Getting the Tone and Style in Academic Writing Right


When composing an essay, students should explain their points concisely and clearly. It is critical to strike the right tone in the written content; however, that proves to be a challenge to most students. They write either in a casual or too formal tone.

Both tones are unsuitable and weaken the essay’s message. Whether it is an expository essay, argumentative, or a narrative one, the good news is using an active and direct tone in writing is the most effective.

Here are a few tips for choosing the right tone and voice when writing an academic essay.

Identify the Purpose of the Essay

The first thing to determine is the essay’s purpose. An essay is written to put across your point or idea in a way that will convince the reader, so it should look like a well-researched, credible, and authoritative piece.

If you express an argument in the essay, it must be supported with evidence that will make the tone sound clearer without using fancy language. Focus on the goal of your writing and build the essay’s structure accordingly. The reader should understand your intent right from the introduction.

Keep the Tone Academic but Not Excessively Formal

Students often confuse an academic tone with a formal one. The essay should not use language that is overly formal as the results might backfire. Using excessively formal language makes it seem pretentious to the reader and is not enjoyable to read or even understand. The language should be simple and the meaning easy to comprehend so that it makes sense to the reader.

Let’s compare the following examples.

  • “The ecosystem of our planet is vitiated with humanity facing an existential threat from the inordinate usage of nonorganic wastes.”

The same sentence would be much easier to read and understand when rewritten in a simple and direct tone:

  • “The excessive use of plastics is damaging the environment and posing a threat to the health and well-being of humans.”

Avoid Casual/Colloquial Language

Colloquial phrases and words make an impression that your attitude to the given assignment is not serious enough. Avoiding slang terms in writing is easy, but preventing the use of an informal tone may be difficult. Since such expressions are used in spoken English daily, students often do not notice when they insert them in academic writing.

For instance:

  • “Those who snagged entry to the Yankees game over the weekend had a blast.”

The expressions “snagged entry” and “had a blast” are colloquial and alright in spoken English. However, such conversational phrases are inappropriate in academic writing.

It is better to rewrite the sentence in simple and direct English like

  • “People who received an opportunity to go to the Yankees game over the weekend had a good time.”

Do Not Use Fanciful Language

Students wanting to emphasize any idea in an essay may use fanciful language to convince the reader of their point of view. This is to be avoided because the content sounds pompous as if the writer is trying too hard to impress the reader.

Assume that the reader understands the literal meaning and go straight to the point. Instead of using figurative language to enhance your claim, decide on qualitative vs quantitative research necessary for your essay and strengthen your statement with scholarly information. Remember to cite your sources as well.

See the difference between the statement on environmental change using hyperbole with the same sentence rewritten in a simple and direct tone with evidence to support the claim.

  • “The ecosystem is facing calamitous consequences with the planet overwhelmed with noxious particles, which is an imminent threat to the Earth and humanity as a whole!”
  • “As per the World Health Organization, air pollution is responsible for approximately 4.2 million deaths annually because of health-related issues like chronic respiratory diseases, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and so on. It is critical to take steps to reduce environmental pollution.”

In the second example, facts are used as supporting evidence instead of fanciful language with nothing to back up the point.

Refrain From Generalizing Statements

You should avoid generalizing content while writing an essay. When students are not sure how to write a cause and effect essay, they often make such mistakes to appeal to the readers’ emotions. Generalizations not only sound corny; providing supporting evidence for them is difficult, and at times they are not even related to the main point of the essay.

When we write about the abolition of slavery in the US in the mid-1800s, we should recognize it was not a success until much later because of the prevailing political environment. Here is the wrong way to approach the topic:

  • “Abraham Lincoln was instrumental in ensuring the emancipation of blacks as slaves in the United States in the mid-1800s with the firm belief that all Americans must be equal. While it was a step in the right direction, it was not a complete success because the Southern States did not adopt the laws until later.”

The introduction of the abolition of slavery is vague and does not exactly mention when it became a complete success in the United States.

The same sentence rewritten would read as:

  • “While Abraham Lincoln played a pivotal role in abolishing slavery from the United States while keeping with the constitution, it was not entirely successful because of the Southern States not adopting the laws. It was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s led by Martin Luther King that led to desegregation and inclusion of blacks in mainstream American society.”

When writing an essay, students must be specific to make the right impression on the reader.

Final Thoughts

Being a skillful essay writer is not that difficult as long as students keep the mentioned tips in mind. Adopting a direct tone, using simple language, and providing supporting evidence go a long way in engaging the reader and convincing them of the writer’s point of view.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.