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Academic writing is a particular style used in formal essays and other assessments for your course.  It requires formal language, a logical structure and should be supported by evidence.  It is a skill that you will need to learn and develop across your time at University.  Make sure you use the information in your module guides and feedback from your lecturers to improve; you may also have workshops included as part of your course.

If this is all new to you, the Quick guide to academic writing is a good place to start.
There are two versions - one to print off and one to read online:

Quick Guide to Academic Writing (print version)

Quick Guide to Academic Writing (screen version)

Use the resources below to find out more and develop your writing skills. 
If you need more help, check out our online tutorials - you can also sign up to one of our Getting Started With Academic Writing webinars.

We have also put together a reading list of useful resources.

For information about wordcount, please see section 3 of Appendix 3c/The Conduct of Assessment

For guidance about formatting, please see this Assignments page from Academic Registry. 

  • Planning your assignments

    For each module you will need to submit an assignment to show your understanding of the topics covered. It is your chance to show not only your subject knowledge but also your ability to work to deadlines and to produce good quality work. 

    There are various steps to consider to make sure you hit those deadlines. Moving from reading and notetaking into planning and writing is an part of this. The tutorial below outlines key strategies you can try. 


    Plus, our checklist will help you get started: 

    Planning Checklist - Word 

    Planning Checklist - pdf 

    See the Understanding the essay question

    See also our pages on different types of assignments - essays, reports, literature reviews, reflective writingdissertations and presentations

    In addition, our pages on time management will give you lots of hints and tips about making the best use of your time e.g. getting started, dealing with distractions, managing time effectively. Our reading and notetaking pages will help you make the most of your reading in your written work. 

  • Types of assignment

    Assignments come in different shapes and sizes, check out some of the main formats.

    Annotated Bibliographies

    Annotated bibliographies allow for the selection and evaluation of key literature on a topic. They can be used prior to starting a full literature review to provide students with a flavour of the critical thinking which is involved in selecting and using quality literature for a study. Check out our Annotated bibliography template (word)

    These two links are good summaries of what they involve, but do check your assignment brief to ensure you follow your tutor's instructions carefully.

    University of Toronto

    Staffordshire University

    See also our tips for searching and critical reading to help you with this type of assignment.

  • Structure

    Simple, clear structure

    A good structure to your assignment is key to ensuring your reader can follow your argument. If you are writing an essay, your overall structure will be an introduction, main body and conclusion. 

    Your reader should know from your introduction how you are going to answer the question. This is the major signpost of your essay and should introduce the topic briefly and identify the key points that you will address. It should be around 5% of your word count. Find out more information in our guide: How to write introductions.

    The main body of your essay is the bulk of your work - about 80% of your words. Here we should see a logical progression of your argument and references to literature that you have read. Use paragraphs to separate your key ideas and group related paragraphs together. This will avoid your essay jumping around, and make it flow.

    Finally, a good conclusion will reiterate the main points or revisit the key themes that you have discussed in the main part of your essay. All the points you mention in your conclusion should have already been discussed in the main body of your essay. This should be around 15% of your word count. We have more detail in our handout: Structuring a conclusion


    You may have heard that the most important feature of a paragraph is that it is one 'big idea'. That means that you should check each paragraph and make sure that all content relates to one topic.

    Paragraphs are the building blocks of your essay. Although they might vary according to your subject area and type of essay, each one should have the same core elements. Look at our Paragraph structure handout for more information. You should also think about organising your topics in a logical order, ensuring that they all relate to your question and learning objectives. Try to make connections between your paragraphs by using linking words and phrases.

  • Developing a coherent argument or flow

    "Flow" refers to the logical progression or thread that guides the reader through your work.  This will depend on your assignment and may vary from a "narrative" that leads your reader through your discussion, to taking a stronger stance with a line of reasoning that builds a case.  Often that stance gets stronger as you move up the academic levels and you develop "your voice".

    • Clarity - there is no short cut to this - you need to read and digest the information so you are clear what you want to say.  This sets the agenda for everything else - the structure, evidence to include, line of reasoning.
    • Plan - organise your information into key points and subsidiary points. Essays generally start with a broad topic and then narrow down.
    • Use paragraphing (see Structure above) to ensure a clear structure. You can use a reverse outline approach to check this.  You should be able to sum up each paragraph in a couple of words.  This will give you an outline of what you have written about.  Is it in the best order?
    • Check your paragraph coherence.  Is everything in there relevant to the key point of that paragraph or have you gone off topic?
    • Signpost your reader - use major signposts to direct the reader and linking words to develop flow and make your thinking clearer.
  • Using your reading

    Support your writing with evidence (references) that are presented accurately

    Academic writing is all about using the literature you have read to support the argument that you present to your reader. Avoid making any statements without supporting them with a reference. For example, if you make the claim that girls are better than boys, you need to show your reader evidence of that claim being true; you will not persuade them simply by saying it. So, remember to include supporting evidence - usually references to published literature. Also, try to think about all sides of an argument – you will find that the authors you read don’t always agree and you need to present your own reader with a complete account of the topic. Therefore, you need to show you have considered the different views that exist.

    Access our Using Your Literature tutorial to find out more about how you can use your reading in academic work. 


    Make sure you reference your evidence correctly.  Check out the Referencing page.

    Can I include long quotations in my essay?  

