The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Professional Academic Writer

Last Updated: July 8, 2023


Say you want to build a home for yourself. Of course, you are not going to start by building the roof. Everything has to be done systematically. You first lay the foundation, then build the walls, then the roof, and then you finish up with furnishing. 

To become a professional Academic Writer, you have to take a similar systematic approach. You start with preparing to write. This is similar to building a foundation for your home. The actual writing is analogous to constructing the walls and roofs. Furnishing your writing is what referencing and proofreading does.

In this chapter, we discuss these three steps using the example of an academic assignment that I completed in the past. But first, a quick summary of what each step is about. 

Step 1: Preparing to Write

Just like the foundation is the most important part of a house, preparation is the most important aspect of Academic writing. The preparation phase starts with careful reading of the provided instructions. Underline them, highlight them, read them over and over. Anything to ensure you understand them. Still, part of building the foundation is researching and creating an outline.

Step 2: Writing is the Easy Part

Passing an exam usually has little to do with sitting down and doing the Actual exam. It has everything to do with preparation. Did you read the notes? Did you attend the lessons? Did you do the assignments? If your answer to all three questions is yes, then you will pass the exams.

That is the same case with online Academic writing. If you did your preparations well, then you will enjoy the writing. All you really need is to get started. Don’t think too much about it.

Step 3: Referencing and Proofreading.

A cake is not a cake without the icing on top. The icing on top of the cake can be shaped into anything. It could be a flower; it could be your name or the words ‘happy birthday’. These shapes make the cake more decent and presentable. 

This last section is about making your paper presentable. You will learn how to add flowers by giving it references. Inscribing your name on it by reading through the entire paper one more time. And finally, adding ‘The Happy birthday logo’ by using grammar tools to ensure the grammar and spelling is perfect.

Sample Question.

Order title: Positive and negative impacts tourism has on culture in tourism areas

Work Details: 

Type of paper: Research Paper

Subject: Tourism

Number of Pages: 7 pages

The format of Citation: Harvard

Number of Cited Sources: 20

Type of service: Writing from scratch

No attached files and no additional instructions. 

Step 1: Preparation phase

As discussed above there are three important things to do during the preparation phase. Below we have broken these steps into steps 1a, 1b, and 1c. 

Step (1a): Reading and Understanding the Order/question

The title is pretty straight forward. ‘Positive and negative impacts tourism has on the culture in tourism areas’. All it requires from you is to find out the negative impacts and the positive effects of tourism. Specifically, on the culture of a location. In step two I will show you exactly how to go about finding these points. 

The next section of instructions (work details) gives specifics on how to format and structure the paper. 

Type of paper: Research Paper

This tells you that your language and structure should mimic a research report. Put some figures, statistics, and even diagrams. This way your paper will sound like a scientific report.

Subject: Tourism

The subject guides the points that you include in your paper. The subject of this paper is tourism. All the points that you discuss therefore have to be related to tourism. ‘cultural enhancement as a result of interaction between members of the community’ is for example, not a valid point. 

Number of Pages: 7 pages

Different writing accounts measure a page in one of two ways. A page can either refer to 275 words or 300 words. In case this is not specified, then it is better to go with the larger number. If you consider a page to be 300 words that means that 7 pages are 2,100 words.

Wait, If I am asked to write 7 pages does it mean I have to write exactly 2,100 words.

Well, no.

You have a +/- 10% allowance. That means that for this 7-page order you can write between 1890 words and 2,310 words.

10% of 2100 = 210

2100 – 210 = 1,890 – lower word limit

2100 + 210 = 2,310 – upper word limit

Note: Word count does not include References, subtitle, and title.

The format of Citation: Harvard

The format of citation is the bread and butter of how a particular academic paper has to look like. They specify how the header will look like, how the cover page will look like, how in-text citations will be written, and how the reference page will be written.

There are four main citation formats; APA, MLA, Harvard, and Chicago. We will deal with each of these citation formats in detail in a subsequent lesson.

Number of Cited Sources: 20

Sources or references are an important part of every academic paper. They give it authority and help show that what you have written is credible. In this case, you are required to cite a total of 20 references. Finding these references and creating in-text citations is something we will do in the last section (Referencing and proofreading).

