academic writing tips

Top 10 Academic Writing Tips

Raise Your Writing Scores with These Simple Academic Writing Tips!

As a teacher who grades countless essays and short answer responses, I do not want to spend time marking up students’ papers with red ink for simple grammar errors that they should already have proofread away from their academic writing. Instead, I want to focus my feedback on students’ ideas and content!

With that in mind, I wrote up this list of academic writing tips.

Want a few easy things to help increase your writing scores and put your teachers in a good mood as they read and grade your paper? Then read on!

1. Abbreviations
  • Spell out words fully.
    Incorrect: Btw, he lives in N. Am.
    Correct: By the way, he lives in North America. 
  • If you want to abbreviate something that will appear more than once, first introduce how you will do so using parentheses.
    Ex: I did my undergraduate degree at The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Many of my friends completed their Masters at UCLA as well.
2. Capitalization:
  • Capitalize the first word of every new sentence.
  • Do not write in all capitals.
  • Do not capitalize words unnecessarily.
  • Always capitalize “I” when used as a pronoun.  Ex: Did you know that I like donuts?
3. Contractions:
  • Eliminate contractions. They are considered informal and best left out of academic writing.
    Ex: Instead of “don’t” use “do not.” Instead of “it’s” use “it is.”
4. Apostrophes:
  • Apostrophes are okay, when used to show possession.
    Ex: The author’s books were widely read. (Only one author)
    Ex: The authors’ books were widely read. (More than one author)
5. Punctuation:
  • End sentences with proper punctuation. Avoid exclamation marks.
  • Do not add more commas than necessary.
  • Put punctuation inside quotation marks.
    Incorrect: The author said, “Mathematics can be fun”.
    Correct: The author said, “Mathematics can be fun.”
6. Numbers:
  • Spell numbers one through ten.
  • Write numbers 11 or higher as numeric digits (unless they appear at the beginning of as sentence).
7. Fragment Sentences:
  • Fragment sentences lack a noun, verb, or both. Or sometimes they are just dependent clauses.
    Incorrect: Because there are many real-life applications.
    Correct: Psychology is important because there are many real-life applications.
8. Run-on Sentences:
  • Run-ons are sentences that should be split into two or more separate sentences.
    Incorrect: Joe loves fishing he goes twice a week.
    Correct: Joe loves fishing. He goes twice a week.
    Or:         Joe loves fishing; he goes twice a week.
    Or:        Joe loves fishing and goes twice a week.
9. Tone of Voice:
  • Use a formal, academic tone.
  • As a rule, do not use “you” in formal writing. Instead use “one,” “many,” “people,” etc. to speak to a broader audience and maintain a more academic tone.
  • Avoid slang and abbreviations. (Do not “text” your essay).
  • Do not use smiley faces or other emoticons.
10. To, Two, and Too … Its and It’s … There, Their, and They’re
  • To: A preposition.                            He went to the store.
  • Two: A number.                               He bought two books.
  • Too: Means also.                             He went and bought books too.
  • Its: Shows possession.                    The dog ate its bone.
  • It’s: Contraction of it and is.             Are you sure it’s here? Or: Are you sure it is here?
  • There: location and pronoun.           Park over there. And: There are no parking spots.
  • Their: Shows possession.                Hang their jackets on this hook.
  • They’re: Contraction of they and are.   They’re here now. Or: They are here now.

Miscellaneous Academic Writing Tips:

Remember to use spellcheck to help you catch errors! Your grandparents didn’t have this tool, so don’t take it for granted. 😉 [Yes, I am breaking my own rules here. This is not a graded essay, yo].

Do not rely solely on spellcheck for your proofreading. It may not tell you that you misused a word. For example, if you used “there” instead of “their” it may not catch it.

Also, read your writing aloud to help you tell if it makes sense, then ask a friend to proofread your writing to help catch mistakes you may have missed.

