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Writing styles for university students

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Published: 26 April 2021

Fountain pen writing

Throughout your time at university, you’re likely to come across lots of different kinds of writing.

Some you’ll be reading, others you’ll have to use yourself, so it’s important to understand what they are and how they can help with your degree.

Styles may be formal or informal, with a lot of what you read during your studies being academic.

But they’re all designed to fit a specific audience and the message, so understanding writing styles will help you analyse why something has been written in the first place.

Academic writing

This is the main kind you’ll come across during your studies. You’ll not only be expected to understand it but write in it as well.

This is why it’s so important you learn to recognise it when you see it.

The simplest way of thinking about academic writing is that it’s very careful. Each word, phrase and sentence will have been thought about deeply to get the point across as accurately as possible.

People that write using this style are trying to convince you of their ideas, which means they will always support their arguments with evidence.

Of course, academic writing will become more and more familiar as you go through your degree.

Take a look at our guide to Academic Writing for more information.

Journalism

Journalism generally is trying to tell a true story using facts – something it shares with academic writing.

But there are huge differences in the style. For one thing, journalism tends to be aimed at a much wider, less knowledgeable audience than academic writing.

Another is that it’s often ‘short-form', so where academic writing can stretch across journal articles and whole textbooks, news stories are normally around 800 to 1000 words long at the most.

There are two main kinds of journalism – broadsheet and tabloid – both of which have their own unique styles of writing.

Broadsheets traditionally use well-argued reasoning to get their stories and arguments across to an informed readership.

Tabloids tend to be the more popular press, using shorter, sensationalist writing to excite readers.

They are also normally thought of as having a strong editorial bias – meaning the opinions of the owners of the papers are more obvious than in broadsheets.

It’s important to know the difference between the two even as a university student as it’s not uncommon to need to reference news stories in your assignments.

Non-fiction

Again, like academic writing and journalism, non-fiction deals with fact. It’s also OK to reference non-fiction work in your assignments.

However, it is very important to cross-check any piece of information you take from non-fiction writing because, unlike the other two examples above, it is not necessarily subject to peer review.

This is when an independent group of experts look through the work to see if all the facts included are accurate.

Without peer-review, non-fiction books can contain things that aren’t true, so be careful.

Lots of work of this type include reference sections, so it’s worth taking the time to look there as a starting point.

Social media

Most written content these days is done online. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, chances are you’ve contributed to this.

You’ll know that the reliability of social media content varies wildly depending on who’s written it and for what purpose.

It’s not recommended you take anything on social media for granted, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful for your academic work.

Rather, you can use it to get a rough idea of popular opinion, create surveys for research purposes or talk about specific events and how people reacted to them.

It’s also worth noting that lots of academics share their work on social media, so it’s a good idea to look out for it.

The world of writing is diverse and exciting. A lot of the time as a university student, it can feel like the only thing you’re reading is complicated academic language.

But take some time to look at other sources of information.

With a little care, and fact-checking, you might find a wider and interesting range of sources.

We’d love to hear about the kinds of things you’re reading. Share with us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn using #WeAreSunLon.

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