But of course, knowing something about sources now will not hurt.

We will use a tool such as google scholar to find sources that are relevant to tourism and culture. After finding 20 such sources we will cite the references in different parts of the body of the text.

Type of service: Writing from scratch

This part of the instruction is just a clarification. Sometimes you get a request by a client who wants you to just edit his work. In that case, the service will be editing and not writing from scratch.

In this paper, there were no additional instructions. In most other instances you will have attached files with even more instructions and reading materials. Make sure to read all these instructions. One, they may contain all the information you need to answer the essay. In that case, you can skip step 1b: (research) and go straight to step 1c: (creating an outline). 

Second, you avoid having to start over once you are done. This happened to me one day. I was working on this order that had a lot of instructions attached. The intelligent me decided that going through them was not a good use of my time. Long story short, it turns out that the part I ignored had important instructions. I was supposed to write only a section of the instructions and not the entire paper.

I can tell you for free that having to start writing the paper afresh was not a pleasant experience. So please, listen to me and read all the attached files. 

Step (1b): Research

Researching is at the core of the preparation phase. It is where you get what you are going to write. Back to the example, we are handling: ‘Positive and negative impacts tourism has on culture in tourism areas.’

How do we go about researching this question?

Exactly how you research every other thing in today’s world; Using Google. 

Head straight to google and go through search results for the strings of keywords below. 

Positive impacts of tourism on Culture.

Negative Impacts of tourism on Culture.

Tourism and Culture

Advantages of tourism on culture

Disadvantages of Tourism on Culture

Advantages of Tourism

Disadvantages of tourism

Any other keywords related to the subject of tourism and culture

As you go through each of these search results, copy relevant points and paste them on a word document. This will form a rough draft that will be priceless in the next step. 

Only stop researching once you have found material that you judge is enough to fill seven pages. At first, you may not be able to make an accurate estimation. Don’t worry, with time it will come naturally. For now, switching between writing and researching is totally acceptable. 

Step (1c): Outline

In the final stage of preparation, all you are doing is creating an outline out of the rough draft you created in step 2. Think of this step like quick organization before going straight to battle. 

In the case of our question on the positive and negative impacts of tourism on culture, here is the outline I created.

Introduction (210 words)

– Define the term tourism (people traveling away from their homes for pleasure)

– Estimates on the current international tourism market (7.6 trillion USD)

– Categorize impact of tourism: Economic, cultural, and environmental.

– More on the impact of tourism on culture: affects cultural beliefs and social behavior.

– Thesis statement: Positive and negative impact of tourism on culture. The solutions to the negative impact of the culture of tourism.

Positive Impacts of Tourism on Culture (560 words)

– Acculturation: alteration of an individual’s cultural practices through the adoption of characteristics from a different culture. (Positive in Urban areas)

– Preservation of traditions.

– Networking in small towns. E.g. the small Dutch town of s-Hertogenbosch.

Negative Impacts of Tourism on Culture (560 words)

– Acculturation: Negative in conservative communities. 

– Transfer of bad behaviors between tourists and natives. Include drug trafficking and crime.

– Cultural practices such as feasts get overdone. (The feasts Loose meaning.)

– Commercialization of cultural sites. Become too expensive to the locals.

Solutions to the Negative Impacts of tourism on culture (560 words)

– Reducing the negative impacts of acculturation by ensuring the focus of tourism is culture.

– Use police to prevent vices from spreading.

Conclusion (210 words)

– Tourism affects many parts of society including culture.

– Restate positive effects of tourism on culture.

– Restate negative effect of tourism on culture

– Concluding the general statement.

Note that in the outline I have included an estimate of the number of words that I will use. As a general rule, the introduction and conclusion should take 10% of the word count each. That is why in our case, I have assigned the introduction and conclusion 210 words each. 

The remaining 80% of the word count is assigned to the body. 80% of 2100 is 1,680. I have divided 1,680 words equally between the three sections. Each of the three sections of the body has a word count of 560 words. The word count per section is just an estimate. One section may end up having more word count than the rest. That is perfectly okay provided they all still add up to 1,680 words.

Recap of Step 1: Preparation

There are a total of three stages in this first section. 

