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About this book

This indispensable guide shows students what successful academic writing involves and gives them the tools they will need to write successfully themselves. It separates fact from fiction and takes students through the five essential elements of academic writing: writing critically, using sources, developing your own voice, having a clear structure and style and editing drafts.

This book is an essential resource for students making the transition to university-level study and a valuable reference point for all students doing academic study in English. It is suitable for students of all disciplines, from education and business through to social work and psychology.

Table of Contents

1. Myths and facts about academic writing

Abstract
Writing well is not a natural gift but something that needs to be learnt and practised. You may struggle at first because the style and content of writing for university is new to you but you will improve steadily and may even start to enjoy it. Many aspects of writing are common across subjects and assignment types, but you do also need to develop an awareness of the more specialised characteristics of your subject, task type and tutor’s approach1 (see Chapter 3).
Jeanne Godfrey

2. What academic writing looks like

Abstract
Below are the first two paragraphs from an excellent second-year essay, followed by the first two entries in the essay reference list. The paragraph is annotated and has side columns that comment on key features of language, style, content and structure. Other common forms of academic writing, such as reports, also usually need the features exemplified in the extract.
Jeanne Godfrey

3. Your writing context and purpose

Abstract
To produce a really successful piece of work you need to be clear about what is expected of you and the overall purpose of the writing assignment. The three main factors in determining your writing context and purpose are the nature of your discipline, your tutor’s approach to the subject, and your assignment title. Being aware of these will help you to unlock and open the door to more successful and effective writing.
Jeanne Godfrey

4. The five essential elements of writing

Abstract
Imagine your finished piece of writing as a brightly shining star. At the centre of your star is your position on the assignment title that you have arrived at through the interactions between the five essential elements of academic writing. The precise nature and content of each element will vary between different subjects and different writing tasks but all five should usually be present in your writing. What will emerge at the centre of your star will be your own unique understanding of and response to the assignment issue. The rest of this book will take you through each of the essential elements of academic writing.
Jeanne Godfrey

5. What critical writing is

Abstract
Being critical in an academic context means looking at ideas, theories and evidence with a questioning attitude rather than taking them at face value. It means analysing things in detail (breaking down and examining concepts and ideas), evaluating (finding weaknesses and strengths, connections and patterns) and from this analysis and evaluation, deciding what you think about the issue, how important or relevant you think it is and why.
Jeanne Godfrey

6. What critical writing looks like

Abstract
One common reason for low marks in student writing is having too much non-critical content (background information, description and explanation) and not enough criticality, particularly detailed analysis and evaluation. Below are some extracts from a student essay on ageism (prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of age) that show you examples of non-critical and critical writing.
Jeanne Godfrey

7. Common errors in critical writing

Abstract
Problem Agreement, disagreement and opinion given without supporting evidence are not adequate as critical evaluations. Unsupported views are not usually acceptable in academic work. Solution Evidence and examples should be used to give an informed view. If the evidence doesn’t support the opinion, then the opinion is probably wrong. If the facts do support the opinion, this evidence should be used to support it.
Jeanne Godfrey

8. Using their words: quotations

Abstract
Writing well is not a natural gift but something that needs to be learnt and practised. You may struggle at first because the style and content of writing for university is new to you but you will improve steadily and may even start to enjoy it. Many aspects of writing are common across subjects and assignment types, but you do also need to develop an awareness of the more specialised characteristics of your subject, task type and tutor’s approach1 (see Chapter 3).
Jeanne Godfrey

9. Using your words: paraphrase and source summary

Abstract
To paraphrase is to put someone else’s speech or writing (usually just a short section) into your own words. In academic writing you are also expected to use your own words to summarise a source, and so this is also a form of paraphrasing. When paraphrasing or summarising source material, you should use not only your own words but also your own style and sentence patterns as much as possible. Re-expressing other people’s work in this way is a vital part of academic work, but it is a difficult skill and takes practice to do well. Using mainly your own words and style to restate source material enables you to.
Jeanne Godfrey

10. Using verbs to show that you understand your sources

Abstract
To help you choose the right verb, ask yourself what the author is trying to do in different parts of their text: Are they explaining, describing, arguing, or doing something else? Even more importantly, what are they trying to do overall: Arguing against a different point of view? Giving recommendations? Reporting findings and discussing implications? Below is a list of common reporting verbs - make sure you understand precisely what each one means.
Jeanne Godfrey

11. Referencing styles and techniques

Abstract
A list of references contains only those sources you have actually referenced in your assignment, whereas a bibliography is a list of all sources you have used, including those you have read but not cited in your writing. If you are using a numeric referencing system, you will need a list of references arranged in the order you have used them in your writing, and also a bibliography that lists all sources alphabetically by author surname. Check your course style manual and be aware that the terms ‘List of references’ and ‘Bibliography’ are sometimes used interchangeably.
Jeanne Godfrey

12. How to avoid accidental plagiarism

Abstract
Putting one reference at the end of a paragraph that is a mix of you and sources is not enough; you must make clear where every switch between you and sources occurs. This means that nearly all your sentences that paraphrase or summarise source material will need either a reference or a reference reminder phrase.
Jeanne Godfrey

