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Academic Writing. Angela McQuade Learning Development Service Student Guidance Centre. Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.  ~Gene Fowler. Why write?.

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academic writing

Academic Writing

Angela McQuade

Learning Development Service

Student Guidance Centre


Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.  ~Gene Fowler

why write
Why write?
  • The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life. ~Norbet Platt
the essay
The Essay
  • The essay title is usually referred to as ‘the question’, even though it isn’t always worded as a question

It is an opportunity for you to:

  • Explore a topic in detail
  • Develop and organise your ideas
  • Develop your writing skills
  • Engage with critical debates about your subject

Always make sure you understand the question before you begin to research and plan

understanding the question
Understanding the question
  • Answer the question you have been asked, not the one you wish you had been asked.
  • Read the question very carefully – underline the key words.
  • Keep the title in front of you as you research, plan and write
analyse the question
Analyse the question

“In the care of the cancer patient the primary role of the nurse is supporting the patient rather than the technical skills involved in the administration of the drugs.”

Critically discuss the above statement in relation to your own clinical practice.

What are the key words?

did you get it right
Did you get it right?

“In the care of the cancer patient the primary roleof the nurse is supportingthe patient rather than the technical skillsinvolved in the administration of the drugs.”

Critically discuss the above statement in relation to your own clinical practice.

key words in essay titles
Key words in essay titles
  • Account for – give reasons for, explain why
  • Analyse – examine in close detail
  • Critically discuss– weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of evidence on both sides
  • Discuss – write about the most important aspects of, give arguments for and against
  • Illustrate – make something clear and explicit by giving examples
next steps brainstorm thought shower
Next steps – brainstorm (thought-shower)
  • What do I know already?
  • What do I need to find out?
  • Where will I get the information?
mind map
Mind map

Palliative care

  • Find appropriate sources – read and make notes

(Keep all bibliographic details)

  • Decide what information is relevant
  • Discard what you do not need – don’t be tempted to quote from everything just to show that you have read widely
  • Use sections and headings to make a plan – make short notes under each section about what you would like to include
  • Decide on the order of your sections
start writing
Start writing
  • Where you begin will depend on how you prefer to write – some people like to begin at the beginning, others like to jump in and start on the bit they find most interesting
  • Regardless of where you start, your final draft will have three main sections – introduction, main text and conclusion (more later)
academic style
Academic style
  • What style do u think should be used for essays?

Although academic writing isn’t all the same, the style should always be formal.

You should not use conversational language. You should not use humour. You should not use text language.

Did you spot the error? If not, and you are a regular texter, be careful!

a shrt note abt txt msgs
A shrt note abt txt msgs
  • Txt lnguage is v useful cr8tiv & inventiv. Its quik & saves £s.
  • It shudnvrevr b used in an essay or an exam
  • NEVER!

Avoid abbreviations and contractions such as:

  • Dept.
  • e.g.
  • didn’t
  • wasn’t

For common abbreviations, write in full for first usage and follow with abbreviation

National Health Service (NHS)

academic writing can be
Academic writing can be:
  • Descriptive
    • Being precise about methods used in a procedure
    • Giving essential background information

While most essays will have an element of descriptive content, an essay that is only descriptive will usually get a lower mark

argumentative analytical critical
  • Highlights a point of view or opinion and a line of reasoning to support it.
  • highlights an alternative point of view and demonstrates an understanding of the debate.
  • Offers evidence and examples to support a particular view in order to convince the reader that it is the right view to hold.
descriptive versus analytical writing
analyticalDescriptive versus analytical writing


States what happened

States what something is like

Explains what a theory says

Gives information

Explains why what happened is significant

Evaluates strengths and weaknesses

Shows why the theory is relevant or how it relates to practice

Draws conclusions

descriptive or critical
Descriptive or critical?

In the West, all forms of life are divided into one of two categories: plant or animal. Animals move and take in food. Plants are rooted into the earth in some way and lack locomotion. They photosynthesise their food. Zoologists study animals, and botanists study plants. Bacteria were classified as plants because many kinds of bacteria photosynthesise their food. However, they also have locomotion. Recent research has shown that there is an enormous variety of bacteria. Some are able to survive at extreme temperatures and in the absence of oxygen. Most plants cannot usually survive in those conditions. Therefore, even though bacteria photosynthesise, they are not now regarded as plants.

descriptive or critical1
Descriptive or Critical?

The difficulty in categorising bacteria was partly based on the assumption that all life forms were divided into two main categories, plants and animals. Organisms that photosynthesised and lacked mobility were classified as plants; those that had locomotion and ingested foods were classified as animals. Bacteria were traditionally categorised as plants because many forms of bacteria photosynthesised their food like plants. However bacteria also have locomotion, associated with animal life. Genetic research has now shown that there are at least eleven major divisions of bacteria, all of which are more genetically distinct than plants are from animals (Fuhrman et al., 1992). In addition, the minute organisms formerly described as ‘bacteria’ are now found to consist of several major kingdoms and domains of unicellular and multicellular life (bacteria, archaea, eucarya) (Woese, 1994). This research is significant as it has shown that the fundamental division of all life forms into ‘plant’ or ‘animal’ was an error, and that plants and animals form only a very small part of a much more diverse range of living organisms.

academic writing is precise
PreciseAcademic writing is precise


A woman ruled the country for over 10 years

Some people believe …

At the time

Margaret Thatcher served as British Prime Minister between 1979 and 1991

Who exactly?


