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 & 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 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.

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 toolkit. Assistive Technology can also be used to help create a plan, MindView 7 allows you to create a plan online which can be easily edited.

Critical Reading & 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.

Critical Reading

The biggest tip for reading at university is to plan reading time into your study schedule and read with a purpose. Be selective about what you read and check which resources your tutor has suggested as essential reading.  It is impossible to read everything. Take time to check the suitability of titles, abstracts, content lists, chapter headings, etc. Ask yourself if they link to what you will be writing about? You can then either place them in a pile to be read thoroughly or a pile to disregard. Doing this will save time in the long run, as you will have already selected those that will be useful.

Critical Thinking

Read purposefully and critically, keeping your assignment question in mind. How does the text you are reading support what you are trying to find out? Ask questions of what you’re reading, be doubtful and sceptical, examine other people’s ideas and critique your own ideas too. Wider reading supports the development of critical thinking, as you start to make links and develop a deeper argument. It is therefore important to give yourself as much time as possible to carry out your research. You can find more support in the Critical Thinking toolkit.

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.


We recommend you always follow specific assignment guidance on structure and/or content provided by your tutors. This may be included in your module handbooks, assignment briefs, Learning Outcomes or on BlackBoard.

Although reports vary, most academic reports include a variation of the following structure:

  • Title Page
  • Contents Page / Contents Table
  • Abstract / Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion / Analysis / Interpretation
  • Conclusion / Recommendations
  • References
  • Appendix / Appendices

Writing Style

An academic report should be written in a formal academic tone of voice and, unless your tutor identifies otherwise, in the third person. Report writing uses clear and concise language and sentences are generally shorter than in essays and may include features such as bullet point lists to summarise information.

The contents of your report should be analytical, and the SEED (Statement, Expand, Evidence, Develop) or PEEL (Point, Evidence, Explanation, Link) paragraph structure may help you with your writing. However, as reports include headings, each paragraph, section or sub-section does not need to flow into the next in quite the same way as in an essay.

The main body of your report – methodology, results, discussion – may also use and refer to visual graphs, tables, diagrams and/or charts. These sources of data will need to be cited within your text (e.g. …as evidenced in Table 1…) and if you are summarising data within the report you would also include the full details in your appendices (e.g. …see Appendix A for full survey results…).

Further Learning

There are lots of useful resources to help you write a report available from the University Library, you can access books and eBooks by searching Discover More, and access lots of free videos tutorials and online courses on LinkedIn Learning.


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 & Referencing

It is not enough to use synonyms and change a few words, you also need to change the sentence structure and order of ideas. As such, paraphrasing is a skill which improves with practice, but there are things you can do to help develop this skill. When writing notes, try and put things in your own words, rather than copying text directly. Or, summarise the points after you have finished reading, rather than highlighting / writing as you go along. You could also try explaining the theory / concept to a friend in your own words.

Remember you still need to reference a paraphrase, just as you would if you were quoting text directly. Whilst you have used your own words, it is not your idea you are discussing and should therefore cite the author. Visit our Referencing pages for further information on the difference between citing a quotation and paraphrasing.

Academic Integrity

Visit our Referencing pages to find out more about academic integrity and to launch our brand new Academic Integrity and Referencing Toolkit.


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

  • Use Word Spelling & Grammar check
  • Use a Dictionary / Thesaurus
  • Use English grammar book or websites
  • Use a fresh pair of eyes: ask friends / family who are unfamiliar with your subject to give your writing a once over. They don’t have to fully understand the content,  just look for errors you may have missed!
  • Use a printer, pen, highlighter, post it notes – whatever works for you!
  • Use a Proofreading Checklist and add to it each time you receive feedback

Top Techniques for Proofreading

  • Give yourself time, factor proofreading time into your assignment planning and make sure you’re in the right mindset
  • Print your assignment out – increase line space to 1.5 or 2 for easy reading
  • Read out loud (or use software)
  • Read S L O W L Y
  • Read in sections from the bottom up – we don’t mean reading backwards (!) read your final paragraph first, then the second to last and then the third to last…
  • Once you’ve made all your changes in the document zoom out to check layout across the whole document

You can find more tips in the Proofreading toolkit.

Grammar / 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 & Toolkits


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 & Support

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