Writing a good academic text is quite a challenge. How do you put the first words on paper? How do you create a good structure? What is an academic writing style? You can make a free appointment with a writing tutor. Would you like some tips right now? Take a look at the information below.
Academic writing tips
- Academic writing is about Knowledge Transforming (critical reflection on what you have read), rather than Knowledge Telling (just summarising).
- Divide the work into steps (formulating the main question, reading, making an outline, writing, revising, editing), and work on them one at the time. Don't try to write a perfect first draft.
- Academic style is rather objective and very, very precise. Always support your statements with arguments and references.
- Ask around what the academic conventions are: talk with professors, peers, senior students, housemates etc. Look for examples of the assignment that you are working on: essays, papers and theses written for the same professor.
- Talk about your writing. With your friends, your peers or with a writing tutor. You are welcome at Skills Lab if you want to discuss your work.
(source: Skills Lab)
- Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab). Here you can find a lot of information on academic writing and writing in general. Use the 'site map' to search for topics.
- UNC handouts (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). The 'Tips and Tools' from the University of North Carolina are often very thorough and a bit more extensively described than on Purdue OWL. This site also has a number of short videos, recognisable by the camera icon.
- Manchester Phrase Bank (Academic Phrase bank). This "bank" stores thousands of phrases from academic articles. You can find different phrases here or check whether your phrases fit within the register of academic writing. The phrases are arranged thematically, for example 'compare and contrast' or 'referring to literature'.
- UEFAP (Using English For Academic Purposes). Here you will find explanations and exercises on spelling and punctuation, but also on formal writing and other aspects of style.
- Effective Strategies for Academic Writing. This site contains a number of forms, examples and theories that are explained in the accompanying book. These help you, for example, to formulate main and sub questions, to determine relevance or to evaluate your argumentation.
On the Academic Writing platform you can find all kinds of tips & tricks for academic writing, including writing style, references and defining your problem.
The experience of our writing coaches shows that many students can improve their text considerably if they take another good look at the topic sentences of the paragraphs. Use it to your advantage and learn in one minute what a topic sentence is and how to use it!
A topic sentence conveys the most important information (the core) of your paragraph in one sentence. The key phrase is often the first or last sentence of your paragraph. You spend the rest of the paragraph elaborating on this topic sentence. You explain the terms and concepts in it, attach an explanation, and perhaps give an example.
TIP 1: In each paragraph, highlight the most important sentence and check: Is there a key sentence? If the marked sentence is the topic sentence, how do all the other sentences in the paragraph relate to it? If you cannot work it out, rephrase the main point of your paragraph, adapt the main point to the rest of the paragraph, or adapt the rest of the paragraph to your main point. This way you create a concise and clear story.
When you use topic sentences consistently, it can also help you find structure between your paragraphs.
TIP 2: Highlight all your key phrases in your text and read them one after the other. Is there a strange transition between two topic sentences? Perhaps there is some information missing that would make your text more coherent.
Do you have questions about this? The writing coaches of the Skills Lab will be happy to help you with these and other writing strategies.
Writing assignment: a step-by-step guide
- Prepare the assignment by looking up all the requirements, for instance in the course guide or on Blackboard. This way you will find out how many words you have to write, what you will be tested on and what kind of sources should be used in your assignment.
- Ask fellow students or lecturers about academic conventions if you are new to the subject.
- Look up examples of the assignment you have to do or ask your lecturer to put an example online.
- Make a schedule. Don't just put the deadline in your diary, but also note down times when you will work on your writing assignment. In the video 'Plan like a pro' you will learn how to make a realistic plan.
The LibGuides of the university library give advice on searching for literature. They help you evaluate the relevance of sources, how to cite, and how to manage literature.
For a writing assignment, it can be difficult to start writing. In order to get those first thoughts and first drafts down on paper, you can use the technique 'speedwriting'.
How does that work? You set an alarm clock, start writing, don't stop and don't look (critically) at what you have written. You can do this at different moments in the writing process and with different goals and outcomes. It is important to think about the phase of your writing process and what your goal is.
If you want to get ideas, do some free writing. You write down what is in your head, uncensored. It is important to be able to associate freely. Watch the 'free writing' video for further explanation. This strategy also helps you get rid of your 'writers block'. Read all about it in the study tips of Educational Development & Training.
If you already have some ideas or information (or data), and you want to find out whether you have thought about it enough to start writing, you write a bin version. Again, try not to judge yourself critically and keep writing.
Do you know the outline of your text? Then you can start to write your first version. Watch the video below or read more information about speedwriting.
Have you written your text? Then it's time for revision! There are several ways to take a fresh look at your text.
- Don't be blinded by the text you have just written, but wait a day before you read it again. This will make it easier to spot errors in your text.
- Put the writing assignment or the assessment form next to your text. Are the elements on which you are being assessed sufficiently present in your text?
- Find a fellow student to read each other's text and give feedback.
- Make use of the online writing tool of the University of Leuven. The Writing Tool highlights various aspects of your text that you can then adjust yourself. Think for example of linking words, writing style or spelling.
- The Academic Integrity Checklist (pdf) gives a few more pointers to check how you have dealt with sources and also provides information on plagiarism.
Are you having difficulties with language in particular, such as spelling or grammar? Then take a look at the page 'language support'.
Contact Skills Lab
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