1. Stage 1: Read the Instructions. Do not even think of skipping the attached files.

2. Stage 2: Research. Google is your friend. This is the most important part. Take it seriously. 

3. Stage 3: Outline. Use the Draft in stage 2 to create a clean outline.

Step 2: Write the Essay

Conventional wisdom says that this stage is the hardest. That is true if you did not follow the process in step 1. But if you did, it is the easiest of the three steps. 

Remember the outline you created in step 1c; now is the time to use it. On the outline start with the introduction. Write your paper basing it on the points highlighted in the outline.

The golden rule is not to focus on the entire paper, you will get overwhelmed. Just focus on writing the next word. Several of these words will form a sentence. Several of these sentences will form a paragraph. Before you know it, you will have a complete paper.

As you write you may realize that you are missing some key information. There are two ways to go about it. My preferred way is to leave a reminder on the missing information and continue. This allows me to keep the pace of my writing high. If you are a perfectionist, then feel free to jump onto google and find the missing information. 

That’s it, you know have seven pages on the positive and negative impacts of tourism on culture. 

Recap Step 2: Writing the Actual paper.

– Use the outline as your guide.

– Just focus on writing the next word and sentence, not the entire paper.

– Go back to research to fill any missing information. 

Step 3: Proofreading and Referencing.

This final step is where you perfect the piece that you have written. Just like in the introduction, we will do this in a three-step process. 

Step (3a): Referencing

Now that you have a complete first draft, it is time to add references or citation. A single reference is usually placed in two places in a paper. There is the reference or work cited section at the end of a paper. This contains the full version of the reference. Then there is the body text which contains a shortened version called an in-text citation. Start with the reference section before moving to the in-text citations. 

Remember the instruction on our question on tourism and culture? The instructions required us to include 20 in-text citations. In the tools section (link….) we agreed that the best way to do this is to use online tools. The most popular of these tools is Google scholar.

We head straight to google scholar and we use the same keyword we used in section (1b) while researching to find our referencing. In case you don’t remember the keywords, here they are: 

Positive impacts of tourism on Culture.

Negative Impacts of tourism on Culture

Tourism and Culture

Advantages of tourism on culture

Disadvantages of Tourism on Culture

Advantages of Tourism

Disadvantages of tourism

Copy the references that match the topic and paste them to your already written document. Keep doing this until you have 20 references. If you cannot find all the references on google scholar use the additional citations tools, we mentioned. This is mainly World Cat and citefast.

Remember: Using references that are more than five years old is not acceptable. In the academic world, they are considered outdated. We are currently in 2019, the five-year rule, therefore, dictates that all used references should have been published after 2014.

But how do you ensure all the references you find on google scholar are from 2014 and beyond?

On the left top bar of google scholar, there is a tab that lists the last five to six years. Click on any year beyond 2014 and the result will feature content published during and after that year. You also have the option of deciding the specific range of years you want your references to come from.

Another important fact about references is that they are specific to a given citation style. The citation style in our case is Harvard. When you click the cite button for any reference, pick the Harvard format.

In-text citation

Once we have 20 references, it is time to do in-text citations. There are two main principles to stick to: 

1. All references listed in the reference section have to be cited within the body at least once.

2. In-text citations should not be placed on the first line of a paragraph. This is the opening statement and it does not contain any fact worth citing. 

3. In-text citations should also not be placed on the last line. This is the concluding statement and it does not have any new information. 

4. In-text citation varies depending on the citation style involved. 

In our example, we are using the Harvard citation. In-text citations in the Harvard, style take the (Author, Year, Page number) format. Take the reference below as an example. 

Bani, S., 2017. Airbnb Neighbourhoods: Tourism Discourse in the Sharing Economy. CIRCULO DE LINGUISTICA APLICADA A LA COMUNICACION, (72), pp.15-28.

The correct in-text citation is (Bani, 2017, p.28)

We will deal more with how to cite in other citation formats in a subsequent citation formats lesson. 

Why am I placing in-text citations for References that I did not actually use while writing the paper?

In an ideal scenario, you place references for a source that you have actually used when writing a paper. Take the example of our reference above: (Reference). I should have read this book and used sections of it when writing the paper to be able to cite it. 

