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Academic Writing

General Issues

Questions to ask yourself

RESEARCH: Can you do good research?  Can you find material which is relevant to your topic?  Can you filter out stuff which is irrelevant?  Can you find and compare differing opinions on the same issue?

THINK: Can you think for yourself?  Can you follow the logic of a research paper?  Can you see the flaws in it?  Can you assess whether someone’s conclusions are justified by their evidence?  Can you think about the implications?  Can you put it into the bigger picture (whatever that bigger picture may be)?

ARGUE:  Can you present your own conclusions in a manner people can understand?  Can you provide good reasons for those conclusions?  Can you anticipate objections others could make to your conclusions and deal with them in advance?

WRITE:  Can you put all this into words people can understand?

Why do Universities set essays and dissertations.

Writing for university is not intended to be easy.  It is intended to extend your skills and develop your intellect. 

You are not expected to know the answer when you are assigned an assignment.  In fact, it is assumed (and hoped) that you do not know the answer.  Working out what your answer will be is as important as actually writing it down. 

Essays are not assigned to assess your knowledge.  They are assigned so you can teach yourself how to do research and write up the results. 

There is never a single correct answer to the essay question.  Your conclusions do not have to agree with your lecturer’s or tutor’s, but they do have to be clear, sensible and backed by good reasons. You will not be marked for “getting it right.”  You will be marked for “doing it properly.”  You “do it properly” by showing you have researched the topic, thought about what you found long enough to develop your own conclusions, and then made a coherent, logical argument to support your conclusions.

How is your work marked ?

The people marking your work are looking for evidence you worked on the assignment at the standard expected for your level in the university.  The standard expected will get higher each year.  It is not enough to do good work.  Your writing must demonstrate that you did good work to the person marking it.

Evaluating your skills

Evaluating your research: You need to demonstrate you have done quality research. If sources are offered to you when the assignment is set, make sure you read them, and try to use them.  They will be valuable and relevant.

Evaluating your thinking: Your writing must demonstrate you can think for yourself, and that you do so all the time.     It is very important not to confine your research to those who agree with each other.  You must find sources which disagree. The most important thing to demonstrate is that you can critically assess your sources. 

Evaluating your argument: ‘Argument’ is the academic term for the chain of thought which your essay follows.  An argument consists of a series of points which lead to a conclusion. Answer the question.  An essay which does not address the topic cannot get good marks. Your argument is the most important aspect of the assessment, so it has a dedicated section.

Evaluating your writing: Academic writing has its own style, which is more formal than you will find elsewhere.  Try to use formal terms as much as possible.  You will be assessed for your command of grammar and punctuation.  Never guess.  If you are not sure, look it up. Get the reader interested with real content – innovative ideas, clever arguments, good use of sources. Stick to the topic and make interesting points.