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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.

 

Use the resources below to develop your writing skills and if you need more help check out our online tutorials

For more detail use one of the books on this reading list.

  • 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. Our checklist will hopefully get you started: 

    Planning Checklist - Word 

    Planning Checklist - pdf 

    See also our pages on different types of assignments - essay structure, report writing,  literature reviews, reflective writingdissertations and presentations

    In addition our page on time management will give you lots of hints and tips about making the best use of your time eg getting started, dealing with distractions, managing time effectively.

  • 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. Our Essay structure guide gives a good overview. Each of these sections has an important role.

    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 oure handout: Structuring a conclusion

    Paragraphs

    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.

    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. Your job as a writer is to 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.

  • Developing a coherent argument or flow

    This doesn't necessarily mean that you are writing an "argumentative" essay, more using a logical progression or thread to guide 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 subsidary points. Essays generally start with a broad topic and then narrow down.
    • Use paragraphing 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 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.
    • Compare and contrast your evidence but indicate which side you come down on.

    If you are making an argument make sure it is sound and not based on fallacy.  Avoid cherry picking only the supporting evidence, make sure you weigh up both sides.  Don't assume causation based on correlation e.g  Just because it rains every time I put up my tent doesn't mean I am making it rain.

  • 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 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.

    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 on the link for some examples of paraphrasing.

  • Format and style

    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.

    Avoiding the use of the first person (I)

    In academic writing, you should usually avoid using the first person; for example, never make statements such as: Based upon the literature I have read, I think that… Instead, you need to make it clear in your writing that you are being objective; use statements such as: Based upon the literature, it could be argued that…This shows your reader that you are not presenting your own thoughts and views but providing them with an argument that is based upon the research and evidence in the literature you have read. For more examples of academic phrases, have a look at: www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk

    Important: if you are asked to produce a piece of reflective writing, the rules are different. Find out more about reflective writing.

  • Editing and proofreading

    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.
     

    Writing is immersive, for editing and proof reading you need to step back to create some distance/objectivity.  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 proof reading.

    Introduction

     Have you

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

    How to write introductions

    Structure Are all your paragraphs in the best order to present a coherent argument.  Have you used Signposting to direct your reader.
    Paragraphs Does each paragraph have just one main point backed up by evidence and analysis? Paragraph structure
    Evidence

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

    Allow time to submit through the Turnitin test area and avoid inadvertent plagairism.

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

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

    Style
    • Formal tone,
    • accurate word choice - make sure the words you use mean what you think, the right word makes all the difference.
    • consistent tense - throughout the essay and within a sentence.
    • Create flow by linking sentences and ideas.
    Proof reading

    Proof reading involves meticulously checking through a piece of writing in search of actual errors

    • spelling mistakes,
    • repetition of words
    • Punctuation and grammar

    Help with spelling and grammar

    Conclusion
    • Draws together all the point you have made into one over arching conclusion
    • Did you actually do 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 are your areas of weakness that you need to focus on most.

    The University of Leicester has a useful page on the Art of editing

     

  • Reports and other types of assignment

     

    This section will look at:

    • Reports
    • Annotated Bibliographies

    You will find help with other types of assignments on these links literature reviews, reflective writingdissertations and presentations

    Reports

    You may be asked to write a report for an assignment. These are quite different in layout to essays so check out our Report Writing Guide for more information.

     

    Annotated Bibliographies

    Annotate 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.

    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.