13. Making your own voice clear

Abstract
A common reason for low marks is not making clear links between the ideas from your sources and your own position. Below are two versions of an essay extract. In version A, the student cites Baber but does not evaluate this source or link it to their own ideas - they just assume that the reader will know why they have put it in and so go straight on to their next source. In version B, the student comments on how Baber’s findings are relevant to their own argument and why they are citing Bulmer and Patel.
Jeanne Godfrey

14. Using verbs to show your own position

Abstract
In Chapter 10 we looked at using verbs to show that you understand what a source author is doing in their text. Another important and powerful use for reporting verbs is to show your evaluation of the source and your position in relation to source material. Read the sentence below from an article by Deborah Lupton (1998): Research would certainly suggest that the lay public has a strong interest in health and medical issues in the media. If you shared Lupton’s view and wanted to indicate this in your assignment, you would use a ‘positive’ verb such as show to introduce what she says and then go on to agree with her.
Jeanne Godfrey

15. Using ‘I’ and ‘we’

Abstract
Using ‘I’ is increasingly acceptable in academic writing as a clear way of showing your tutor your position and voice (check your course style manual). The mistake some students make is in what they use after ‘I‘ - they fall into the trap of using it to start giving personal opinions or to write in a chatty style. Remember that with the exception of reflective writing, you have to earn the right to use ‘I’ to state your position by first analysing and evaluating your sources. Only after doing this can you use ‘I’ to give your informed and supported viewpoint.
Jeanne Godfrey

16. Expressing levels of certainty and caution

Abstract
Be wary of expressing absolute certainty, as in: The data prove the existence of automatic ageism. Removing speed cameras will result in an increase in the number of road deaths. Children are definitely more aware politically than in previous generations. Even though you think there is overwhelming evidence to support a proposition, someone else may think differently, and even the most eminent experts on a subject accept that they might be wrong. In academic study, all knowledge is contestable and something can only be proved to be false, not true.
Jeanne Godfrey

17. Having a clear overall structure

Abstract
Importantly, the three main sections of your piece should connect logically and should match up. Always do a detailed plan before you start writing out in full - if you don’t, it’s very easy to end up with an assignment that is a bundle of mismatched pieces. For example, if you were writing the essay ‘Ageism is more disabling than ageing. Discuss’ and you spent most of the essay body giving evidence for how ageism is not a serious problem, it would then be odd to state in your conclusion that ageism is a significant problem and more disabling than natural ageing. For more advice on essay planning and structure, see Godwin (2014) Planning your essay in this series.
Jeanne Godfrey

18. Having clear paragraph structure

Abstract
A 2,000 word assignment usually has 7–10 paragraphs. Paragraphs vary in length but as a general rule they should be at least three sentences long; if you find you have a paragraph of less than this, you probably need to either develop the idea more, provide an example or evidence, attach the idea to a related idea or paragraph, or get rid of it altogether. At the other end of the scale, avoid paragraphs that are longer than half a page - your reader needs to be able to digest what they read in smaller pieces than this. Each paragraph should have a start, middle and end, and should focus on one idea. Each should have a logical flow and the reader should be able to see (either via a signpost phrase and/or content) how one paragraph follows on from the previous one. The precise structure of paragraphs can and should vary to some extent, depending on the writing style.
Jeanne Godfrey

19. Developing a clear writing style

Abstract
We have already covered many aspects that are essential for giving your writing a clear and appropriate style: using evidence and logic to argue rather than giving personal opinion (pp. 19–30) being objective and neutral (pp. 19–30) being specific (p. 29) using source material correctly and precisely (pp. 31–48) using appropriate verbs and other phrases to report and evaluate sources (pp. 49–53 and 68–70) using ‘I’ and ‘we’ appropriately (pp. 71–4) using cautious language (pp. 75–7) using content and signposting to give structure (pp. 80–6). The rest of this chapter will take you through the other features of language necessary for a clear writing style.
Jeanne Godfrey

20. Using words precisely

Abstract
Writing well is not a natural gift but something that needs to be learnt and practised. You may struggle at first because the style and content of writing for university is new to you but you will improve steadily and may even start to enjoy it. Many aspects of writing are common across subjects and assignment types, but you do also need to develop an awareness of the more specialised characteristics of your subject, task type and tutor’s approach1 (see Chapter 3).
Jeanne Godfrey

21. The process of writing and rewriting

Abstract
Brilliant assignments are the result of a lot of planning, drafting, rewriting and checking. When you start working on your assignment, you probably won’t have a clear position on the title (this is a good thing as you should have an open mind, not a closed one) and you will also be writing more for yourself than for your reader. By the time you reach the stage of a third draft, however, you should have arrived at an informed position and have a reader-focused piece of work.
Jeanne Godfrey

22. Common language errors

Abstract
Don’t worry about grammatical errors in the early stages but do check for them in your final drafts and use feedback from friends, colleagues and tutors to identify mistakes you typically make. You may only be repeating the same few mistakes but these can build up and detract from your work, so it is worth doing a bit of corrective grammar homework in order to resolve them. Below is a list of the most common errors students make, with the technical grammatical terms given in brackets for your reference.
Jeanne Godfrey

23. A checklist

Abstract
Writing well is not a natural gift but something that needs to be learnt and practised. You may struggle at first because the style and content of writing for university is new to you but you will improve steadily and may even start to enjoy it. Many aspects of writing are common across subjects and assignment types, but you do also need to develop an awareness of the more specialised characteristics of your subject, task type and tutor’s approach1 (see Chapter 3).
Jeanne Godfrey
Additional information