Finding your academic voice

Tone is defined as the writer’s voice in any writing. This feature allows the reader to identify the writer’s attitude or personality towards the theme and audience, they are referring to. Every writing genre has its tone, which is
conveyed through the choice of words used in a writing context. Therefore, if you want to succeed in academic writing, you have to be able to identify how to use your voice effectively considering all the properties that are common to academic writing. Don’t worry if you are not fully aware of them, as in this entry we will tell you how to find your academic voice.

Academic Tone

There is a general conception that the tone for academic written may be dull or boring or even, it may be the combination of sophisticated or intelligent-sounding words, however, this is not entirely true. First of all, academic writing has to be clear, objective and engaging. If a piece of writing is subjective or emotional, it will lose its argument as it could be said that the writer is relying way too much on emotions and feelings, rather than on scientific evidence. Therefore, academic writing requires you to use impersonal writing, which is conveyed by avoiding and using some parts of speech.

Putting words in and out

If we want our writing to sound objective, we must be aware that personal pronouns should not be used in your assignment. In the case of using ‘I, my, we’, etc. we should try to use technical nouns to present our ideas. Let’s check the following example:

(1) Informal, biased toneI think Chilean education should be free at all educational levels.
(2) Formal academic toneChilean education should be free at all educational levels.

The second sentence sounds more objective and academic as the use of the noun ‘Chilean education’ allows the reader to identify that you are talking about a specific context from a suitable scientific distance. You should also avoid words and expressions like in my opinion, I believe, I think, as these are not necessary; readers know this is your writing and they are expecting you to rely on evidence, not on a hunch. Before we move on to the next section, here are some expressions that can use to relate your writing to evidence, instead of your thinking:

  • the numbers indicate / According to the figures / It is clear that … / the treatment shows, suggests, depicts / the literature suggests, among others.

    In case you want to look for more expressions, you can always the vocabulary feature of WriteBetter, which will show you related expressions.

Using verbal tenses

When writing academic assignments, it is necessary to use passive voice to sound more objective. Remember that the passive voice is normally used when we want to focus on an action or process, rather than the person doing the action, which makes your sentences less personal or emotional. Always remember that academic writing is all about evidence, therefore your tone will have to be objective and clear. Let’s see an example of how you can use the passive voice in academic writing:

(1) Informal, biased toneI will show that pensions should be state-funded, and I will provide four supporting reasons.
(2) Formal academic toneIt will be shown that pensions should be state-funded, and four supporting reasons will be put forward.

As you can see, in the second example your voice clearly indicates that you will speak from evidence, rather than from personal experience. Always remember that academic writing is mainly achieved using passive voice.

Warning: don’t do it!

We have already established the importance of some expressions and tenses in achieving an academic tone, yet we need to talk about words and phrases you should never use in your writing. Check the following lists and see if you have been or not using these expressions in your writings:

  • Avoid colloquialisms, slang, and contractions.
  • Do not use exaggeration or generalizations (Best, words, always, never, etc.)
  • Do not use personal pronouns or name the reader; avoid using you for the reader.
  • Be careful with adverbs; be exact; do not let things in the shadows (really, clearly, etc.)
  • Be careful with qualifiers. Remember that when using figures or numbers, you should always check first when something is significant or relevant. The same is applied for something considered as a low or high indicator.
  • Try not to use emotional language; again, be objective and based on facts, not emotions (It is an appalling situation that pensions are still run by private corporations).

A final piece of advice

If there is something that bothers supervisors is when students write in an overly formal tone. When writing an academic paper, you don’t need to talk using intelligent-sounding words, if you do, it will sound like you don’t know what you are arguing about. Therefore, the final advice for this entry is that you make sure the words you use are understandable for you, and that their sentences structures make sense; show the reader you know what you are talking about and use your words according to the rules of the academic tone. Good luck with finding and shaping your academic voice.


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