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Strengthening your writing

Writing is the foundation of all your academic studies. Here you’ll find some advice on the basics of academic writing to help you become a better writer.

Good academic writing skills are essential to success at university. On this page you will find resources to help you write clearly, concisely and accurately.

Writing paragraphs

Paragraphs are the ‘building blocks’ of academic writing. Writing paragraphs well makes your writing clearer and will improve your grades.

If you are writing short answers, you might write just one paragraph. In an essay, report, or other assessment, you will write many paragraphs. No matter what you are writing, there are several key points to remember when you write a paragraph.

Focus each paragraph on one main idea

Paragraphs are not like bullet-point lists.  A paragraph is like a ‘mini story’ that focuses on one main idea and provides evidence and examples to support that idea.

Make that idea obvious to the reader in the first one or two sentences

Start with a broader idea, followed by more specific detail. If you are writing an essay, your reader should be able to read the first few sentences of every paragraph and come away with a clear idea of your overall answer to the essay question.

In the rest of the paragraph, include detail about the idea

Explain, provide evidence for, or discuss the idea in the rest of the paragraph. What detail to include depends entirely on the assessment question you have been given, so read the question carefully to determine what kind of supporting detail you need.  For example, you might include examples, explanation, expert opinion, theories, facts or statistics.

Reference information you are using to support your idea

If any of the supporting information has come from sources you have read, or heard in lectures, you must include a reference (citation).

Connect paragraphs to aid flow

Any piece of writing with a series of paragraphs, will need to have the paragraphs ordered so the main ideas form a clear logical sequence. Show the reader how the idea in each paragraph connects to the ideas which are before or after it.  Include some words at the start of the paragraph that show the connection to the paragraph before. Or do this at the end of a paragraph to 'point forward' to the next one.

Using sources

All academic writing draws on the ideas and findings of other researchers and writers. So, in most written assignments, you will need to refer to information you have found in sources.

Your writing needs to show the reader you have:

  • read widely and understood the sources
  • read the sources critically and developed your own point of view or conclusion about the information (we sometimes call this an academic argument or opinion)
  • used the information as evidence to back up the points you have made in your writing.

Polishing your language

Sentence structure - Using different types of sentences allows you to highlight different relationships between ideas and to add variety to your writing. This tip sheet on sentence structure is designed to help you to construct sentences accurately, so that your meaning is clear.

Punctuation basics - Punctuation helps the reader to understand the meaning of your sentences. The helpful punctuation basics sheet has information about some of the basics of punctuation, especially aspects which are important in academic writing.

Tense use in academic writing - This summary of tense use in academic writing covers the most commonly used tenses in undergraduate academic writing, with lots of examples and explanations of their uses. 

Bonus resource, academic phrasebook - This Academic Phrasebank is an excellent resource that provides a wide range of phrases commonly used in research writing (Collated by University of Manchester)

Revising and editing

Revising, editing and proofreading are essential stages in the writing process, not just an ‘optional extra’ to be done only when you have time. It's not easy, but there are strategies you can use that will help to make your revising more effective:

  • After writing your draft, leave it for a few days before revising, so you can look at it with fresh eyes.
  • Get feedback from someone else on the general clarity and sense of your writing.
  • Don’t try to check for everything at once. Use a revision checklist to identify and prioritise the features you want to concentrate on; then read through your paper for one feature at a time. Using a checklist is one way to edit more effectively – even professional writers use them.  You could use either this essay checklist or this report checklist to ask yourself about the content, structure, and style of your work.  Even better, adapt one of the checklists to suit your own needs.
  • Adapting a check list allows you to build up your own personal revision checklist, particularly for editing and proof-reading at the sentence and word level (ie for identifying grammar, spelling and punctuation errors).

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