Teil I: Academic Writing


What is academic writing and why is it not easy to learn, especially for non-native speakers? Formal academic language is constructed in a more formal way than everyday speech. Avoid colloquial or slang phrases that are often used in normal language. Written academic English tends to be impersonal and precise, and often uses the passive voice in carefully constructed sentences. Statements and claims are carefully documented and hedged (If you are not sure what hedged means, look at the first verb in the previous sentence). For example, we rarely use rhetorical phrases and do not address the reader directly. However, formal writing should not be too wordy or use too much jargon. Despite its sophistication, formal writing should be clear.

Intoxicated -- Drunk
Dejected -- Sad
Comprehend -- Understand
Exhausted -- Tired

Examples of these characteristics:

Taken from Human Rights Institutions, Sovereignty Costs and Democratization, 2013.


Both the number of international human rights institutions and the number of countries participating in these institutions have risen dramatically in recent decades.


This development has sparked a heated debate over why … (The personal opinion of the author is that the debate is intense and he says where the debate originates. However, he expresses this impersonally).


Human rights institutions are both widespread and heterogeneous. They include United Nations (UN)-sponsored human rights treaties as well as international organizations (IOs) designed to govern how countries treat individuals within their borders. (The author moves from general to specific).


A growing body of research has focused on government ratification of a small number of specific human rights treaties.

Source: Cole 2005; Goodliffe and Hawkins 2006; Hafner-Burton 2012.

The results provide strong support for our argument. States engaged in a democratic transition are more likely than other regime types to join human rights institutions … Stable democracies and stable autocracies are less likely … (The results are not absolute proof, there may be some data that does not fully support the argument. Not all states engaged in democratic transition join human rights institutions. The argument is strongly stated but is not absolute = HEDGING)

Examples from Master students’ term essays:

Formal: The Strategic Alliance should get its own corporate identity
Impersonal: Therefore, a closer look on challenges and opportunities of the concept of “Ethnic Marketing” will be useful as you will see in the next paragraph.
Precise: Considering the impact of transculturality on marketing activities, it can be concluded that organizations must understand their values’ presentation and it effect on the customers.
Documented: An increasing and diverse student base forces universities in the 21 century to distinguish and emphasize themselves from competitor universities through a successful branding. Higher education marketing helps universities to create such a powerful brand.
Hedged: Contemporary consumers are blind and deaf to billboards and commercials. Also, consumers see themselves and want to act as independent as possible.


Explain why the five moves below are important in academic writing. In your group write a short explanation of the function of these moves and let the other group(s) guess which explanation matches which function.

  1. Establishing the context, background and/or importance of the topic
  2. Indicating a problem, controversy or a gap in the field of study
  3. Defining the topic or key terms
  4. Stating the purpose of the essay/writing
  5. Providing an overview of the coverage and/or structure of the writing (Signalling)

Moves 1

Match the moves in a work of academic writing/research article (1-5) with the appropriate phrases.

  1. Establishing the context, background and/or importance of the topic (D)
  2. Indicating a problem, controversy or a gap in the field of study (A)
  3. Defining the topic or key terms (C)
  4. Stating the purpose of the essay/writing (E)
  5. Providing an overview of the coverage and/or structure of the writing (Signalling) (B)
  1. This paper will review the research conducted on …
  2. This paper has been divided into four parts …
  3. Throughout this paper the term X will refer to …
  4. In the new global economy, X has become a central issue for …
  5. Debate continues about the best strategies for the management of …

Moves 2

Match the moves in a work of academic writing/research article (1-16) with the appropriate phrases (A-P).

