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Academic norms

Science and the academic genre

A big part of being a student is learning how to work scientifically and academically within your subject area. While scientific work is all about producing new knowledge or new perceptions of existing knowledge, academic work is about living up to certain norms within the academic genre. 

Producing new knowledge and complying with academic norms also means learning to argue academically. Your argumentation will convince others that the knowledge you have produced is valid.  

Learn more about the academic genre and the use of academic language on this page. 

The academic genre

In university assignments, you must demonstrate that you can work independently and academically. You can do this by: 

Producing new knowledge 

You must produce new knowledge and this can be done in several different ways. For example, you can conduct an independent study, gather your own empirical data, describe new phenomena, confirm or deny the results of other researchers, discuss or explain prevailing perceptions, or challenge knowledge in an area by providing a new perspective. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, but you have to bring something new to the table. 

Read about choosing a topic and formulating a problem statement.

Taking a critical approach  Take a critical approach to the theories and methods you use, as well as to your own investigation, analysis and results. For example, you could discuss the assumptions that the theories are based on, whether those assumptions are up to date, or whether they lack coherence. You could also discuss any inadequacies or sources of error in your own methods. 
Justifying and arguing 

Justify the choices you make in the assignment and present arguments for your choices. This creates transparency and makes it easier for the reader to follow your logic and rationale. 

Read more about transparency under ‘Guide your reader’. 

Selecting and using relevant literature 

Use existing knowledge that is relevant to your assignment. In practice, this can mean using existing theory in a new way, comparing two theories, or adopting a slightly new angle of approach to some material. It’s important to be clear about the knowledge you’re building on and how your work is contributing with new findings. This requires transparent language and the use of references. 

Click here to read more about references

Using subject-specific terminology  Use the subject's jargon, concepts and terminology correctly and precisely. Also, make sure that you’re consistent, i.e. use the same word for the same thing every time. It’s usually a good idea to prepare an overview defining the terms and concepts you’re using and how you’re using them. If you introduce new concepts, define them as precisely as possible. 
Addressing assumptions and delineations  Present your assumptions clearly and transparently to your reader. You should also be clear about the delineations of the assignment, i.e. what you are not investigating and how that affects the assignment and conclusion. 
Using subject-specific methods  Use the subject’s methods. Some subjects primarily use either theory or empirical data, while others make use of experiments or interviews. 

Academic language

Academic language must be easy to understand for specialists within the field, and the logic and argumentation of the text must be easy to follow. Therefore, express yourself as precisely, unambiguously, clearly, correctly and transparently as possible. Avoid overly complicated and convoluted language. 

Click here to read more about communicating with your reader 

One of the characteristics of academic language is its argumentative nature. This means that you will have to justify every claim you make. All claims must have an academic basis, i.e. they must be based on theory or empirical data. This is why your references are also important, as they help ensure that you don’t take credit for someone else’s work. 

Click here to read more about argumentation

If you’re unsure about how to write academically, you could ask your teacher or supervisor for examples from previous assignments. 

Subject-specific language

Academic language is also about using subject-specific language. This means using the concepts and terminology specific to your subject. On some programmes, you can prepare an overview defining the terms and concepts you’re using and how you’re using them. 

Subject-specific language also has linguistic norms that are particular to the subject. For example, some subjects do not use the first-person pronoun (I/we) but instead use more passive language. While in other subjects I/we is unavoidable. 

If you’re unsure about the subject-specific language of your degree programme, you could ask your teacher or supervisor for examples from previous assignments. 

Communicate with your reader

In your assignment, you should meta-communicate with your reader for two reasons: it gives the assignment transparency and it helps guide your reader.  


Transparency centres on demonstrating each step you take and making sure you don’t make unfounded claims. You should make it easy for your reader to track how you reached your conclusions and what assumptions those conclusions were based on. For example: 

"On the basis of X, I assume that..." or "Firstly... Because... Secondly... Because.... " 

Transparency also means being careful to give source references when you include other people's knowledge. It must be clear to your reader when you’re using other people's knowledge and when you’re contributing with your own knowledge.

Click here to read more about source references. 

Guide your reader

Guiding your reader is especially necessary in larger sections. This kind of meta-communication is a linguistic road map that guides the reader through the text. Guidance can be in the form of a brief introductory section at the beginning of a large segment of the assignment. Guidance can also be between large segments or at the end of large segments. For example: 

"In this section, I will..." Or “I have now explained xx. In the following, I will therefore... ". 

See also this

Inspiration from assignments by other students

Get a list of thesis titles from your field of study, and draw inspiration from other students’ assignments. 

Academic regulations

Orientate yourself in your curriculum on requirements for each individual subject in your programme.

GDPR course

AU offers students a course on Data Protection (GDPR). If you complete the course you'll get a certificate of completion. Read more about the course: