Academic reading and writing

Writing at university may seem different to other writing experiences you’ve had; however, it is important to realise that it is a process which you develop over time (and not overnight). Your tutors understand this, and you are not expected to be a fully competent academic writer at the start of your course. The information and resources below will help you to develop and enhance your own style of writing, whatever your subject or level of study.

Planning and structure

Planning should be a crucial part of your overall approach to academic writing. By planning your assignments thoroughly, you ensure that your work has a consistent, balanced structure and that your arguments follow a logical flow with respect to the assignment in question. Make sure you are familiar with what each section of an assignment should look like; our Essay Plan Guide explains what should be included within the introduction, main body and conclusion of an assignment.

Unpacking the assignment question

Where to start? Understanding clearly what the assignment question is asking you to do is a good place to begin. Take time to read it thoroughly, perhaps several times, and check you know what you are required to do. If you have any questions or do not understand the assignment, speak to your tutor for clarification. Assignment questions use key direction words, which help to explain what you need to do to answer the question. These words may seem similar, but do have a distinct meaning, you can find out more about direction words by reading our Unpacking the Assignment Question Guide.

Learning outcomes

You should remember that to answer the assignment question fully, you need to ensure you meet the learning outcomes too.

Writing a plan is a good way of ensuring you have thought about the learning outcomes and factored them into your plan – a detailed plan will help you stay focused and meet the learning outcomes within your writing.

You can watch this video to understand more about learning outcomes.

Assignment plans

There are many ways to write a plan, ranging from a mind-map to a simple bullet point list, the important thing it to choose and consistently use a format that suits you. You can find out more about different types of essay plans by working through our Planning Your Assignment toolkitAssistive Technology can also be used to help create a plan, MindView 7 allows you to create a plan online which can be easily edited.

Planning

Planning should be a crucial part of your overall approach to academic writing. By planning your assignments thoroughly, you ensure that your work has a consistent, balanced structure and your arguments follow a logical flow with respect to the assignment question. Make sure you are familiar with what each section of an assignment should look like; our Essay Plan Guide explains what should be included within the introduction, main body and conclusion of an assignment.

Critical reading and thinking

You will be expected to do a lot of reading during your time at university and this reading will benefit your studies in several ways. You may be asked to complete some reading before a lecture or seminar, this type of reading will help you understand more about a topic you are studying, and you will be able to contribute to class discussions. Reading is an essential part of your research and will usually account for the biggest chunk of your study time – and that’s okay.

Reflective writing

Whilst most of your academic assignments will be written in the third person, reflective writing may call for a mix of first and third person. When reflecting on your own personal experiences you may write in the first person, and when referring to key literature to help support your main argument you may write in the third person.

You may be asked to use a model of reflection within your writing, for example Gibbs’ (1988) Reflective Model. Information on how you can use models of reflection can be found in the Reflective Writing toolkit.

Report writing

Writing a report is different to writing an essay and may be a style you are not as familiar with or not yet had opportunity to practice. Reports often explain the findings or results of a project, are structured with headings and sub-headings, and there are different types of reports, making report writing a complex task.

The sections below provide guidance for effectively planning, structuring and writing academic reports.

Structure

Writing style

Further learning

Paraphrasing

Whilst direct quotations have their place if you need to give an exact definition, paraphrasing demonstrates greater depth in that it shows you understand what you have read. If you are struggling to paraphrase, it may suggest you don’t fully understand the material, it is therefore not unusual to have to reread information a few times before you can paraphrase effectively.

Being able to paraphrase effectively within your academic writing is a key skill to develop. Not only does it show your tutor you understand the material you have read and are able to put it across in your own voice, it also helps avoid plagiarism and aids you to bring together different sources in your discussion.

Quoting, paraphrasing and referencing

Proofreading

When you’ve spent a long time writing your assignment we understand the last thing you want to do is spend even more time looking at it, but valuable marks can be retained through development of your proofreading skills.

We all make mistakes, and your brain can easily trick you into missing obvious errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar when you’ve become accustomed to your writing. Therefore, it is important to set aside time at the end of the writing and editing process to have a break. Then come back to your work with fresh eyes to complete your proofreading.

Once you get in the swing of proofreading you will become familiar with the mistakes you make, and a good way to recognise and record these for your next assignment is to use a proofreading checklist. When using the checklist, it is easier to read and check your assignment for one thing at a time, rather than rushing to check for everything in one read through. Plan in enough time to check your writing thoroughly, several times.

Top tools for proofreading

Top techniques for proofreading

Find more tips in the proofreading toolkit

Grammar and punctuation

It is important to develop a formal academic style in your written assignments, take a look at our Academic Writing: Using Formal Language guide for more tips. We also have some useful guides below with some top tips for grammar and punctuation, to help you avoid some of the common mistakes made – don’t forget punctuation errors can cost you marks

You can also access the Punctuation toolkit for more support with using punctuation correctly.

Online submission (TurnItIn)

We know that when a deadline is approaching, submitting your final piece of work can be stressful enough without unexpected hitches, so try not to leave your submission till the last minute. Remember to give yourself space to breathe by preparing in advance.

Plan in some time prior to your deadline, to watch the Turnitin toolkit. It will help you to become familiar with the submission process, and if followed correctly, will ensure that the final moments before you click ‘Submit’ will be as worry-free as possible.

Useful guides and toolkits

Guides:

Online toolkits:

Online courses:

  • Access full, free, unlimited access to thousands of high quality online courses and video tutorials written by industry experts at LinkedIn Learning

Further help and support

Ask Us
a question online 24/7
One-to-one support
book an appointment today
Disability support
for a range of specialist study skills