxious, that could lead to writer's block and procrastination. So, clean it up! Make your desk or office a comfortable space for yourself where you can excel.

Are you a chronic procrastinator? Ask your advisor or a friend to hold you accountable for both important and self-imposed deadlines.

Are you very self-conscious of your academic writing? First, that is normal and completely ok because you are a student, and you are learning. To overcome it, share this concern with your peers and/or your advisor so that they can help you call out the roadblock for what it is and help you build confidence in your work. You can't get help and support without this kind of transparency.

15. Know the rules, and format accordingly

Your thesis will be formatted differently from a publication or a report for class, so reviewing the formatting guidelines for whatever you are working on before you start writing can save you from a lot of frustration in the long run. It usually only takes a minute to find and bookmark these kinds of guidelines, and then you can plan to use line numbers, the correct style of citations, etc. as you move through your workflow. Going back and changing these after everything is finalized can present a host of issues, especially if you have tables and figures.

16. Use tentative language.

You are contributing to a larger body of work, so unless you are reporting undisputed facts, be tentative with your verbs and adverbs.

Example: "The preliminary findings appear to correlate the two variables inversely, which could mean..."

Example: "Recent studies suggest that this method of copper enrichment yields the highest concentrations."

Research is global, and there will be times where others are working on nearly the same or, at least, related types of problems/questions. Unpublished works are another instance in which research is or has been conducted, though the results have not been released. Since you can't know what everyone else's results will be, academic writing requires the use of this kind of tentative language.

Still struggling with a few of these concepts? Let us know via email here: Emily.Perry@QuillBot.com.


Emily Perry, PhD

Emily Perry is a PhD, educator, and entrepreneur who leads QuillBot's education program.
She loves all things science, learning, and art.
When she's not creating, you can find her outside doing something fun with her dog, Cass.

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