Practical Tips for Developing Your Academic Writing Voice

Jerry Talandis Jr.

As a language teacher, you are no doubt familiar with the concept of “voice” in writing. If you have taught the subject, perhaps you’ve enjoyed the pleasure of helping students find their own unique way of expressing themselves via writing in another language. However, when it comes to crafting professional prose to advance our careers, finding our voice can be quite a challenge. After all, academic writing is not about personal expression per se; rather, the primary aim is to communicate complex ideas and research findings clearly, accurately, and precisely to a scholarly audience (American Psychological Association, 2020). Authors need to follow many rules and style conventions that appear to constrict authentic self-expression. However, without a strong voice, academic writing can come across as soulless, boring, and ineffective (Pinker, 2014). Writing with a clear, distinctive voice helps position you as part of a broader scholarly community (Madi et al., 2021). In this column, I will therefore explore what it means to develop your academic voice and provide some tips for how you can put more “you” into your professional writing.


Voice in Academic Writing

In academic writing, voice is a vast and complex topic; beyond what I can share with you in this short column. For now, Gardner’s (2010) characterization will do: “To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated… Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it” (para 4). The words originality and courage connect with me, as they serve to capture the essence of this principle. According to Robbins (2016), academic writing requires more than just presenting ideas, facts, and conclusions; originality is also essential. You also need to communicate a point of view or stance. When you are doing that consistently in your writing, you are using your own voice. Likewise, courage is needed to weather the inevitable failure you will experience when dealing with manuscript rejection, harsh comments, or push-back on your ideas.

In a typical research paper, writing with a clear voice involves (Academic English UK, n.d.):

  • Taking a subtle, nuanced stance or showing shades of meaning
  • Selecting and reporting data or sources critically
  • Interpreting evidence to support your stance
  • Choosing a persuasive structure for your arguments
  • Integrating the evidence into your argument, with the appropriate signals
  • Writing in your own words

In academic writing, voice is often prominent in specific sections, such as the introduction when personal anecdotes are used to engage readers (MacPhail, 2015), or the discussion section where arguments and conclusions are presented to interpret study findings (Robbins, 2016).

According to Sword (2011), the long-held belief that personality should never intrude upon scholarly writing lest research findings not be taken seriously has begun to soften. For example, in her cross-disciplinary study of 66 peer-reviewed journals, Sword found only one that forbids the use of personal pronouns. She noticed that authors often use an impersonal and seemingly authoritative style in their writing in various ways, such as by using the “royal we,” referring to themselves in the third person, attributing agency to their research, and relying heavily on the passive voice. However, by using their own voice in writing, their prose can naturally become more energetic, persuasive, and easier to understand.


Practical Tips

Fortunately, with practice, it is possible to learn how to write within the confines of academia in a way that “has a voice” or that “sounds like a person” (Elbow, 2007, p. 7). Here are a few tips to get you started.


Know and Adjust to Your Audience

As an academic writer, you need to be aware of your audience and write in ways that are as accessible and engaging as the guidelines and occasion allow. How much “you” to put into your prose will largely depend on whom you’re writing for and where. For example, as Madi et al. (2021) note, there is a big difference in style between the soft and hard sciences. In fields such as ELT, a strong personal voice can establish a stronger relationship with the readers, strengthen findings, and boost credibility. However, when reporting on formal empirical research, where the findings are more clear-cut, credibility and confidence can be increased by subordinating one’s identity to promote objectivity. Just as wearing formal clothing is appropriate and expected for certain occasions, such as a job interview or a formal dinner, writing in a formal style is appropriate and expected for many academic publications. No matter whom you write for, the goal should be to present yourself in a professional manner that conveys competence, authority, and respect for the occasion in keeping with your scholarly identity. Studying a target journal’s style and paying special attention to any submission guidelines are practical ways to gauge the appropriate level of voice in a writing project.


Make a Publication Bucket List

To truly realize your academic writing voice, it is important to experiment with as many different writing styles as you can throughout your career. Seek out different publication opportunities that allow for varying degrees of formality and see which ones resonate most with you. To challenge yourself a bit, make a publication bucket list and populate it with all types of articles, from informal to formal. For example, over the course of your career, you could aim to write at least one:

  • Academic blog post
  • Book review
  • Practical teaching paper
  • Article in a JALT chapter or SIG newsletter
  • Article in an in-house university journal (kiyo)
  • Conference proceedings article
  • Graduation thesis
  • Research article in an international peer-reviewed journal
  • Book chapter
  • Full book, either with others or by yourself

As you work through your list, you may end up preferring one sort of writing to another. This is fine, as you will have found a comfortable niche and can devote most of your time there. Nevertheless, the experience of trying different styles will stretch your capabilities and teach you a lot about how to express your authentic self in a variety of academic settings.


