Academic Writing

Academic Writing

Learning to write in an academic style is an important skill to master if you want to achieve the highest grades at university. The links below will help you to understand what is meant by 'academic writing' and how to develop an academic style for your university assignments.

What are the features of academic writing? 

Academic writing Essay writing Report writingUsing academic language


Writing your first essay: step-by-step

First Steps

  • Read the assessment task paying close attention to the words used. Words like “compare”, “describe” and “review” are all asking you to do very different things. Be clear about what you are being asked to do. “What does the question mean?” can help.
  • Brainstorm any ideas/arguments that you have for the assessment task. At this stage don’t question whether they are good or bad, useful or not; just get the ideas down.
  • Consider the size of the assessment task. The amount of information that you will need for a 1500 word essay will be vastly different to one that is 4,000 words.
  • From your ideas/arguments pick out the ones that you think will work the best.


  • Think about what resources or information you will need to complete the task. Write two lists: one of the resources/information that you already have e.g. lecture notes, books etc. and the other, the resources/information that you will need to get.
  • Consider how you will access the resources. Will it cost you money? Will it take time, and if so how much? If it involves other people or departments consider the time element. Will you have enough time to get the information and to then use it effectively. If the answer is no, you may need to approach your assessment from a different angle.
  • Make sure that you have selected a range of resources e.g. journal articles, books, (limit introductory texts), internet, statistics, newspaper, and other media resources (where appropriate). If you need help with locating resources contact your Academic Liaison Librarian; they will be able to assist you.
  • If you need to borrow resources from other libraries through the inter-loan library service request them as soon as possible, as delivery can sometimes take a few weeks.
  • Once you have your resources/information, extract the bits that are most relevant to your argument/s and to the task.
  • When you first start writing assessments it can be tempting to hide your arguments behind other people’s quotations. Avoid this; it should be your arguments supported or backed up by the work and words of other people.


  • Structure your work. Having a plan of what you intend to write will help you with this. Make sure that your work has an introduction, main body (this is where you develop your arguments) and a conclusion.
  • Introductions and conclusions should each make up about 10% of your total word count. Slightly less if your word count is 1,500 words or below.
  • The purpose of your introduction is to introduce and place in context what will appear in the main body. You will not be able to write an introduction if you don’t know what is going into the main body or what your arguments are. So, you may find it easier to write the main body first and then write the introduction.
  • The conclusion should almost mirror the introduction, with the exception of the context. Basically it sums up what you have presented in the main body.
  • Never introduce anything new into the conclusion.
  • You will need to use paragraphs and sentences to structure your work. Each paragraph should contain one idea or argument. Use line spaces rather than indentations to denote new paragraphs.
  • Use linking words to move from one sentence to the next. Examples of linking words are: however, therefore, consequently, etc.
  • Use the words and terms that are relevant to your course or field of study. A course specific dictionary can help you with this e.g. Dictionary of Food Science and Nutrition by A & C Publishers Ltd, 2006


  • If you quote someone or refer to their ideas or to their work; you must reference them.
  • Reference as you go along and if you are cutting and pasting work make sure that you also cut and paste the referencing information.
  • Make sure that you use the correct referencing system. Refer to your module handbook and follow the referencing guides produced by the Library Service
  • For further help and advice on referencing and plagiarism make an appointment to see your academic liaison librarian by emailing

Final Checks

  • Avoid using contractions such as “isn’t” or “can’t;” instead write “is not” or “can not”. It may seem strange as this is not the way that we usually speak or write, but it is one of the conventions of academic writing.
  • Check your spelling. Use a dictionary rather than a spell-checker. Spell-checkers are notorious for missing spelling mistakes. Poor spelling and a few contractions could take your grade from a B to a C.
  • Proof read your work. Read it out loud. This will help you to identify grammar mistakes such as using a comma instead of a full-stop.
  • Review it against the marking criteria and make sure that you have included everything required to get you the mark that you are aiming for.
  • Finally, submit it making sure you have attached an assessment tracking sheet (available from your SOLE page)



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