Always check that you have given your readers enough detail so that they know exactly what you are talking about

academic writing is not conversational
Academic writing is not conversational
  • The writer was out of order when he said that …
  • The new plans were right on the button
  • This theorist hit the nail on the head when she stated that …
  • This point of view is a bit over the top
do not doubt yourself
Do Not Doubt Yourself
  • ‘In this assignment I will try to analyse/ endeavour to demonstrate/ attempt to argue that’…
  • When you do this you are implying that you may not be able to do what you have set out to do and you are inviting your reader to pass judgement on the success or otherwise of your attempt.
write confidently
Write Confidently
  • It is better to state confidently that ‘in this assignment I will analyse / demonstrate / argue that’…
  • Or to say, ‘This assignment will critically analyse differing perspectives on caring for AIDS patients…’
features of academic writing
Features of academic writing
  • Use source materials – do not simply state your personal opinion. Use material from books, articles, reports, lectures
  • Use the most up-to-date research
  • Show that you are aware that answers are not always clear cut. State clearly where there are flaws in an argument and back up what you say by referring to research
features of academic writing1
Features of academic writing
  • If there are difficulties coming to a firm conclusion about a controversial subject, show that you understand the complexities of the debate
  • Make sure that one point follows logically from another
  • Be objective
be objective
Be objective
  • Avoid words such as ‘wonderful’, ‘beautiful’, ‘worthwhile’.
  • For example:

Yeats’ beautiful poem, When You are Old ...

  • This is subjective as not everyone will find it beautiful and also, by what standard is the beauty being measured?

The fascinating report on poverty, The Bare Necessities …

  • Fascinating according to whom?
technical register
Technical register
  • Do not use technical jargon to try to impress; however, become comfortable with the language of your discipline and use it confidently.
  • If you are having difficulty understanding some of the terminology, create a personal learning dictionary; this will be useful for exam revision.
essay structure
Essay structure
  • Introduction (10%)
    • Engage the reader by introducing your topic.
    • Identify the issues you are about to explore and preview how you plan to answer the question.
  • Main text
    • Divided into paragraphs.
    • Structure set out by introduction and approach to question.
    • Must cover everything you said you would cover in the introduction.
  • Conclusion (10%)
    • Summarises your argument and the main themes.
    • Do not present new arguments.
the secret of good writing is
The secret of good writing is …
  • Rewriting – this does not mean scrapping what you have done and starting over.
  • Your first draft is likely to contain typing errors and be a bit jumbled – your tutor will know if you have done one draft in a hurry and handed it in.
  • Drafting polishes your work as it allows you to add finishing touches.
what attracts good marks
What attracts good marks?

Lowest marks

  • Weak structure
  • Shows little research
  • Mostly descriptive
  • Considers only one point of view

Better marks

  • Evidence of background learning
  • Answers the question
  • Organises information into a logical structure
  • Develops an argument
  • Draws conclusions
  • Provides evidence to support arguments
highest marks
Highest marks
  • Demonstrates a good understanding of why the topic is important
  • Engages actively with topic and related events in a thought-provoking way
  • Demonstrates an understanding of how the topic relates to broader issues

When to reference

Any statements, ideas or images that you did not create yourself should be credited to the source


  • Direct quotations
  • Paraphrased material
  • Summaries
  • Facts, information, data
  • See:


In-text citations

  • Short direct quotations may be cited within the text
  • Longer quotations should be indented and single-spaced

Examples of citations within the text

  • Collins (1999, p. 245) stated that “the war served as a catalyst for economic change.”
  • The state of the city “brought frowns to its citizens faces, despite the newly created jobs (Dunne 2008, p. 23).
  • Vitamin C has been proven to strengthen the immune system (Willard, 1978).

More in-text citations

Two authors

  • Collins and Marrs (1999, p. 245) stated that “the war served as a catalyst for economic change.”
  • The job market “reached its lowest point since 1929” (Dunne & Yi, 2008, p. 23).

More than two

Office costs amount to 20% of total costs in most business (Wilson et al. 1997).

more in text citations
More in-text citations

Multiple publications by the same author in the same year

  • Distinguish with a and b in the citations and the reference list.
  • In-text citations: (Smythe, 2005a) and (Smythe, 2005b)
  • References:

Smythe, A. (2005 a) Growing market. London: Economy Press.

No author available

A recent study on child abuse (Report on domestic violence, 2007, p. 4) claimed...

more in text citations1
More in-text citations

If author and date are unknown

Despite statements made by the chief advisor (Issues in politics, no date)...

Citing a webpage in the text

A report in January (, 2008) listed...


Bibliography or References

  • Guidelines
  • List sources alphabetically
  • If two works are by the same author, list them chronologically
  • For one to four authors, list all author’s names
  • From more than four authors, use et al.

Listing sources


Include author, date, title, place of publication, publisher:

Craig, L. (1998) Good Practice in Nursing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Include author, date, title of article, title of journal, part number, page numbers (beginning of article - end of article)

Graham, H. and Dane, J. (2001) ‘Making meaning of the patient’s response’, Psychology Today, 10, 2 161-70.


Further resources

  • Your student handbook
  • Holland, Matt (2006) ‘Citing References’ Academic Services, Bournemouth University
buddy up
Buddy up

Find a ‘critical friend’ or form a ‘critical group’ and make a pact to:

  • Read and honestly comment on each other’s work
  • Not to judge each other
  • Be supportive and take an interest

This doesn’t suit everyone – some people work much

better on their own

for one to one help contact
For one-to-one help contact

Learning Development Service


  • Cottrell, S. M. (2008). The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan.
  • Pears, R. & Shields, G. (2005) Cite them right: the essential guide to referencing and plagiarism. Newcastle: Pear Tree Books.