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How to Excel at Academic Writing in Your Online Degree Program

Understanding how to write an academic paper is important for success throughout your education.

Regardless of your level of education, you’ve most likely written an academic paper—whether you know it or not. Perhaps it was a report for a humanities class, the write-up for a science project or laboratory study, or even the essay on a final exam. So if you’re considering enrolling in a degree program to continue your education, chances are you’re not new to academic writing. However, developing a better understanding of the process can help you more easily reach your higher education goals, particularly if you’re attending an online university.

What Is Academic Writing?

Storytelling seeks to share an entertaining, dramatic, or profound tale that elicits an emotional response. Journalism seeks to inform. Social media seeks to communicate personal information, keep people connected, exchange ideas, and more. Academic writing, however, seeks to advance our understanding of specific topics—whether for our own educational purposes or to produce research that others may reference in their own studies.

How to Excel at Academic Writing in Your Online Degree Program

The format for academic writing is actually quite straightforward. You present facts and research, then develop an understanding of how that information fits together to draw a conclusion. Ideally, in writing for academic purposes, we (and others) learn something we didn’t know before.

Why Is Academic Writing Particularly Important to Online Education?

If you decide to earn your degree online, most of your communication will be in writing. Even your day-to-day interactions with university classmates will be conducted through online forums that require you to express yourself in writing. While that writing may not be specifically researched or graded, you’ll need to make your points clearly and effectively. The academic writing format (evidence, examination, and conclusion) is designed for just that. Additionally, offering clear statements and persuasive arguments can help you in your interactions with professors, even during casual exchanges. A well-thought-out e-mail is always appreciated, particularly when professors may be receiving messages from hundreds of students in their courses.

Tips for Academic Writing

In addition to presenting facts and drawing conclusions, good academic writing follows other general conventions and rules. Here are some tips to help make your academic writing stronger:

  • Include a thesis statement in your introduction. Your thesis statement describes what you believe your research proves. This is not an in-depth description but rather a one-sentence statement.
  • Use professional language. The improper and/or informal use of language can damage your credibility. Write in complete sentences, avoid excessive use of contractions, and never use slang. If you’re unsure about a word or a rule of grammar, look it up.
  • Write in the third person. You are not the focus of your paper. To keep the focus on the topic, avoid the use of “I.” That said, this doesn’t apply for online discussions, university message boards, or e-mails. In those cases, writing in the first person is acceptable and expected when appropriate.
  • Be precise. Provide clear data and do not deviate from your topic. Your goal is to support your essay, paper, or doctoral thesis in a manner that is direct and easy to follow.
  • Be original. Since you are seeking to add to your reader’s knowledge, make sure your conclusion isn’t obvious. Additionally, avoid the use of clichés. Readers who encounter overused, hackneyed phrases often stop paying attention.
  • End with a conclusion. That may seem obvious, but a conclusion is more than where you stop writing. Rather, it is the moment when you return to your thesis statement and elaborate on its validity, based on the facts you’ve just presented.

Fundamentally, academic writing is how we convey what we’ve learned. Done well, it can help you excel in all academic settings—online or on campus, undergraduate or graduate—and ultimately, in your chosen field.

Walden University offers online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, as well as personal assistance with academic writing and many other aspects of your education. Expand your career options as you earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.