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Mastering academic writing

Mastering academic writing

Many students struggle with academic writing skills. From the basics of grammar and punctuation and sourcing and referencing material, to developing an argument and correctly structuring an essay or assignment, there are common mistakes even confident students make. Here we share a collection of top tips, advice and guidance to help you develop and master academic writing at university.

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What is a social science essay?

In a free extract Peter Redman and Wendy Maples (authors of Good Essay Writing) explain what’s distinctive about essay writing in the social sciences. They look at essay structure, common errors in essays, four golden rules for writing a social science essay, and what an essay isn’t.


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Planning essay writing

Download a 14 page Essay Writing Planning Pack created by Tom Burns and Sandra Sinfield with Learn Higher, authors of Essential Study Skills. It takes you step-by-step through planning and structuring the essay, using ideas and information, and actually writing the essay.


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Finding your voice

Read a blog post by Alex Osmond, author of Academic Writing and Grammar for Students, for tips on helping students avoid common issues in their academic writing. In this post he discusses the challenges students face when asserting their academic voice and expressing their views.



Watch Alex Osmond's video about mistakes in writing

Writing tip #60 from Pete Greasley...

Writing tip #60 from author Pete Greasley: keep it clear and concise!




The four Qs in academic writing

Your aim with academic writing is to effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas to the intended reader.  Who? Why? What? How? are four questions which must to be answered in an essay if you want your message to be clear.

  • Who (your reader): Who will read your work? The main reader will be the tutor(s) of the course, who will most likely have had a hand in setting the assignment. The reader will therefore be a person who is knowledgeable about the content matter of the assignment and who has designed the task with certain expectations in mind. 
  • Why (your purpose): Why do you write at university? The most obvious reason is that you have to! Written assignments are still the most common way to assess what students know and what they can do. You write because you want to get the qualification that proves you have learnt something and can communicate this. Importantly, however, the act of writing is a learning process in itself. When you approach writing critically, you engage in a thinking and learning process which is part of the university tradition. 
  • What (the content): The answer to the question of what you write is of course the content and context of your writing. Different types of writing, and even different types of essay, require you to select information in a discriminating and appropriate way. Until you have understood an essay question, you will not know what information is most relevant.
  • How (structure and style): How you write refers to the way information is organised or structured and the way or style in which it is put together, and this may vary from one type of writing to another. All academic writing is formally structured in a recognisable style, and this must be consistent and appropriate for the particular type of writing. Nevertheless, each type of writing must comply with the academic standards set by most courses, which require a more or less formal style as well as accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation. 

Extract taken from Essay Writing by MunLing Shields



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Handy links and resources

  1. Wordcounter is an online word counter that helps you meet word requirements, evaluate length of sentences, and define your typing and reading speed
  2. Grammarcheck is a handy online grammar checker.