Skip main navigation

Academic essay

Academic essay
7.9
So here we have an academic essay. In academic writing each section of the essay is often divided into headings and subheadings which help to indicate the structure. The structure of ideas needs to be clear. Look in the introduction at how one idea is explained before moving on to another idea. The writer makes a general statement about the problem of food waste, then moves onto how much food is wasted and the sources of food waste. This will lead into a discussion of the value of food waste, and how it can be recycled. The ideas are logically structured, roughly following a typical ‘situation - problem – solution’ structure.
60.7
What about the language and style of the writing? There is a more formal style here. The reader is not addressed directly as ‘you’, as in the newspaper article, and ‘I’ and ‘In my opinion’ are not used. Instead, we have a ‘distance’ from the reader. Look at how the statement is introduced in the first sentence “food waste is considered a major nutritional and environmental problem.” And in the final sentence, “this project will demonstrate this potential, by explaining the value of food waste and introducing some recycling methods”. There is no use of personal ‘I’. Instead, different language structures - such as the passive voice in this case - are used to make the writing more impersonal.
113.2
However, through the choice of vocabulary, and in particular adjectives, the writer’s viewpoint
120
on the topic is made clear: “several extensive yet harmful effects”, “a considerable economic loss”, “it can potentially have huge value economically”.
137.6
Did you notice the use of more cautious language? “Even economic development and the environment can be negatively impacted by food waste (Gustavsson et al, 2011)”. And again, “Although food waste at the retail stage may be considered small in comparison with the amount of food waste overall, it is still an issue which can lead to considerable economic loss as well as environmental problems”. The use of ‘might’ and ‘can’ shows that the writer is either making a claim that is not yet fully proven, or accepts that there are different viewpoints on an issue and this use of cautious language is characteristic of academic writing.
185.9
In the academic world, knowledge is constructed socially, and there is an expectation that new ideas, theories, or interpretations are tested thoroughly, before they are accepted into the mainstream. You will see that another major difference is that academic writing refers to different sources to support the points that are made. Here the writer refers to data from the European Commission, to show the extent of food waste, to show how serious a problem it is. There is another reference to a publication by Gustavsson. You also see there is a particular convention for citing these sources, “The European Commission (2011) estimated” and, “(Gustavsson, 2011)”.
234.8
One of the most important aspects of academic writing is making use of sources, the ideas of other people from books, journals and other reading material, as you need to show that you have read about the topic and understood the materials that you have studied. You can use these ideas and findings in your writing. The correct use of outside sources also lends credibility to any essay, and provides evidence of an ability to think critically, to relate one’s reading to the needs of the assignment and one’s own viewpoint. These sources are also listed at the end of the essay in a ‘List of References’ section. In this course we will be looking in more detail at all of the features discussed here.

In this video, Jonathan explains the typical characteristics of an academic essay. Think about the purpose and audience of an academic essay and how this influences the style and tone of the text.

This third video focuses on an academic essay written by Patrick (Yu Zhao), a Chinese student on the Pre-sessional English programme at the University of Reading. Jonathan highlights that the essay follows a situation, problem, solution structure. You will explore different essay structures in more detail later this week.

This article is from the free online

An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education