Writing is often considered to be either academic or non-academic, with academic writing being associated with work submitted to academic and educational institutions or with academic publications. However, the matter is not as simple as this. Just as non-academic writing can comprise various categories, such as fiction and non-fiction, academic writing can also have different types.

This short article will shed light on four types of academic writing, namely: analytical, critical, descriptive, and persuasive. However, these do not have inflexible boundaries, in that some documents may contain more than one of these types, leading to a degree of overlap. 

These genres of academic writing apply to theses, dissertations, essays and other types of academic papers.

Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing is the most basic form of academic writing. It still involves gathering facts and information and re-presenting them in one’s own words. Descriptive writing also reports the results of projects, assignments and experiments. Since these could involve one project or many, this type of writing is often used to summarise the information that has been presented. This can often be necessary where there is a limit to the number of words in an essay. Descriptive writing is often accompanied by other types of writing in the same work; for example, the facts presented may need to be analysed, thereby requiring the use of analytical writing. 

Analytical Writing

Analytical writing requires much preparation. It involves a considerable amount of reading and making a note of the facts that have been gathered. The next stage is organising the facts into categories, a task which may need to be performed a number of times before a good presentation can be written. Analytical writing needs to be done well, otherwise ‘throwing’ a myriad of facts at the reader will lead to confusion. When the categories have been decided, and possibly named, the writer can then present each one in a paragraph and develop the argument. The different categories can then be compared and linked with the general argument of the paper. When this has been done, all confusion will have been avoided, and the reader should understand the document well.  

Persuasive Writing

Academic writing is generally expected to be objective, which means that it should concentrate on facts and remain unbiased and impartial. However, persuasive writing, as its name implies, involves the presentation of the writer’s opinion. It may be justified in asking if objective writing and persuasive writing contradict each other. The key to this lies in the writer presenting some powerful evidence in support of his/her point of view. Such evidence needs to be obtained from various sources and not just one source with which the writer agrees. The piece of writing could indeed be considered to be biased if only one source is quoted. A good plan in persuasive writing is to quote several contrasting sources, and then through discussion, to argue which source offers the most reasonable argument. It should also be noted that both descriptive and analytical writing can lead into persuasive writing. 

Critical Writing

Sometimes, the writer of an essay may wish to present more than one opinion, and compare his/her own opinion with those of others that are presented in the paper. This is known as critical writing, which is the most advanced form of academic writing. Since it involves presenting at least two opinions, these need to be compared, analysed and summarised. Their strong and weak points need to considered and explained to the reader. In critical writing, the writer may offer an alternative viewpoint to the opinions that are quoted, but must offer strong evidence and powerful reasoning for this. Critical writing calls for excellent writing skills and abilities which is why it is more likely to be needed in work prepared by postgraduate students. 

Development of the Four Types of Academic Writing

As mentioned previously, these four types of academic writing do not occur in isolation. In fact, they develop from descriptive to analytical to persuasive to critical. Therefore, the most advanced type of writing will probably contain elements of all four. 

The University of Sydney and the University of West London have useful websites which give a full explanation and summary of the different types of academic writing.