Tips for Using Academic Voice in Writing
Recently, Millie Jones and Christy Fraenza, Lead Writing & Learning Specialists with the Writing Center, sat down to chat about academic voice for an episode of Write On. Listen to their advice on academic voice here, and or get the class notes below.
What Does It Mean to Use Academic Voice?
Using an academic voice is to write with authority on a topic.
To use an academic voice simply means to meet the writing expectations for academic writing. As with any style and type of writing, there is always a set of writing expectations for that genre. Academic writing includes some specific expectations that you should follow when doing your assignments. It is these expectations that we call “academic voice.”
Tips for Using Academic Voice
You can find a complete academic voice how-to here, and in the meantime, here are some quick tips to follow for writing that sounds less like a Tweet and more like a persuasive discussion.
1. Write in a way that's more formal.
Using academic voice is less conversational. Here is an example of a piece of writing that sounds very conversational:
"Well, you know, in my opinion, fixing homelessness is as easy as pie. Don’t make it harder than it is."
That’s something you might say to someone in a conversation. It has conversational phrases such as “well,” “you know,” and “in my opinion.” It also has the cliché “as easy as pie” and uses the contraction “don’t.” These are things to avoid in academic writing. To take that same statement and revise it so that it is written in academic voice, we can make it a bit more formal and polished:
"Solving homelessness is possible with a few solutions that are simple to implement."
That statement is probably not the way you might say it in a conversation, unless you were speaking in a formal setting. But you want to have a bit more of a formal tone when writing academically. Think of academic voice as less conversational and a little more formal.
2. Write with authority to show your level of expertise on a topic.
Academic writing is not reflective writing, or even writing about your opinions that aren't based in research. Using an academic voice is to write with authority on a topic. When you're writing for an academic purpose, the idea is that you have learned quite a bit about your topic and you now have a firm understanding of that topic. You are making claims and backing those claims up with some sort of evidence—from textbooks, from research studies, or expert opinions. If you are not using academic voice, you might write something along the lines of:
"I think/feel that the homeless epidemic could be controlled by A, B, and C."
This statement is something that you might say if you are simply expressing your opinions on the topic of homelessness, but don’t have any research or studies you’ve reviewed that would support that. But for academic writing, you have done some research, so you want to speak with authority on the topic. You're not going to write "I think” or “I feel"—you're just going to state it as a truth because then you're going to support it by showing evidence that it is true. So to revise that same statement using academic voice, we have:
"The homeless epidemic can be controlled by A, B, and C."
You're taking out that "I feel" or "I think," and you're stating it in a way that shows you have authority or a certain amount of expertise on the topic.
With any type of writing that we do, it takes practice. Use these tips and practice as much as you can. You'll soon begin to feel more comfortable with academic voice.
For additional examples and additional tips to help guide you as you develop your academic voice, check out the Writing Center’s page on Using Academic Voice.
For more writing chats, check out Write On! with Christy & Millie
Written by Millie Jones, Writing Center