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GET AHEAD UNDERGRADUATE SUMMER PROGRAMME 2014. Writing at undergraduate level ‘In my experience the most important thing is to write the way they want. You can write all kinds of stuff you know about, but you don’t get good marks unless you write it the proper way.’

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Get ahead undergraduate summer programme 2014


Writing at undergraduate level

‘In my experience the most important thing is to write the way they want. You can write all kinds of stuff you know about, but you don’t get good marks unless you write it the proper way.’

Northedge, A. The Good Study Guide 2007: 245

Sara Steinke

[email protected]

Aims of the session
Aims of the session

  • To consider what makes English academic

  • To introduce the style and conventions of academic writing

  • To recognise the importance of academic writing skills for undergraduate study

  • To think about the writing process

  • To reflect on how to develop your academic writing skills to express and present your critical thinking for undergraduate study

Why do you think writing gives students the most anxiety
Why do you think writing gives students the most anxiety?

  • They have not written an essay in a long time.

  • They do not know what an academic essay looks like.

  • They miss deadlines as a result of poor time management.

  • They have no idea why they are writing an essay.

    Answer: A, B, C and D

Why write the way they want northedge 2007 246
Why write the way ‘they’ want?(Northedge 2007: 246)

  • Deepens your learning

  • Develops your writing skills

  • Doing yourself justice

  • Enables the reader to understand your point of view

  • Strengthens your powers of self-expression

  • Major medium through which your progress is assessed

Importance of academic english
Importance of academic English

  • links and interdependent with other academic skills

    - critical thinking

    - reading for academic purposes (SQ3R)

    - note making (linear notes, mind mapping)

    - organisational skills, prioritisation, time management

    - the writing process

    - exam technique

  • transferable skill to the work place

What is academic english
What is academic English?


‘academy’ = place of

study, university

‘academic’ = doing

things they way they

are done in the


‘academic writing’ =

writing in the way

that is expected of

people at university

What makes spoken or written

English ‘academic’ is not the

ideas, but the way the

ideas are

presented - in a logical order,

with evidence to support them,

objectively and

expressed - using formal

language, using specialist

vocabulary, using words and

phrases that are expected in

writing at university

I n a logical order
In a logical order

  • start with a plan

  • jot down any ideas that you have as you think of them

  • group your ideas about the same point together and present them in the same paragraph

  • start each paragraph with a sentence that shows what you are going to write about in that paragraph - the topic sentence

  • put your points in order so that they follow on from each other

  • develop the main idea in the topic sentence with your other points

W ith evidence
With evidence

  • read and make notes from different sources

  • use sources that are reliable and/or

    recommended to you

  • make notes of where different writers agree or disagree so that you can compare different views

  • remember that things are usually more grey than black and white


  • make suggestions, not strongly emotional comments

  • avoid stating your personal opinion

  • do not involve the reader directly by asking questions

U sing formal language
Using formal language

  • write in full sentences

  • do not use abbreviations or contractions

  • use impersonal forms

Use formal language
Use formal language

  • write in full sentences

  • do not use abbreviations or contractions

  • use impersonal forms (not the first person ‘I’)

  • no slang or colloquial expressions

U se specialist vocabulary
Use specialist vocabulary

  • check the meaning of specialist terms in your subject

  • note examples of how these terms are used in the books and articles that you read

  • do not use terms that you do not understand

U se words and phrases that are expected
Use words and phrases that are expected

  • academic writers are expected to be cautious e.g. ‘this suggests ...’, ‘this might explain ...’

  • readers expect phrases that act as signposts to guide them through the text

    – additional information

    e.g. ‘furthermore ...’, ‘moreover ...’, ‘in addition ...’

    – to move to specific examples

    e.g. ‘for instance ...’, ‘as an illustration ...’

How to annoy your lecturers
How to annoy your lecturers

A group of lecturers

from different

subjects were asked

what really annoyed

them about

students’ grammar

and language . . .

