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Academic Skills and resources

We have a range of resources available to help you to improve your writing skills and other related academic skills. Most deal with aspects of academic writing, but we have also included information on general writing skills, with a focus on grammar, spelling and punctuation. Don't forget that there's also the Academic Skills Kit website which has other academic skills resources and information from other services across the University not just the Writing Development Centre.

Our resources available in other places;

Online resources on these pages

Features of academic Writing

Many students starting an undergraduate degree are uncertain about what they need to do to produce a good piece of written work at university. They often ask:

  • What is academic writing like?
  • How does it differ from the types of writing I do in my everyday life?
  • How does it differ from the types of writing I did at school?

Postgraduate students returning to academic study after some years in a job also worry about academic writing. They often comment that they have done little writing since completing their first degree, or that the types of writing they have done at work are very different from the academic assignments they are expected to produce in their postgraduate programmes.

In an attempt to address some of these questions and concerns, we have identified what we consider to be the key features of academic writing and provided some guidance on each feature.

Academic Language and style

When giving feedback to students on their written work, tutors often comment on aspects of language and style. They may criticise the language for being too ‘chatty’, ‘colloquial’ or ‘informal’, and point out that the style is ‘not academic enough’. A different set of problems, on the other hand, may lead to suggestions that the writing is ‘verbose’, ‘obscure’ or ‘dense’.

In stating what academic language and style should not be like, these comments throw some light on what an academic audience expects: academic language and style should be formal, precise, clear and concise. We have also seen elsewhere that academic language is objective and cautious. We have provided guidance on aspects of academic language and style.

Writing accurately

The widespread use of writing as a means of informal communication via text messaging, email and social networking sites has changed the way we write. In these contexts, speed and spontaneity take priority, and accuracy has lost some of its importance as a result. Yet in other contexts, including academic and professional writing, accuracy is as important as ever.

To write effectively and authoritatively, you need to use accurate grammar, vocabulary, spelling and punctuation. We have provided some guidance to help you with this.

Essay and other assignments

Assignments involving extended writing are a common form of assessment in many subjects, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. But the value of assignment writing is not limited to assessment: writing assignments is an important part of the learning process in higher education. Each assignment you write is an opportunity to:

  • gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of a topic
  • develop critical thinking and reading skills
  • plan and structure a complex piece of writing
  • construct a sustained argument based on evidence
  • learn to write for an academic audience

Here are some important points to remember:

  • Address the task fully. This involves:
    • answering every part of the question and/or following all instructions
    • avoiding digressions and irrelevant material
  • Write the assignment in your own words and follow academic conventions on the use of sources
  • Ensure that the language and style are appropriate to the task. This usually means using formal language and an academic style, though in some cases (e.g. learning diaries, promotional material) a less formal tone may be more appropriate.

There are several types of assignment, including:

  • essays
  • reports
  • literature reviews
  • critiques
  • proposals
  • reflective pieces such as learning diaries and self-evaluation reports
  • professional texts such as business plans, product specifications and promotional material

We have provided some guidance on the process of writing an assignment.

Examinations

Essay-based examinations are common in many subjects. The writing skills you need to do well in this type of exam are similar to those needed for writing coursework essays, but the situation is very different: in an essay exam, you have to write on an unseen topic under timed conditions. This makes many students anxious about their ability to do well in exams. If you are one of them, these pages will help. They contain information and advice on how to prepare for essay exams, how to tackle the exam paper and how to answer the questions.

  • Preparing for the exam
  • During the exam

Theses and dissertations

Your PhD thesis or Master’s dissertation is the final stage of a process that involves careful planning, extensive reading, rigorous research and detailed analysis. The quality of your thesis or dissertation depends to a large extent on the successful completion of each of these stages, but the importance of the writing stage should not be underestimated.

These pages offer guidance on the following aspects of thesis and dissertation writing:

  • the writing process
  • overall structure and sections

Good academic conduct

As a student in higher education, you are a member of an academic community. Like all members of this community, you are expected to approach your academic work with integrity and follow good academic practice. This means that you must:

Be honest in your use of data, avoiding fabrication and falsification

Acknowledge all the sources you use in your work

Follow the citation and referencing conventions approved by your school or research institute

Never give or receive unauthorised help with academic work

These pages focus on the use of sources in academic writing. They will help you to cite sources correctly in you writing, compile a list of references and avoid plagiarism.

For additional information about this important topic, visit The Right-Cite for Good Academic Conduct.

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