Academic style

University assessments require a specific way of writing known as ‘academic style’, which is a more formal and structured writing method than others you may be familiar with. Learn to write in an academic style is important, as it will help you effectively communicate your ideas clearly and precisely, with authority and professionalism.

In brief, when writing in the academic style, you should:

  • Use the formal tone, objective view, and specific writing conventions characteristic to academic writing.
  • Pay attention to your use of active and passive voice when emphasising different elements of sentences.
  • Craft well-structured sentences to communicate your ideas more effectively.
  • Learn to construct simple, compound, complex and periodic sentences.
  • Link sentences and paragraphs together using transition words to make your ideas more cohesive.
  • Ensure your punctuation is correct to enhance readability and communicate your ideas effectively.
  • Use inclusive language so your writing is accessible and respectful to all.

Characteristics of academic style

Some of the key characteristics of academic style include:

  • Using a formal tone and avoiding casual, conversational language
    • Formal example: “Generative AI represents a significant technological milestone that allows machines to autonomously generate coherent and creative outputs across various applications.”
    • Casual example: “Generative AI is like the cool new tech wizard on the block, making computers way smarter and creative and doing all sorts of amazing stuff.”
  • Writing objectively by presenting ideas in an unbiased and impartial manner
  • Writing with clarity and precision, avoiding ambiguity, vague expressions or unnecessary jargon
  • Writing concisely, avoiding unnecessary repetition, wordiness and redundancy
  • Following a specific structure appropriate to the assignment type
  • Supporting your arguments with evidence from credible sources and citing correctly
  • Critically analysing ideas by questioning and challenging existing knowledge
  • Ensuring your work has correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Some more specific academic writing conventions include:

  • Spelling out contractions in full (e.g., ‘cannot’ instead of ‘can’t’)
  • Using the ‘third person’ point of view (‘it’ ‘she, ‘he’, ‘they’) and avoiding using personal voice (‘I’, ‘my’, ‘we’) unless specified (e.g. in reflective writing)
  • Referring to authors by their surnames as it establishes a more respectful and formal tone
  • Spelling out acronyms the first time you use one, for example, “World Health Organization (WHO)”
  • Defining specialised terms and concepts when first introduced.

Active and passive voice

Understanding the difference between active and passive voice is fundamental to writing proficiency. Whether active or passive voice is most appropriate will depend on what you are trying to communicate.

Active voice highlights the person or entity responsible for the action, making it ideal for situations where you want to emphasise agency. Active voice is more direct and concise and is preferred for persuasive, argumentative writing, like essays and short answer questions.

Passive voice often downplays or omits the person or entity doing the action, which can be useful in cases where the entity is unknown, unimportant, or intentionally obscured. Passive voice is more suited to scientific writing, where you may need to emphasise the target of the action.

To understand the difference between active and passive voice, let’s look at sentences in more detail:

Simple sentences are made up of three different elements:

  1. Subject (S) = the focus of your sentence
  2. Verb (V) = the action
  3. Object (O) = the thing being acted on

An active sentence is when the sentence focuses on the ‘doer’ of the action.

For example, “The storm(S) affected(V) crop growth(O).” Here, the reader’s focus is placed on the storm. We might expect to see a sentence like this in an essay or report about storms.

A passive sentence is when the sentence focuses on the receiver of the action.

For example, “Crop growth(O) was affected(V) by the storm(S).” Here, the reader’s focus is placed on the crop growth. We might expect to see a sentence like this in a report on crop growth.

To change between the forms, determine your sentence’s subject, verb and object, then restructure it so that the subject is the focus (active).

Passive/active example

The passive sentence, “Society (O) has been significantly impacted (V) by artificial intelligence (S).”


Artificial intelligence (S) has significantly impacted (V) society (O)”, an active sentence.

When revising or proofreading your assignment, it’s useful to identify places where you have inadvertently used passive voice where the active voice would make your writing more engaging, dynamic and reader-friendly.

Online tools such as Grammarly and Hemingway Editor can help you identify passive sentences and will provide tips on improving your writing.

Writing effective sentences

Crafting well-structured sentences will help you communicate your ideas more effectively. It will enhance the clarity of your ideas and hopefully foster a connection with your reader. A well-constructed sentence will contribute to the logical flow of your argument and help the reader navigate your assignment easily.

Tips for writing effective sentences:

  • Understand the purpose: Ask yourself what information you would like to convey.
  • Start with a clear subject: The subject is usually the person or thing performing the action in the sentence.
  • Include a verb: Ensure that your sentence contains a strong and relevant verb (action word) to convey the action.
  • Be concise: Avoid unnecessary words and get straight to the point. Clear and concise sentences are more effective and easier to understand.
  • Vary sentence structure and length: Using a mix of simple, compound, and complex sentences makes your writing more engaging.
  • Proofread: Ensure you are using correct punctuation and grammar and that your verb tenses are consistent
  • Cite any sources used: Ensure you acknowledge your sources with in-text citations using the correct referencing style.