  1. Writing introductions/Establishing the importance of the topic (A)
  2. Referring to literature (D)
  3. Being critical
  4. Describing Methods
  5. Reporting results (C, M, P)
  6. Discussions (L)
  7. Writing conclusions (F)
  8. Writing definitions (K)
  9. Giving examples (B, H, I, J)
  10. Classifying and listing
  11. Describing causes and effects
  12. Comparing and contrasting (F)
  13. Writing about the past (E)
  14. Describing trends and projections
  15. Describing quantities (J)
  16. Transition statements
  1. Central to the entire discipline of X is the concept of
  2. The sampling approach I used to select schools ensured that the sample was as representative as possible of the Western Australian demographic.
  3. The findings of this study have provided a general picture of Taiwanese college students' reading practices and profiles in both print- and Internet-based formats, and offer insight not only for future research but also for educational practice.
  4. A number of studies have investigated the effects of shared storybook reading on early literacy skills in a variety of preschool children, including those with disabilities and English language learners, with mixed results
  5. This chapter builds on the substantial common faith laid out in the previous chapter.
  6. This study had several limitations. The first limitation was duration. Results of this study provided only a snapshot of teachers' concerns about and levels of use of RTI at three different intervals across 5 months.
  7. The proportion of live births outside marriage reached one in ten in 1945.
  8. It can be seen from the data in Table 12.1 that the X group reported significantly more benefit than the two other groups.
  9. The graph shows that there has been a steady decrease in the number of divorce in England and Wales since 2011.
  10. The percent exact agreement in this study was found to be 69.4%, and the percent agreement plus or minus one was 97.2%. These values are slightly less than those reported by Daane et al. (2005), which were 81% for the former and 100% for the latter.
  11. The term social media refers to Internet websites that provide a forum for creating and exchanging information with a large number of people
  12. I want to add to these discussions a new perspective on the nineteenth century histories of Ewe textiles in relation of Asante cloth, based on a combination of sources that have so far not been often studied.
  13. As a consequence, alterations to the type of fat and fatty acid composition is an approach that maintains the amount of fat needed for these functions in the light burger, NThe Planning and Analysis Matrix (see Appendix) illustrates how information can be organized to verify selected environment criteria, identify strengths and weaknesses in the proposed learning environment, O He identified two social types that recur in the Peter Arno cartoons.
  1. In contrast to the M. pneumoniae findings, we found no significant differences in clinical characteristics between Chlamydia-positive and -negative patients (Table 3).


The phrase ‘the aim of this’ give us:

  1. The aim of this essay is to examine further the relationship among the political, national, and religious aspects of Bosnian society.
  2. The aim of this study is to evaluate the extent to which providing teachers with information about students’ progress … results in higher achievement growth when applied in general reading education
  3. The aim of this study is to investigate the response of growth and ion uptake and distribution of Basil under seawater stress.
  4. The aim of this study is to determine whether exposure to HBCD induces and/or enhances obesity.
  5. The aim of this study is to analyze the mtDNA of five goat samples belonged to East Chia Sabz

Overall, primary, central, main, ultimate.

These are among the most frequent adjectives for aim. Can you rank them in order of frequency in academic texts? Which of the words basically mean the same thing and which are different? (See also focus for similar adjectives)

1 2 3 4 5

Adverbs with key verbs

These are the common adverbs with key verbs. Many of these adverbs are near synonyms, are there one or two that are different in meaning?

Further, critically, closely: examine

Critically, properly, carefully: evaluate

Thoroughly, systematically, carefully: investigate

Accurately, quickly, precisely: determine

Critically, systematically, properly: analyse.

  • The focus of this study is to understand what happens at the location where most educational outcomes
  • Therefore, the focus of this study is the examination of situations where the parenting norms and ideals were
  • the focus of this study is specifically on self-generated diagrams
  • The focus of this study is to determine if teacher perceptions of organizational justice were related to
  • Although the focus of this study is on financial aid, we also report other results from our
  • It is important to recognize that the focus of this study is not the time spent on individual activities, but rather
  • Thus, the focus of this study is to determine the effects of precorrection on the reading and behaviour

In which sentences:

A Has the reason for the focus of the study just been explained?

  1. Does the writer explicitly state what the focus is not on?
  2. Does the writer explicitly state what the focus is on?
  3. Is the focus followed by a verb?
  4. Is the focus followed by a noun?
  5. Does the writer say what additional information is the focus of the study?

Key word ISSUE

The academic phrase Has been a (adjective) issue gives us the following adjectives: contentious, recurrent, central, major, long-standing, disturbing, critical, contested. Which of these mean:

  • Important
  • Difficult
  • Something that occurs again
  • Established, existing
  • Worrying

Think of three topics (issues) for which the adjectives above would be suitable. For example, the rise of far right-wing parties in Europe has been a disturbing issue in recent years.

1 2 3

  • Which of the phrases below are positive and highlight the importance of the issue?
  • Which are negative and highlight that the issue has been (unjustly) neglected and therefore worthy of attention? Try to continue the phrase, e.g. This issue has not been addressed adequately/properly/fully by most researchers in the field.

This issue has not been addressed/been dealt with/been widely discussed/has particular

relevance/has not been sufficiently investigated/has been documented/has received little

attention/not been empirically investigated/has been approached/been largely overlooked/has been

hotly debated/has been further examined.

Write two short texts; in the first state the aim (using an adjective and adverb) and the focus, then explain that the issue is important in some way but has only been looked at from a limited number of viewpoints. In the second explain that the issue is important but has been ignored for some reason.