January 2021 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Navigating Standard Academic English

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Many students may have other languages than English as their primary language. Other students may use an English other than Standard Academic English on a daily basis in their writing and speaking. (I know I do). If you don’t feel like you live and think in Academic English, this blog post is for you! 

American and British flags with books

First, let me explain what I mean by Standard Academic English. When I talk about Standard Academic English, I’m referring to a formal tone of English used in academic writing (such as academic articles and books) where the intention it is to inform fellow experts in a particular field about a topic. Nuances of this particular style of writing are clarified by the American Psychological Association for academics in the social sciences (like Walden students).  

Most of us don’t think, write, or talk in Standard Academic English. Standard Academic English is a standard that was set a long time ago, and it’s being challenged today by thinkers like Asao Inoue (you can find his academic research in the Library’s databases, but you can also find him on his blog Infrequent Words and Twitter) because this linguistic standard can be limiting to just about everyone since it isn’t how we normally think or speak. In particular, current discussions revolve around how this standard disadvantages certain races, ethnic groups, and language learners. It’s a tough topic to tackle, and hopefully these standards can change with timeAlso, a less frequently used type of writing than what we typically encounter or use day to day, it can be tough to shift how we write to meet this standard. For now, though, we at the Walden Writing Center have some suggestions and advice to support anyone who Standard Academic English is a challenge for!  

First, I want to clarify that all forms of communication are important—there isn’t a wrong way to communicate, just like there isn’t a wrong way to think. However, the way we express ourselves varies depending on our audience and the venue. The way you text your mother is just as valid and important as the way you chat with a friend, write a Tweet, or publish a blog post—but when you think about it, you probably do all of these types of writing a little differently based on reader expectations. Your mom expects you to be friendly, your Twitter followers expect you to be succinct, and your friends expect you to be casual. At the Writing Center, we don’t encourage students to align with academic writing expectations because other forms of communication are wrong. Instead, we do so to help you meet those expectations so that you can finish your coursework, dissertation, or publications in your field and meet the expectations of your faculty, readers, and publishers for academic writing venues.  

student writing

The good news is that if you write and speak differently to different audiences and in different formats, you are already halfway there as an academic writer and working on SAE! This is because those shifts in tone represent you the communicator doing the work of shifting your phrasing and content for a different venue. Read more about code-shifting and academic tone in one of our blog posts. Academic writing is just one of many publication and communication venuesSo by learning the more formal tone expected in academic writing, you can implement it just like you implement emojis in your texts or citations in your coursework 😊.


At the Writing Center we have lots of great resources to support you as you grow in your writing skills and navigate academic English—either from a foreign language perspective or just as someone who doesn’t always think like an academic. One main thing is to read a lot! Pay attention to how your course reading sounds, what words they use, their sentence structure. Read aloud and get that tone of voice in your head—this will make it easier to make minor shifts in your writing for a particular venue 

Here’s a list of other resources that you might find useful:  

The Writing Center is here for you as you navigate the nuances of Standard Academic English. Questions? Approaches that work well for you? Let us know in the comments below. 

Claire Helakoski
 is a writing instructor at the Walden Writing Center. Claire also cohosts and helps produce WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast.

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