Aaron Eldridge
Composition and Rhetoric
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
11, 12
  • Style
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Education Standards

    Academic and Formal Writing Style Guide


    This lesson is designed to help students develop their understanding and application of an academic formal style, while encouraging them to develop their own individual style.

    An Introduction to Academic Style

    This is where you put information for the teacher to teach the task or support the task


    In a Quickwrite brainstorm as many answers to the following questions as possible.

    Why do we write?

    What do we enjoy in other people's writing?

    How can we improve our own writing?

    Ultimately people write to communicate for various reasons.

    As readers, we want writing to be many different things: interesting, entertaining, clear, focused, concise, and purposeful.  Our goal is to consider how can continue to impove these elements in our own writing.  If we think about the rhetorical triangle, our purpose and audience might change our approach and our style.  Primarily in this AP Language and Compostion Course, we will focused on academic writing.  Academic writing has some specific style expectations.

    Style is the choices that an author makes in diciton, syntax, figurative language, and other choices of use of language in order for an author to achieve his or her purpose.  An author's individual style should also be appropriate for the purpose of their writing.  Ultimately, the goal of style is to make our writing individual and personal, while also making our writing interesting, entertaining, clear, focused, concise, and purposeful. 

    Your task will be to revise the rough draft all of your essays for the style expectations that follow.

    Style Continued: Point of View

    When writing an academic essay, the writer should write from the 3rd person point of view and avoid 1st and 2nd person point of view.

    Only use first person point of view (I, we, our, me, my etc.) when using a specific personal example, which is rarely appropriate in academic writing.

    Avoid clauses like:

    I think...

    I feel...

    I believe...

    "...because as the writer your ideas are the implicit focus of the essay and the clause becomes redundant" (Vaughn Payne 62-63).


    I think Mr. Eldridge is really scary.

    Mr. Eldridge is really scary.

    Which is clear and concised and eliminates unnecessry words?

    If you include yourself in one of the topics or subjects of the essay, for example using "we," "us," or "our" when referencing students, Americans, or other categories that you feel represents you, you are introducing a subjectivity to a purpose that generally should be objective.


    We value freedom.

    Americans value freedom?

    Which example avoids subjectivitiy and is more clear and precise?

    Many people use the word "one" to solve the problem.  Also avoid this solution, as it is unsophisticated and repetitive.


    One never knows what may happen.

    Anything might happen.

    Never use 2nd person (you) unless you are directly addressing an individual, as you would in a personal letter, or if you ar consciously attempting to put your audience in a hypothetical situation...

    ... but really don't do it at all because Mr. Eldridge hates to see 2nd person in academic essay.  


    When you look closely at the text, you will find a dark tone that illustrates the main characters attitude.

    The text illustrates the character's attitude through a dark tone.

    Which one is less cluttered, more objective, and more concise?

    Also avoid overuse of hypothertical questions.  Like exclamation points, you might get one or two an essay.

    Review your  essay and highlight and revise any use of 1st and 2nd person.


    Style Continued: Clarity

    Avoid using the word "there."

    "The trouble with the word "there" has nothing to do with grammar or with "correctness" of any kind.  It's a perfectly proper word, and moves in the best circles; you will find it in abundance in the work of the most distinguished writers [...] it is one of the most insidious enemiies [to style] [...] because it seldom adds anything but clutter to a sentence" (Vaughan Payne 64).


    There was something wrong.

    Something was wrong.

    Which one is less cluttered?

    This rule is a difficult one.  Sometimes you have no solution to avoid using the word "there," so use it; however, being aware and trying to avoid using "there" will only improve your communication of idea.

    Avoid using "it" as a expletive.

    An expletive has no grammatical function in a sentence.  It is a pronoun; therefore it needs an antecedent.  An antecedent is the noun to which the pronoun refers.  


    The dog barks incessantly.  It is annoying.

    The antecedent for "it" in these two sentences is "dog."  Because dog comes first, we know to what "it" refers.


    It will be fun to go to the lake.

    In this sentence, it is an expletive.  Although "it" is the subject of the sentence, until we finish the sentence, we do not know what "it" is.  Sometimes "it" as expletive is never clarified.  So, how do you fix it?

    Going to the lake will be fun.

    Especially avoid phrase like:

    • "It seems..."
    • "It appears..."
    • "It is obvious..."
    • "It is understandable..."
    • "It is apparent..."
    • "It becomes apparent..."

    The only exception to the "it" as an expletive rule is weather.


    It is going to snow.

    Eliminate the floating "this" or "that."

    "This" "That" "These" "Those" etc. are demonstrative pronouns.  They domonstrate.  They must point out (demonstrate) something.


    This pen...

    That desk..

    To begin a sentence with "this" or "that" in reference to an antecedent in a previous sentence is gramatically incorrect and lacks clarity.


    Gravity is one of the laws of the universe.  This was a major scientific discovery.

    Although what these two sentences are communicating is clear, the idea can be clarified.


    Gravity is one of the laws of the universe.  This law was a major scientific discovery,

    Review your essay and highlight and revise use of the word 'there," "it" as an expletive, and floating "this" or "that."

    Style Continued: Passive Voice and Present Tense

    Avoid using passive voice.

    Passive voice is the use of passive verbs (be aware of your use of "to be" verbs).  In order to avoid passive voice, use active, interesting, and specific verbs.  Generally, passive voice lacks a subject or something is done to the subject, and active voice empowers the subject.  The subject performs the action.



    The car was driven by John.


    John drove the car.

    One of my colleagues had a great trick to identify passive voice.  If you can include the phrase "... by my grandmother" after the verb of a sentence, and it makes sense, you are writing in passive voice.


    The door was opened... by my grandmother.

    Always write about texts (literature, essays, articles, writing, and movies) in the present tense.  Even though you read the text in the past, the text will always be the same every time you pick it up.  Therefore, the text does not change and exists in the present.

    Identify examples of passive voice (look for to be verbs) and incidences of writing about literature in past tense in your essay and revise.

    Cite your sources!

    Vaugn Payne, Lucile. The lively Art of Writing. Penguin, New York: 1965. Print.