Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Academic writing

Advice and resources to support you with effective academic writing.

Approaches to writing

Assignment writing is a process which involves planning, drafting and reviewing what you are going to say. You will find you need to review your initial plan and edit it as you go along. You should expect to have to redraft some sections of writing.

You should also check any guidance given to you as part of your course. The conventions observed do vary between subject areas.

The basics

One of the hardest things can be to get started writing an assignment. Sometimes this is a question of taking the time to reflect on what you are being asked to do in the assignment brief. 

Getting started with an assignment

Getting started suggests a way in which you can break down your task, think about aspects of it and commit some of your initial ideas to paper.  It also suggests ways you can start to adapt this method to suit you.  Alternatively you may prefer to use a prompt list to start to analyse your title.

Getting started (pdf)       Getting started (Word rtf)

Essay title prompts (pdf)       Essay title prompts (Word rtf)

You will want to respond to the assignments you have been set as well as you can. This means paying attention to key words in the question or assignment brief. These are sometimes known as command or directive words because they tell you what to do. The document Directive words provides definitions of some of the commonly used words.

Directive words (pdf)       Directive words (Word rtf)

Getting your ideas in order

In any written assignment you will be expected to organise and structure information from a range of sources. This can mean you end up with a lot of notes and bits of writing you need to link together. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to select and how to identify relationships between ideas and concepts.

There are suggestions in the 'Getting your ideas in order' pdf handout of practical ways in which you might reorganise your material in response to the task set. Playing around with the order can help you arrive at a line reasoning that will convince the reader. Aim to experiment and find out what works for you.

Getting your ideas in order (pdf)           Getting your ideas in order (Word rtf)

Essay parts and paragraphs

If you have been asked to write an academic essay, and you haven't done this before, you may be unsure of what is expected. Parts of an essay gives a brief introductory overview of the component parts of an essay.

Parts of an essay (pdf)           Parts of an essay (Word rtf)

Paragraphs are the building blocks of an essay and paragraphs are a way of organising your thinking and making the meaning clear in your writing. The handout Developing writing in paragraphs encourages you to think about the way you shape your paragraphs and when to move on to a new one.

Developing writing in paragraphs (pdf)          Developing writing in paragraphs (Word rtf) 

Build an argument as you go

You can develop your argument as you read and write by creating a working hypothesis or basic answer in response to the assignment brief.  

Building an argument as you go (pdf)            Building an argument as you go (Word rtf)

Go further

As you move through your studies lecturers will expect more from your written work. They will expect the accurate attribution of ideas from others (including academic and other authors, and the ideas of those who teach you). They will expect written pieces to be logically structured with fluid expression of thought, and with deeper and more critical engagement with the subjects and ideas you are reading and learning about. 

Aim to become familiar with the level of writing required by reading good quality examples.  At an advanced level you are aiming to write to the style you read in academic journals. 

As your written tasks become longer and more complex it can be helpful to reflect on your own writing process.

Reflect on your writing process (pdf)            Reflect on your writing process (Word rtf)

School-level support

Take advantage of any writing development sessions organised through or learning materials offered by your School, Deanery or course. These will help you develop the specific writing skills you need for your discipline or subject area.

Writing your own title

If you have to write your own title in response to the brief you have been set, you need to think about how to frame this.  The Formulating your own title handout suggests some aspects to consider.

Formulating your own title (pdf)          Formulating your own title (Word rtf)

Online course for postgraduate students

The eWriting online course has been specifically developed for postgraduate students at the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Glasgow Caledonian. The course covers many aspects of writing successfully at postgraduate level. It is a self-study course, and you can complete it at any time.

You must be a registered student at the University of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Glasgow Caledonian to enrol.

eWriting online course for postgraduates

Differences from business and workplace writing

If you are studying during a career break, or part-time while still working, you need to be aware that academic writing is different skill from workplace writing; for example, academic writing is usually more formal.

Your written work needs to be grounded in and backed up by appropriate and informed opinion and sources, rather than solely by personal opinion and experience.  Academic written work will also make fewer absolute statements. Language is often more tentative or cautious.