Keep an Academic Journal

Reading broadly and writing regularly are commonsense bits of advice that can help you improve your academic prose. How about combining these two into one activity by keeping an academic journal? Journals are great for providing a safe, therapeutic space where you can write about what is important to you. If you keep one devoted to your career, then you’ll give yourself regular opportunities to reflect on your teaching practice (Talandis, Jr. 2022). You could, for example, use this space to write reactions to lessons, express opinions on related issues, and critically reflect on academic literature. No one has to read these missives but you, so you are completely free to express yourself, uncensored, as you see fit. Doing so regularly, such as every day, even for a short time, will help you form the habit of writing, through which your unique voice will naturally emerge (Robbins, 2016).


Listen to Your Writing

To really develop your academic voice, you need to listen to it, and not just in a metaphorical sense, but with your physical ears. Elbow (2007, p. 7) points out the benefits of this practice: “When students have the repeated experience of reading their writing aloud, they are more likely to listen to their words and write sentences that are inviting and comfortable to speak, which, in turn, makes the sentences better for readers reading in silence.” Listening to your writing is also a great addition to your editing and polishing workflow (Talandis, Jr. & Bailey, 2022). For example, after writing your first draft, you could record yourself reading it aloud, then listen to what you wrote. If you’re not keen on the sound of your voice, you could copy and paste your text into a free text-to-speech app such as NaturalReaders ( It is quite relaxing and interesting to sit back after you have written some text and to hear it read back to you. The quality of synthetic voices has come a long way, so the illusion is quite effective. You can also have fun hearing your words in different accents! In whatever method you choose, regularly listening to your prose will help you write more clearly and effectively.


Get Feedback from Trusted Sources

Finally, you can develop your voice by seeking feedback and guidance from others, such as trusted peers, colleagues, mentors, or professional writing tutors. Aim to embed this step into your writing workflow, especially for high-leverage projects. Feedback can help you identify areas for improvement, which will refine your writing style and voice over time. Additionally, seeking feedback can help you develop humility and an open mind, which are important aspects of successful academic scholarship. You may think you are spot on with a particular insight, but you cannot really be sure until you put yourself out there a bit and see how someone else reacts. This point of advice also gives me an opportunity to plug the Writer’s Peer Support Group, a team of dedicated JALT volunteers that offer up their time to assist writers looking to get published. If you need to have someone check over your manuscript, get in touch at


Final Thoughts

Developing your academic writing voice is an ongoing process that takes time and practice. In the end, giving attention to your academic writing voice is akin to investing in the development of your academic identity and effectiveness as an educator. Being able to confidently write as your authentic self within the confines of academia is a true accomplishment worth pursuing. As Potgieter & Smit (2009, p. 225) note, “Finding our voice in our academic writing involves (in an almost metaphysically profound sense) a journey in search of the self.” Have courage and do not be afraid to inject some personality into your writing to make it your own. You absolutely can develop a writing voice that reflects your unique perspective and contribution to our language teaching profession.



Academic English UK. (n.d.). Academic voice – in writing.

American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Elbow, P. (2007). Voice in writing again: Embracing contraries. College English, 7.

Gardner, R. (2010, July 30). What is writer’s voice? Gardner Literary.

MacPhail, T. (2015, May 29). The personal touch: Using anecdotes to hook a reader. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Madi, I., Corbett, K., & Abdou, R. (2021). The social and methodological imposition of academic voice constraints. In D. McQuillan (Ed.), Finding Your Voice in Academic Writing (pp. 4–15). Technological University Dublin.

Pinker, S. (2014, October 1). Why academics stink at writing—and how to fix it. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Potgieter, F., & Smit, B. (2009). Finding academic voice: A critical narrative of knowledge-making and discovery. Qualitative Inquiry, 15(1), 214–228.

Robbins, S. P. (2016). Finding your voice as an academic writer (and writing clearly). Journal of Social Work Education, 52(2), 133–135.

Sword, H. (2011). Stylish academic writing. Harvard University Press.

Talandis Jr., J. (2022). Overcoming writer’s block. The Language Teacher, 46(2), 36–38.

Talandis Jr., J., & Bailey, R. (2022). Exploring APA: Strategies to improve your writing. The Language Teacher, 46(4), 44–47.