If you are able to follow these Top 10 Academic Writing Tips, your writing will more clearly demonstrate your point of view, which allows your reader (and teacher, who is assigning your grade) to focus on the content of your writing, thus earning you more points for your efforts.

Happy writing,

Ms. P


PS: Ask Ms. P a specific question or leave a comment below!

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Laura earned a Master's degree in Secondary Education plus Teaching Certification for Mathematics and Psychology in both AZ and CA. Her undergraduate work was in Psychology with a minor in German from UCLA where she graduated magna cum laude. She has been tutoring since the 90's, was a high school teacher 2006-2011, and still teaches for a local college. Laura is passionate about teaching, learning, entrepreneurship, and traveling the world with her husband, their dog Tuck, and her Macbook Pro. -- Join Laura on Linkedin & Twitter!
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Student-TutorDiane M. ArmsteadJordan J.Bekki DarlingBekki Recent comment authors
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Diane M. Armstead
Diane M. Armstead

Hello Laura, First let me say, “I love your informative and helpful blog.” Also, “I like the use of the apple logo in the word TUTOR.” I have always spelled out numbers in writing essays. I didn’t know that it was alright to use the actual numeric digits, if they were 11 or higher. Under 7. Fragment Sentences: I’m questioning the use of beginning a sentence with the word Or. For example, “Or sometimes they are just dependent clauses.” The following sentence seems/feels more appropriate to me. “Fragment sentences lack a noun, verb, or both, or sometimes they are just… Read more »


Hi Dheart ☺, Thank you, first off, for taking the time to write a comment and for the kind feedback! I am glad you like the apple in the word “tutor”! Staring a sentence with “or”: I wrote: “Or sometimes they are just dependent clauses.” You wrote: “The following sentence seems/feels more appropriate to me. ‘Fragment sentences lack a noun, verb, or both, or sometimes they are just dependent clauses.’” Your way is absolutely correct. However, to my knowledge, mine is okay too! There are some folks out there who counsel against starting with “and,” “or,” and “but.” It may… Read more »

Jordan J.
Jordan J.

Thank you for the tips! I will pass these along too.


Thanks, Jordan!


Yeah, girl! Excellent tips. I cannot tell you how many resumes and cover letters I see in the world of employment that our absolutely ridden with these kinds of simple mistakes. It makes me want to poke my eyes out with a barbeque skewer.

Bekki Darling
Bekki Darling

our = are…. Oh myyyyyyy. It’s way too late to be commenting on blogs. 😉



That is another great point about the resumes! I also review resumes when hiring tutors and if I see errors, I skip immediately to the next person. So many great candidates are looking for employment, and if someone either (1) does not know proper grammar or (2) does not take the time to use proper grammar, I would rather hire someone else!

So these tips extend beyond the classroom.

And our = are is another good mix-up to point out! I will add it to my list for the next round of tips!!

Thanks for your comments! 🙂

Jade Rodriguez
Jade Rodriguez

Wow Ms. Petersen this is a great blog! All in which you pointed out would seem obvious and simple, but they really are common mistakes. I see them all the time; especially before I graduated, when we had to proof read / peer edit other papers. Oh man it used to frustrate the life out of me.

Hopefully your blog grows a huge following; I can tell just by reading your first post that there are many more helpful / awesome tips to be posted in the future!

Congrats on your first blog.
– Jade 🙂


Thanks, Jade! I appreciate your kind words and well wishes. I promise to keep more good tips and tricks coming! 🙂

Let me know if you think of anything I should investigate or write about!

Ms. P


Ms. P…love your tips! As an English teacher, I see these mistakes OFTEN!! I’ll have to make a list of other common mistakes that even newscasters make on television! SOON TO COME….if you’ll let me 🙂


Thanks, Jen!

And please do, absolutely! Most folks get things wrong because that is what they hear all around them. The more we can spread the word about the “right” academic way, the better! 🙂