Sentences explained

Simple sentences

Simple sentences are like the building blocks of writing. They express one complete thought or idea.

How to make one:

Start with a subject (who or what the sentence is about). Add a verb (what the subject is doing). Make sure it forms a complete idea.


“The cat sleeps.”

Tip for understanding: Think of a simple sentence as a complete idea. It’s like one piece of a puzzle.

Compound sentences

Compound sentences combine two simple sentences with a conjunction (like ‘and,’ ‘but,’ ‘or’).

How to make one:

Write a simple sentence. Use a conjunction to connect it to another simple sentence.


“The cat sleeps, and the dog barks.”

Tip for understanding: Picture two simple sentences holding hands. They are joined by a word like ‘and’ or ‘but’ to make a bigger, more interesting idea.

Complex sentences

Complex sentences have one simple sentence (independent clause) and one or more additional parts that can’t stand alone (dependent clause).

How to make one:

Begin with a simple sentence (independent clause). Add a dependent clause that gives more information but can’t be a sentence on its own. Connect them with words like ‘because,’ ‘although,’ ‘if,’ etc.


“Although the dog barks, the cat sleeps.”

Tip for understanding: Imagine a main idea (simple sentence) with a helper idea (dependent clause) providing extra details. They work together to give you a full picture.

Periodic sentences

Periodic sentences begin with details and build up to the main point, which comes at the end.

How to make one:

Start with additional details or phrases. Delay the main idea until the end of the sentence.


“In the garden, with flowers blooming all around and the sun shining brightly in the clear blue sky, the cat sleeps and the dog barks.”

Tip for understanding: These sentences build up suspense and a sense of anticipation. They lead the reader through a journey of details, saving the punchline for the end. A periodic sentence is an effective way to write your thesis statement.

Linking ideas

Linking words and phrases (often referred to as transition markers) connect your ideas within a paragraph and link paragraphs together. You can do this by highlighting similarities, contrasts or other relationships between the ideas or repeating key terms or concepts. This helps maintain coherence and flow in your writing and allows the reader to follow the direction of your argument.

Try using some of the following linking words to create more cohesion and flow in your writing. However, only use them when you need to!

  • Adding: and, also, in addition, moreover, furthermore
  • Contrasting: however, nevertheless, nonetheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, by contrast
  • Clarifying: in other words, that is, in effect, to simplify
  • Exemplifying: for example, for instance, in particular, to illustrate
  • Conceding a point: although true, even though, although, despite this
  • Summing up: to summarise, to conclude, in conclusion, clearly then
  • Endorsing: clearly, in particular, importantly, naturally, obviously
  • Stating a logical conclusion: therefore, thus, hence, as a result, consequently, accordingly, for that reason


Since the launch of Chat-GPT in 2022, significant attention has focused on gen-AI’s ability to increase productivity and efficiency, with early adoption industries like healthcare, communication and science freeing up human workers to focus on creation and innovation. However, with the global impact of the technology, evidence shows that developing countries and minority groups will be the least likely to reap benefits, as it is already enhancing existing disparities. Furthermore, there are significant concerns have been raised around privacy and exploitation, reinforcement of bias and prejudice, and job loss through automation.


Punctuation is a key part of assignment writing as it demonstrates attention to detail and increases readability.

It refers to all the marks and symbols used to structure your sentences appropriately, such as commas, semicolons and quotation marks. Correct punctuation is crucial in conveying the precise meaning of your words and preventing misinterpretation and confusion.

Important considerations of punctuation in academic style include using:

  • Commas to indicate pauses within sentences
  • Parentheses (like dashes and brackets) to offset additional information
  • Semicolons to join simple sentences that are related
  • Colons to introduce a list, series, quote, or expanded information
  • Apostrophes to indicate possession or contractions (note: academic style does not allow contractions)
  • Quotation marks, also known as speech marks, are used when using the exact words from another source.

For a more in-depth explanation of using punctuation correctly, refer to the Australian Government Style Manual Grammar, punctuation conventions guide.

Inclusive language

Using inclusive language is important not only in everyday life but also in your academic writing. Inclusive language can mean all the following:

  • Using non-gendered language when referring to authors or people (e.g., “they” rather than “he/she”)
  • Using culturally appropriate terms and capitalisation when necessary, e.g., “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people” or “Indigenous Australians”.
  • Using descriptive language (age, ethnicity, sex, gender, etc.) of a person only when necessary/relevant to the discussion.
  • Avoiding perpetuating stereotypes or assumptions of individuals or groups based on their characteristics
  • Using language that respects the diversity of cultural backgrounds, age, sexual orientation and socio-economic contexts.

Inclusive language is not about being politically correct or “woke”; it’s about making sure your writing is accessible and respectful to all.