Whatever your course at university, one thing is almost guaranteed, you will need to do a lot of writing! Here is a brief guide to the main types of academic writing you might be asked to produce.
Although a familiar part of study at school or college, essays at university will probably be of longer length and require a greater and more specific use of source material such as books and journal articles. They will also demand much more critical thinking and analysis!
A report is the usual way of writing about a practical, laboratory or group exercise. You will be familiar with the basic structure; Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion and Conclusion, from school or college work, but greater levels of complexity and detail may be needed at university. Your lecturer or tutor will be able to advise you.
This will normally be a part of the final year of your course. It will involve an extended essay or report based on your own research. Many of the same principles discussed in this section still apply.
Whatever the exact type of academic writing, you will probably need to do the following:
If you have used or quoted a source, such as a book, thesis or journal article, in your writing, you need to acknowledge it. There are several different ways of doing this and your lecturer will probably suggest the conventional method for your subject. This is quite a complex area, so make sure you get specific advice from your lecturer.
Broadly speaking, you should refer to your source briefly in the text of your essay, and then in more detail in the reference list at the end. Here is one example:
In the text:
The botanical survey of the Northern Pennine Way by Smith (2002) indicated that few of the rare species associated with this upland area had been affected by the impact of trampling by ramblers.
In the reference list:
(a) If the source is a journal article -
Smith, J G (2002). Impacts of intensive use of upland footpaths on species diversity. Botany Today 56 121-156.
(b) If the source is a book -
Smith, J G (2002). Impacts of intensive use of upland footpaths on species diversity . London : Oxbridge University Press.
(c) If the source is a book chapter -
Smith, J G (2002). Impacts of intensive use of upland footpaths on species diversity. In Jones, A (ed). Recent advances in upland research . London : Oxbridge University Press.
(d) If the source is a website -(Check first if your lecturer considers websites to be an acceptable source of material for your work!)
www.ncl.ac.uk/uplands. 12 May 2001. (The date given here is the date you referred to the site.)
Alternatively, a bibliography is a list of all the material you have read, whether or not you have actually used or quoted it in your writing. Some lecturers may prefer that you use this, so check!
If you use or quote a source of information without referring to it, you are committing plagiarism (ie copying). This is viewed very seriously at university and is easily spotted, for example software is available that detects material downloaded from the Internet! Also remember that if you use someone else's words exactly, make it clear that is what you are doing by putting them in quotation marks.
Essay questions will mostly identify a general topic, focus on a specific area within that topic and contain an instruction of what you need to do. For example, here is a question from a Business Studies course:
'Critically evaluate the supply chain of fresh produce of a major retailer.'
The general topic is fresh produce (fruit and vegetables). The area of focus is the supply chain (how the produce gets from the field to the supermarket shelf). The instruction is 'critically evaluate', ie explain how the supply chain works and assess how effective or ineffective it is. When writing this essay you would have to make your own choice of supermarket and types of produce to discuss.
Essay questions often use the same types of instruction words. Make sure you understand what these mean, and then focus carefully on exactly what the question is asking for. Focusing on the words in the title of the essay is your key to success as you won't get any marks for irrelevant information, however good it is!
Critically evaluate - weigh up the importance or effectiveness of something, or strength of an argument, using relevant examples or evidence.
Examine - give a detailed account, exploring any relevant issues.
Discuss/comment on - present a logical argument exploring something.
Define - explain the meaning of something.
Account for/explain/illustrate - give a precise account of something, how it works, or how it came to be the way it is. 'Illustrate' is similar but is probably asking for the argument to be supported with specific examples or statistics or diagrams etc.
Argue/justify/assess/to what extent/how far? - weigh up the value or importance of something by exploring the case for and against a claim.
Compare/contrast - look at the similarities and differences between two things. 'Compare' means looking at both the similarities and the differences. 'Contrast' means concentrating mainly on the differences.
Summarize - identify the key points.
Review - survey and assess a topic.