When you begin college, one of the most difficult things to learn is how to write with an academic tone. Many freshman composition professors drill into their students how to avoid first person, second person, contractions, slang, and so on. At first, all of these rules seem to cramp our writing style and make papers unnecessarily difficult. They force us to readjust how we communicate, and writing feels unnatural. Often, the question arises, “Why can’t I just write the way I speak?” Fortunately, there is method to the madness of academic writing and good reasons behind all of these crazy rules.

The problem with humans in general is that we tend to speak incoherently. Pay close attention to a conversation. There are a lot of ums, weird pauses, and sentences that aren’t really sentences. This works when we’re speaking because we can use hand gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice to help us convey ideas. We can correct what we say or further explain ideas as needed. It’s a really good system of communication, but it’s complicated.

Unfortunately, writers are distanced from their audience. They can’t tell if the reader understands their point or if they need to explain it a little more. They don’t even have the benefit of hand gestures or facial expressions. Therefore, a writer has to be clear and logical. He or she has only one chance to explain an idea using nothing but printed words.

Also, writers need to be seen as trustworthy before a reader takes them seriously. If you saw a paper that started with “Hey y’all! Let’s talk about photosynthesis,” what would you think? You’d probably think the writer really didn’t know what he or she was talking about. The best way to make yourself appear knowledgeable about a topic is to write correctly and with an academic tone. After all, college students are part of academia, so they need to appear like they know what they are talking about, even if the paper’s content is total bull.

One of the advantages writing has over speaking is the opportunity to revise. When you say something stupid or embarrassing, it’s out there. You can’t take it back. Fortunately, if you type something that sounds dumb or awkward, the backspace key is available. You can look back at what you’ve written and make any necessary changes. The downside of this is that readers hold you to a higher standard because they realize you’ve had time to revise. So pay careful attention during the revision process. This is where your paper is elevated to an academic level.

In theory, you could write the way you speak. However, it probably won’t make much sense. What you write down on paper lasts longer than what you say, so make sure you show your best side. With a little work, you can appear better, nicer, and smarter (on paper, at least).