But this is not ideal situations. You are trying to complete as many papers as you can. That is the only way you can get paid a decent amount of money at the end of the month. Imagine having to go through 20 books and journals before writing the paper on the positive and negative impact of tourism on culture. That would take me forever just to complete. 

But even if you wanted to use references for research, you would not have access to all of the references. Some of the journals I have cited are hosted on websites that require you to pay for access. 

So, yes. Write first and then cite what you have written. It is the most efficient way to get the academic paper done. 

Recap of Section (3a): References.

– Use Google Scholar to get the references. 

– Make sure the references were published within the past five years.

– Create in-text citations based on the references. Make sure they are in line with the referencing style.

Step (3b): Proofreading

You know what they say, ‘Man is to error’. It is inevitable that we will all make mistakes while writing. The problem with that is that a book does get judged by its cover.

It does not matter how good your writing is. If you have a few spelling mistakes, that is it. You will be labeled an amateur and the client will reject your work. That is why you should take this step seriously.

Start by reading through your work correcting obvious syntax problems. This could be a word that should not have been used or a sentence that does not make sense. Grammar checking tools usually do not identify such errors. That is why you should never skip this step.

Next, use all the different grammar tools at your disposal. Personally, the two grammar tools that I use are Grammarly and Microsoft word spelling checker. I first start with the Microsoft word spelling checker (basic) then I will finish up with Grammarly (more complex). Feel free to go back to the lesson on Tools for online writing to learn more about grammar tools (link).

With that, you should have a well-written paper with minimal grammar and spelling mistakes. 

Recap of step (3b): Proofreading

1. Read your work once you are done writing

2. Use Microsoft word Grammar checker to correct basic grammar errors.

3. Use Grammarly to correct more advanced errors.

Step (3c): Formatting

In this final step, the goal is to make your paper look good. There are two sets of instructions on how to format your paper. The first are general rules that apply to all papers. The second set of instructions are specific to a given formatting style. 

Start with more specific instructions. This is based on the referencing style of a given paper. 

– In our case the referencing style we are going to use is Harvard. That means you have to add two things to the formatting. 

1. A header at the top of each page containing the title of the paper and the page number. 

o This header should also be formatted in line with the general guidelines.

2. A cover page. This will contain: 

o The title of the page in Caps Lock. 

o Student’s name

o The code and the name of the course.

o The professor’s name

o The University name

o Date

Download a template on Harvard referencing here.

Download the complete copy of the paper on the positive and negative impact of Tourism on Culture.

Finally, apply the general guidelines: 

1. All papers should be formatted to the Times New Roman font

2. All papers should have a font size of 12px.

3. All papers should be double spaced unless otherwise stated.

4. The reference section of all papers should be ordered alphabetically in descending order.

5. The reference section of each paper should have a hanging indentation of 0.5 inches equivalent to 1.27cm.

Finishing with the general guidelines ensures that you do not have to do the basic formatting twice. This is because the general formatting guidelines have to be applied to the style specifics formatting.

Just like that, you have a complete paper. Is it easy or hard? If your answer to that question is hard. Then go through the guide one more time. In the next section, I go through even more examples to ensure you’re comfortable with the process (link).

How to Perform some of the general guideline formattings

How to Double Space a Document on Microsoft Word?

1. Highlight the entire paper by pressing Control + A on your keyboard.

2. Right click using your mouse or trackpad

3. Click on the Paragraph option

4. Under the spacing, option changes the before and after the number to zero. 

5. Under the line spacing option, click on the drop-down menu.

6. Pick double spacing

7. Check the ‘Do not add space between two Paragraph of the same style option’

8. Click the OK button

You now have a double spaced paper

How to order the referencing alphabetically in descending order?

1. Highlight the references.

2. Click the sort button on the toolbar. This is labeled AZ with an arrow pointing downwards.

How to give the references a hanging indentation of 0.5 inches or 1.27cm?

1. Highlight the references

2. Right-click and pick the paragraph option

3. Under the indentation, option changes the right and left number to zero. 

4. Under the indentation options, click on the drop-down menu.

5. Pick hanging indentation

6. Adjust the by figure to either 0.5 inches or 1.27cm.