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Scholarly Writing: Overview


Scholarly writing is also known as academic writing. It is the genre of writing used in all academic fields. Scholarly writing is not better than journalism, fiction, or poetry; it is just a different category. Because most of us are not used to scholarly writing, it can feel unfamiliar and intimidating, but it is a skill that can be learned by immersing yourself in scholarly literature. During your studies at Walden, you will be reading, discussing, and producing scholarly writing in everything from discussion posts to dissertations. For Walden students, there are plenty of opportunities to practice this skill in a writing intensive environment.

The resources in the Grammar & Composition tab provide important foundations for scholarly writing, so please refer to those pages as well for help on scholarly writing. Similarly, scholarly writing can differ depending on style guide. Our resources follow the general guidelines of the APA manual, and you can find more APA help in the APA Style tab.

Read on to learn about a few characteristics of scholarly writing!

Writing at the Graduate Level

Writing at the graduate level can appear to be confusing and intimidating. It can be difficult to determine exactly what the scholarly voice is and how to transition to graduate-level writing. There are some elements of writing to consider when writing to a scholarly audience: word choice, tone, and effective use of evidence. If you understand and employ scholarly voice rules, you will master writing at the doctoral level.

Before you write something, ask yourself the following: 

  • Is this objective?
  • Am I speaking as a social scientist? Am I using the literature to support my assertions?
  • Could this be offensive to someone?
  • Could this limit my readership?

Employing these rules when writing will help ensure that you are speaking as a social scientist. Your writing will be clear and concise, and this approach will allow your content to shine through.

Specialized Vocabulary

Scholarly authors assume that their audience is familiar with fundamental ideas and terms in their field, and they do not typically define them for the reader. Thus, the wording in scholarly writing is specialized, requiring previous knowledge on the part of the reader. You might not be able to pick up a scholarly journal in another field and easily understand its contents (although you should be able to follow the writing itself).

Take for example, the terms EMRs and end-stage renal disease in the medical field or the ideas of scaffolding and differentiation in teaching. Perhaps readers outside of these fields may not be familiar with these terms. However, a reader of an article that contains these terms should still be able to understand the general flow of the writing itself.

Original Thought

Scholarly writing communicates original thought, whether through primary research or synthesis, that presents a unique perspective on previous research. In a scholarly work, the author is expected to have insights on the issue at hand, but those insights must be grounded in research, critical reading, and analysis rather than personal experience or opinion. Take a look at some examples below:

Needs Improvement: I think that childhood obesity needs to be prevented because it is bad and it causes health problems.
Better: I believe that childhood obesity must be prevented because it is linked to health problems and deaths in adults (McMillan, 2010).
Good: Georges (2002) explained that there "has never been a disease so devastating and yet so preventable as obesity" (p. 35). In fact, the number of deaths that can be linked to obesity are astounding. According to McMillan (2010), there is a direct correlation between childhood obesity and heart attacks later in their adult lives, and the American Heart Association's 2010 statistic sheet shows similar statistics: 49% of all heart attacks are preventable (AHA, 2010). Because of this correlation, childhood obesity is an issue that must be addressed and prevented to ensure the health of both children and adults.

Notice that the first example gives a personal opinion, but cites no sources or research. The second example gives a bit of research but still emphasizes the personal opinion. The third example, however, still gives the writer's opinion (that childhood obesity must be addressed), but it does so by synthesizing the information from multiple sources to help persuade the reader.

Careful Citation

Scholarly writing includes careful citation of sources and the presence of a bibliography or reference list. The writing is informed by and shows engagement with the larger body of literature on the topic at hand, and all assertions are supported by relevant sources.

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