Develop your writing
Your written assignments may include reports, short answers and essays, each with their own organisation and layout. You may also have to write an examination under timed conditions. The ability to write in clear, well-structured English can make a big difference to your assignment and exam marks.
For many subjects you will need to show that you can
- structure an essay so that it has a clear beginning, middle and end (i.e. introduction, body and conclusion)
- draw information and evidence from your course materials and other sources
- write in your own words, using the vocabulary and expressions relevant to your subject
- link your ideas in a logical way
- produce sentences in grammatical English with accurate spelling so that your meaning is clear.
A checklist for academic writing
When you produce a piece of academic writing, it's helpful to think about 4 key areas:
- Use of source material - have you selected and evaluated the relevant information?
- Structure of the text - have you organised your response in an appropriate way?
- Academic writing style - have you used language that's appropriate to your audience and your assignment task?
- Grammar, spelling and punctuation - have you checked these to ensure that your work is well-presented?
These four areas can form the basis of a practical tool to help you develop your academic writing. It is a checklist that has been adapted from a framework called MASUS (Measuring Academic Skills of University Students) developed at the University of Sydney.
As you go through the rest of these pages, you will explore these four areas of the checklist in more detail. The actvity below, from the University of Southampton, gives you some ideas of what you need to think about when revising your writing.
Many assignments need to be written in the form of an essay. The structure of essay-style assignments is very open but generally includes an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.
|Section of essay||Purpose of section|
Write the full question (title) at the top of your assignment. It will contain keywords (known as content and process words). See the 'Understanding the question' webpage for these.
A paragraph or two to define key terms and themes and indicate how you intend to address the question.
A series of paragraphs written in full sentences that include specific arguments relating to your answer. It’s vital to include evidence and references to support your arguments.
A short section to summarise main points and findings. Try to focus on the question but avoid repeating what you wrote in the introduction.
A list of sources (including module materials) that are mentioned in the essay.
An introduction provides your reader with an overview of what your essay will cover and what you want to say. Essays introductions should
- set out the aims of the assignment and signpost how your argument will unfold
- introduce the issue and give any essential background information including a brief description of the major debates that lie behind the question
- define the key words and terms
- be between 5% and 10% of the total word count.
Some students prefer to write the introduction at an early stage, others save it for when they have almost completed the assignment. If you write it early, don't allow it to constrain what you want to write. It's a good idea to check and revise the introduction after the first draft.
The body of your essay
The main body of your essay should present your case. Each main point should have its own paragraph. You should use evidence to support the arguments you make in this section, referencing your sources appropriately.
You should use evidence to support and challenge the issues you cover in this section, referencing your sources appropriately.
You can deal with the issues in a way that seems appropriate to you. You can choose to
- deal with all of the supporting and all of the challenging evidence separately
- take each issue in turn, describing and evaluating it before moving on to the next issue
- describe all the issues first before moving on to your evaluation of them.
How to order your arguments
Although you will need to clearly describe the issues related to the essay title (e.g. concepts and theoretical positions), you are expected to go further than mere description. An essay question might expect you to take one of the following approaches.
- Make an argument by examining competing positions. This type of essay requires you to make a balanced and well-argued case for the strength of one position over another.
- Present an unbiased discussion. You might do this by comparing and contrasting things (such as arguments put forward by individual scholars).
- Explain something in a discursive way. To explore all the elements involved in a particular concept or theory in an even-handed way.
In all cases, you will be expected to
- clearly describe what your essay is trying to do and define any essential terms
- present an argument that is balanced
- base any conclusions you draw on evidence
- present evidence using references to the original published work.
Your conclusion should sum up how your essay has answered the title. It should reinforce your introduction and include a reference to the wording of the title.
If your essay has presented evidence or data, ensure that the conclusions you draw are valid in the light of that evidence and data. Draw your conclusions cautiously: use phrases such as 'the evidence suggests that ...', or 'one interpretation is that ...' rather than 'this proves that ...'.
Your conclusion should
- summarise the key elements of your argument clearly and concisely
- demonstrate how you've answered the question
- perhaps suggest what needs to be considered in the future.
It should not
- include any new arguments ideas or examples
- be too long. For an assignment of fewer than 1,500 words a conclusion of 50-100 words is probably enough
- repeat examples, phrases or sentences from the main body of your essay.