C. Audience & Academic Tone


  • Keep in mind that your paper should be written in an academic voice.
  • Use correct grammar



  • On Writing Well – William Zinsser

In most cases, your reader will just be your teacher, but write your paper as cleanly and professionally as if you were presenting it to all of academia.

Determining the audience is helpful because it sets the tone for your paper, which is essentially a dialog between you and your reader.
You want to speak to your reader in a manner that is appropriate for your material. If you were to speak with a group of professors in your field of research,
you wouldn’t address them as you would your close friends. Similarly, you wouldn’t write your academic paper like you would a text message or email.

Every teacher has specific pet peeves about writing. You’ll want to learn about the pet peeves of your teacher. If he or she doesn’t tell you what they are, ask for a sample research paper. Here are some general ground rules:

  • Don’t use contractions.

    (Do not use contractions.)

  • Keep the same tense.

    Most English papers are written in the present tense even though the author may be long dead: Dickens uses metaphorical imagery in Oliver Twist to bring out…
    Social studies papers are typically written in the past tense (since everything has happened already): Bonaparte’s decision to invade Russia was perhaps the most crucial decision in his campaign…

  • Avoid passive voice.

    Passive voice weakens your writing. It is a when the sentence focuses on the action, rather than the subject.

  • Example: A purchase was made. Here, the focus is on the purchase, rather than who was making the purchase.

    Identifying passive voice is tricky and takes a bit of practice, but as a rule, passive voice follows the form: subject + finite form of to be + past participle.

    Example: Change “The central conflict in the book–forbidden love–was intensified by Jane’s wedding scene with Rochester” to “Jane and Rochester’s wedding scene intensifies the central conflict: forbidden love.”

    See how “was intensified by” is changed to “intensifies”?

    One exception to this rule is scientific writing (in a lab write up, for instance). In some scientific writing, passive voice is encouraged. Ask your teacher whether or not this exception applies.

  • Avoid personal pronouns

    like “I,” “you,” and “us.” Most teachers don’t like them. One possible exception is a general “we” in English papers (ex. “We can observe in Dante’s Inferno…). Ask your teacher if this use of “we” is permissible. Although your paper is a dialog between you and your reader, you don’t want to address them in an informal way. Avoiding words like “I” helps you ensure that your paper is supported by facts and evidence rather than opinions (“I think that Dante’s Inferno…).

  • Avoid using colloquialisms in the body of your paper.

    There is no need for phrases like, “So then Juliet totally dumped Romeo and went for..” They cheapen your paper.

  • Carefully scan your paper

    to make sure it has correct grammar.

  • Never use emoticons, texting abbreviations, all caps, or multiple exclamation points.

    OMG!!! I <3 Odysseus! He is dabomb!! LOL! ROFL!!! 😉 will not impress your teacher (or anyone else).

Keep in mind that, although you want your paper to sound classy and academic, you don’t want your paper cluttered with meaningless words or redundancies.

Before: In this interesting and insightful manner, Hemingway both teases and tantalizes the reader, creating a cornucopia of literary magic that is both current and timeless.

Do we really need both “interesting” and “insightful’? “Teases” and “tantalizes”? Is the meaning of this sentence clear? Or is it just being obscured by fancy-sounding but misused words?

After: Hemingway’s unique choice of words produces a literary style that is both current and timeless.



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