  • Using apostrophes wrongly

  • Confusing common words, for example there/their

  • Making spelling errors

  • Using informal language

  • Writing sentences without verbs

  • Making every sentence a paragraph

  • Not using paragraphs

  • Writing long convoluted sentences

  • Trying to write too pompously

  • Using run-on sentences/comma splices

Check your academic english skills at
Check your academic English skills at



  • Grammar

  • Vocabulary

  • Punctuation

  • Spelling

  • Academic style

Academic writing conventions 1
Academic writing: conventions (1)

  • Do not use contractions or slang

  • Use the terminology of your field

  • Avoid the first (‘I’) and second person (‘you’)

  • Define key terms you use in a particular way

  • Include only ideas that are relevant to your argument and subject

  • Limit ideas to one per sentence/single point for each paragraph

Academic writing conventions 2
Academic writing: conventions (2)

  • Use formal style

  • Writing style does not have to be complicated /elaborate

  • Be well organised and present ideas in logical order

  • Present objective analysis that is critical without

    being too positive or negative, be cautious

  • Use clear, precise language

  • Avoid emotive language

Academic writing conventions 3
Academic writing: conventions (3)

  • Be kind to your reader - give reader clues (transition words, summaries) to let them know where they are in your argument

  • Use subheadings and sections, where appropriate

  • Cite relevant sources

  • Explain, not just describe

  • Use quotes, examples

  • Establish clear connections between ideas

Quick quiz what is wrong with this piece of critical writing cottrell 2008 209
Quick quizWhat is wrong with this piece of critical writing? (Cottrell 2008: 209)

Mount Pepe is going up - it’s going to take

everything with it when it goes. And I mean

everything - villages, farms, trees, the lot. It’s

frightening to think of how powerful a volcano

can be. Think of the damage they cause!

Remember Pompeii and Mount Etna!

What is right with this piece of critical writing cottrell 2008 209
What is right with this piece of critical writing? (Cottrell 2008: 209)

In order to assess whether it is necessary to

evacuate the villages on Mount Pepe, three main

factors need to be taken into consideration. The

first, and most important, of these is the element

of safety. According to seismic experts currently

working on the volcano, there is likely to be a

major eruption within the next ten years (Achebe

2007). According to Achebe, the eruption is likely

to destroy villages over a radius of 120 miles

(Achebe 2008, p.7).

What can i do to make my writing more academic
What can I do to make my writing more academic?

  • attend free Academic Development Workshops offered by Centre for Learning and Professional Development (CLPD):

  • enrol for an one-term Academic Writing module:


  • note how the ideas in the books and articles that you read on your course are presented and expressed - use active reading and note making strategies

  • Write, write write

Importance of feedback to improve your writing skills
Importance of feedback to improve your writing skills

  • Read through work and lecturer’s comment

  • Check you understand lecturer’s comments

  • Make list of major issues and minor errors

  • Compare with comments/lists from previous essays - Which comments appear more than once?

    - Which issues have you improved?

    5. Number issues in order of priority

    6. Act on them!

Self evaluation s w o t
Self evaluation: S.W.O.T.

  • What are the strengths of your writing? Are you able to express complex ideas clearly? Do you know how to structure your essay well?

  • What are the weaknesses of your writing? Do you struggle with spelling and grammar? Are you simply not used to writing in a formal/academic way?

  • What opportunities do you have to improve on your writing? Have you attended one of the essay writing workshops?

  • What threats do you face in your writing? Do you understand the essay question? Are you struggling to find enough time for proof reading? Do you lack confidence in your ability to write?

Stages of essay writing cottrell 2008 176 177
Stages of essay writingCottrell 2008: 176-177

1. Clarify task

8. Act on feedback

2. Collect and record


7. Final draft

3. Organise and plan

4. Engage, reflect and


6. Work on your first draft

5. Write an outline and first draft

Analysing the question
Analysing the question

Essay questions can be

broken down into:

  • Its topic

  • Any restriction/ expansion to the topic

  • The aspect/angle you are asked to consider

  • Instructions you need to follow

An analysis of the

changes in US policy

towards China

during the 1970s.

