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Assignment Toolbox

What is Academic Writing?

Some of the most important qualities of academic writing are identified below:

It is:

Focused and relevant

  • meets the requirements of the lecturer
  • covers all parts of the assignment question/guidelines

Structured and predictable

  • states what s going to be covered in the introduction
  • follows this plan
  • explains how ideas are related
  • finishes in a way that links back to the topic and introduction

Logical and connected

  • is written in paragraphs, with topic sentences
  • covers the different aspects of the topic
  • if headings are allowed, they are used systematically
  • uses linking words and phrases
  • is formal; uses formal sentence structures and language

Reasoned and supported

  • explains what the student/writer means
  • makes references to evidence
  • gives examples to explain points
  • combines the student’s own ideas with evidence from sources that are referenced appropriately
  • makes claims carefully
  • uses the student’s own words, to show understanding

To achieve a piece of writing that demonstrates all of these qualities takes time, practice and effective use of feedback.  Learning how to write academic assignments is a goal and not a starting point for most students.

Using Formal Language

In academic writing the style of language used is usually formal. Some of the formal aspects of academic writing are outlined below. There may be ways of writing which are specific to the subject you are studying as well.

To make language more formal:

Be impersonal
Avoid using I, me, we, us or you, unless you are sure that this is acceptable. Use this essay will describe... rather than I will describe... but note that this can depend on the requirements of the writing task you are given, the subject area you are writing in and the preferences of individual lecturers. If you are unsure check with your course lecturer.
Be tentative
E.g The rise in the cost of living in 2012 may have been due to ... rather than, The rise in the cost of living in 2012 happened because of ...
Use sentences and paragraphs
In most academic writing, you need to use sentences and paragraphs rather than lists and bullet points.
Consider use of contractions
IIn most academic writing, lecturers prefer that students do not use contractions. E.g. use do not instead of don't, cannot instead of can't. If the writing is more personal, contractions may be appropriate.
Use punctuation carefully
Limit, or avoid using dashes in your writing "-", and avoid the exclamation mark, it does not normally have a place in formal academic writing.
Do not use slang
Use After investigating this problem it is clear that... rather than After having a bit of a think about it, I reckon ...
Be clear and specific
Use the purpose of this essay is to discuss ... rather than this essay is about...
Explain any abbreviations
Write out initials or acronyms in full the first time you use them (e.g. The Ministry of Health (MOH) conducted a survey in 2017). After that you can use the initials.
Write out numbers below ten in words
E.g. There are three main arguments against this point of view. This can depend on the subject - if you are writing for a subject which includes a lot of numbers such as accounting or economics you may use the number.
Avoid sexist language
Try to use she/he or the plural they rather than he so that your writing includes both genders.
Use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation
Checking your work is an important aspect of formal writing