Academic writing refers to a style of expression that researchers use to define the intellectual boundaries of their disciplines and their specific areas of expertise. Characteristics of academic writing include a formal tone, use of the third-person rather than first-person perspective (usually), a clear focus on the research problem under investigation, and precise word choice. Like specialist languages adopted in other professions, such as, law or medicine, academic writing is designed to convey agreed meaning about complex ideas or concepts for a group of scholarly experts.

Hartley, James. (2008). Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Handbook. New York: Routledge.

Types of Graduate and Academic Writing

Annotated Bibliographies

Annotated bibliographies are generally topic-driven and may sometimes be assigned in place of or to supplement a research paper.  The format of the bibliography will depend on the style manual chosen and the specifications of the assignment but will always consist of a correctly-formatted bibliographical entry plus an evaluation of the cited work.  The evaluation itself may be anywhere in length from a few sentences to a longer paragraph and will give an overview of the approach or method of the work, its content or results, and its usefulness vis-à-vis the topic of the bibliography.

Book Reviews

Book reviews generally identify the work being reviewed and its author(s) and discuss its content in the order established in the work itself. In the context of graduate courses, book reviews engage students with arguments and evidence on a larger scale than those found in articles and train the student to critically evaluate in-depth writing. Reviewing books is a way for scholars to serve their discipline as well as to obtain books in return for that service. Reviews written for publication also provide opportunities for scholars to network.

A review should:

  • Place the book within a relevant field based on subject
  • Offer a critique of the degree to which the goals set out in the introduction have been fulfilled
  • Evaluate the evidence, argument, style, and structure of the book.

Case Study

Case studies take an in-depth look at a group, person, event, community or organization with the intent of discovering detailed information regarding the subject. Depending on the discipline, some case studies utilize collected data or involve a detailed description and assessment of the subject. Some studies involve using a single subject to represent a larger issue such as the study of one retail corporation’s losses due to self-checkout to discuss the entire retail sector. (Adapted from Diane Hacker’s A Pocket Style Manual, 7th edition.)


The point of essays is largely their brevity; that is, they provide not only an indication to the instructor of how intensely you engage with the material(s) to which you respond, but they also provide training in being concise and to the point in your writing. The main principle is to follow the structure provided in the instructions or to choose a clear structure yourself in responding to the prompt or question.

Policy Briefs

The policy brief asks the writer to synthesize current relevant information upon which policy decisions can be made for some institution or entity (corporate, public, governmental).

For a policy brief, the writer must:

  • Think through the implications of the issues associated with the topic, intention, or immediate demand for the brief
  • Identify relevant stakeholders involved with the subject(s) at hand
  • Suggest possible course(s) of action.

Research Papers

There is a lot of information available on writing research papers, including disciplinary differences between humanities, social sciences, hard sciences, and law (to name the main disciplinary divides). A good part of graduate training involves socializing students into the discipline, including the specific conventions of writing that characterize it. The cross-disciplinary field of information sciences includes writing genres from multiple domains. The humanities (e.g., history), the social sciences (e.g., sociology), and hard sciences (e.g., engineering) are some examples of disciplinary domains with distinct writing conventions that can be found in LIS/IM writing. In all research papers, a claim is articulated in an argument and supported by evidence, and an explanation of how the evidence was found (methods).

The UIUC library has a Write Your Research page for graduate-level writing needs, including some of the above types as well as a few others, such as doctoral-level research proposals.

For more discussions regarding types of writing, see A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker, 7th edition (APA Version), ISBN: 978-1-319-01113-0.

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