    You can include long quotations in your writing, although this is not an encouraged practice for most assignments. Direct quotations longer than three lines need to be presented differently from shorter quotations. Longer quotations need to be presented in a separate paragraph without quotation marks and also indented from the left margin - for example:

    Writing cannot be separated from other processes such as reflection, goal-setting, organisation and research. As your writing skills develop and you become more aware of what is required, you can be more flexible and creative in your approach to writing (Cottrell, 2003, p. 143).

    Rather than including direct quotes, you should consider re-writing the quotation entirely in your own words (paraphrasing). By paraphrasing you are showing your examiner that you have understood the literature you have read; this skill is not shown when you quote directly. Please remember that when you paraphrase, you still need to reference the idea you have presented because the idea is the author’s work and not your own.

    Click here to see the difference between quotations and paraphrasing and also about summarising the ideas from a whole source.

  • Format and style

    University guidance on font and size of text, together with other assignment submission information, can be found on the Assignments page.

    Using more formal and considered language

    Academic writing is all about accuracy, and your choice of words should be made carefully. Always avoid using informal words and colloquial expressions, as these don’t look very professional. For example, try not to include contractions (can’t, isn’t) in your writing - simply write these out in full (cannot, is not).

    If you use any abbreviations, for example: OT, NC, make sure you have explained them in full first as well as showing your reader the abbreviation you will use: Occupational Therapy (OT), National Curriculum (NC). From then on you can just use the abbreviation.

    The use of the first person (I/we)

    Traditionally, academic writing has tended to avoid the use of the first person. Generally speaking, students are often directed to avoid making statements such as: "Based upon the literature I have read, I think that…" Instead, students  across many disciplines are encouraged to make it clear in their writing that they are being objective rather than opinionated by making statements such as: "Based upon the literature, it could be argued that…" This academic style of writing shows the student is not presenting their own opinions but rather providing readers with an argument that has been formed from the research and evidence in the literature they have read. For more examples of academic phrases that help to achieve this academic style of writing, take a look at:

    However, there may be assignments and disciplines where the first person is more commonly used. For example, reflective practice assignments may well require students to write in a mixture of first and third person. Find out more about reflective writing.

    Furthermore, in recognition of the changing nature of expectations from professional bodies and evidence based practice, academic writing practices are becoming more flexible in their approach. If you are unsure about what  style of writing is expected of you in your subject area or for a specific assignment, check your assignment guidelines and talk with your tutors. 

    NB - unless you are writing instructions that directly address a specific audience, avoid using 2nd person (you/yours) in academic writing. 

  • Editing and proofreading

    For guidance about wordcount, please see section 3 of Appendix 3c/The Conduct of Assessment


    None of us get it right first time.  James Michener, author of over 40 books, said “I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.” Don't submit your first draft - make sure you allow time to edit; it will make a significant difference to your writing.


    Writing is immersive; for editing and proofreading you need to step back to create some distance/objectivity and try to see your writing from the perspective of a reader.  You can do this by allowing some time to pass and working on a print-out of your assignment.  Don't try and do it all at once, work in short bursts so that you don't lose concentration. Revisit it a couple of times, starting with the bigger picture, structure and argument, before focusing down on individual paragraphs and finally proofreading.  Watch the Editing video for more tips.

    Structure Are all your paragraphs in the best order to present a coherent argument?  Have you used Signposting to direct your reader? Watch our reverse outline video to learn about a useful technique. 
    Paragraphs Does each paragraph have just one main point backed up by evidence and analysis? Paragraph structure
    Sentence structure

    It is a myth that academic writing has to consist of very long, complicated sentences. If you write in this way, your reader will forget what you said at the beginning of your sentence and will soon become lost.

    • Present your information and argument to your reader clearly so they are not left wondering exactly what you mean.
    • Each of your sentences should be able to stand alone as a sub point to the ‘big idea’ of your paragraph.
    • A good strategy to check for clarity of phrasing, sentence length and punctuation placement is to read your work aloud.

    Have you backed up your statements/argument with evidence, correctly referenced?

    Allow time to submit through the Turnitin test area (accessed via BlackBoard) to help avoid inadvertent plagiarism.

    Take out
    • Any unnecessary description and irrelevant information.  Focus on your question.
    • Any unnecessary words.

    Concise writing is a skill to develop. Queen's University has a really useful handout: Eliminating wordiness

    • Formal tone,
    • Accurate word choice - make sure the words you use mean what you think, the right word makes all the difference. If you've been using synonyms to replace words, make sure the definition of the synonym matches the meaning you intend.  
    • Consistent tense - within sentences.
    • Create flow by linking sentences and ideas.

    Proofreading involves meticulously checking through a piece of writing in search of errors:

    • Spelling mistakes
    • Repetition of words
    • Punctuation and grammar

    Spelling and Grammar


     Have you:

    • Set the context?
    • Made the focus of your assignment clear?
    • Laid out how you will "answer" the question?

    How to write introductions

    • Draws together all the points you have made into one over arching conclusion; it might sometimes make recommendations.
    • Check that you've covered what you said you were going to do in the Introduction. 
    • Have you met the Learning Outcomes?

    Structuring a conclusion

    This may look daunting to start with, but you will start to develop an awareness of which areas you find most challenging that you need to develop further.


  • Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar

    Visit our dedicated Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar webpage for advice and guidance on developing these areas. 

  • Feedback

    Feedback on your assignments offers a useful insight into where you have done well, plus signposts to areas of improvements. All students will receive feedback to develop their work regardless of how high their mark is. Taking on board that advice and applying it is the hallmark of a successful student.

    You can find out more about feedback and how to use it on our working with feedback page. Use the feedback portfolio for a guided review of your own work. 

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