An analysis of the

changes inUS policy

towards China

during the 1970s.

Writing introductory paragraphs
Writing introductory paragraphs

  • State title of essay in first line/link to question

  • Explain the title/why the question is important/ establish the field/give background information/ state aim of the essay

  • Outline approach to the essay/ thesis statement

  • Narrow the field/ particular focus/outline issues

  • Outline structure of essay

  • 10% of word count

Writing main body paragraphs
Writing main body paragraphs

Topic (first)sentence:

main idea of the


Supporting sentence:

gives details about/

explains topic sentence

Concluding (last)

sentence: repeats the

main idea/gives final

comment about topic

Writing concluding paragraphs
Writing concluding paragraphs

  • Summarise main arguments/ themes

  • State general conclusions

  • Make it clear why conclusions are significant

  • Refer back to question/directly answer it

  • Make recommendations or suggest way forward/further research

  • Do not present new material/ ideas in your conclusion

  • 10% of word count

Overcoming writer s block
Overcoming writer’s block

  • Scribble - what ever comes to mind

  • ‘Its only a draft’ - something you are working on

  • Write in pencil - reminds you that the draft is rough

  • Write on loose paper - can throw it away

  • Ignore mistakes in early drafts - can sort out later

  • ‘For you eyes only’ - handwriting/mistakes do not matter

  • Start anywhere - in order to suit you

  • Write by talking - if you find it hard to express yourself in writing

  • Take one step at a time - break task into manageable steps

  • Rest and relax - avoid stress

Generating ideas brainstorming
Generating ideas: brainstorming

  • use a large piece of paper - A3 or flipchart

  • identify and write down as many different possible answers (rather than ‘one solution’) to the question that you can think of

  • asking ‘what if’ or ‘supposing’ questions will help you

  • allow yourself to think of crazy or wild suggestions - do not think of an idea as ‘stupid'

  • it is fine to make mistakes - they may turn out to be productive

Generating ideas free writing
Generating ideas: free writing

  • use A4 lined paper

  • write nonstop for a set period of time (about 3-5 minutes)

  • do not make any corrections

  • do not write in sentences

  • use the writing tool you are most comfortable with (pen/computer)

  • write/type as fast as you can

  • do not cross anything out

  • do not punctuate

Generating ideas map mapping
Generating ideas: map mapping

  • turn the paper sideways, A3 landscape is best

  • write the topic in the centre of the page

  • write related ideas around this centre

  • add secondary ideas to the main ideas

  • link up these ideas to show relationships

  • use colours, different line thickness, symbols, pictures

  • add details to points as you go along

Produced on Inspiration 8.0, on all library computers

Useful reading for academic writing
Useful reading for academic writing

Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook (3rd edition) (Palgrave

Macmillan, London) chapter 8 ‘Writing for university’ and chapter 9

‘Developing your writing’

Crème, P. (1997) Writing at University(Open University Press, Milton Keynes)

Greetham, B. (2008) How to write better essays (2nd edition) (Palgrave

Macmillan, London)

Northedge, A. (2007) The Good Study Guide (Open University Press, Milton

Keynes) chapter 10 ‘Writing the way ‘they’ want’ and chapter 11 ‘Managing

the writing process’

Peck, J. & Coyle, M. (2005) Write it Right: A Handbook for Students (Palgrave

Macmillan, London)

Redman P (2001) Good Essay Writing (Sage, London)

Rose, J. (2007) The Mature Students Guide to Writing (2nd edition)

(Basingstoke, Palgrave)

Useful websites for academic writing
Useful websites for academic writing

Get ahead Stay ahead interactive tutorials

Website supporting the Palgrave MacMillan

study skills books

Useful listening

Writing recap
Writing - recap

Can you:

  • express your ideas clearly in written form?

  • make an outline of what you are going to write?

  • write in clear sentences and paragraphs?

  • link your ideas in a logical order?

  • use correct grammar?

  • develop your own argument?

  • identify your audience and write in an appropriate register?

Presentations can be found at
Presentations can be found at