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Materials by Jeni Lacey.

Study Skills Support

Academic Writing
Academic writing can be improved in three different areas: The overall assignment The paragraph The sentence When looking at your writing, consider the organisation, the style, the grammar, and you choice of vocabulary.

The Assignment
An assignment with perfect grammar will not pass unless you do the following things as well! You must answer the question or task given. You need a clear introduction to orientate your reader to the assignment. Your assignment needs a clear argument or thesis. This is the main idea that runs through your entire assignment, and that every paragraph must relate to. Consider the best way to present your ideas and to order your paragraphs. Select appropriate resources and use them to support your ideas. You must reach a conclusion.

The Paragraph
A paragraph has a main idea or theme, and is made up of several sentences related to this. The easiest way to structure a paragraph is to write the main idea in the first sentence, develop or expand that idea in the middle sentences (perhaps by including some paraphrases or quotes), and then complete the paragraph with either a summarising sentence or one to lead into the next paragraph. For example: Sentence to introduce main idea of paragraph Computers have changed the way students write assignments.
Before computers were common, students would write out their work, leave it for a day or two and then read it through and perhaps change the order of things (Lewis and Reinders 2003, p.122).

While this has made writing assignments less time consuming, it has also introduced new problems The next paragraph might begin by introducing one of the new problems that the use of computers has led to.

Sentence to lead into next paragraph

There are a number of ways that you can make your writing more academic. Remember, though, that academic writing takes practice, so it is often better to focus on improving one or two areas per assignment rather than trying to improve everything at once!

The Sentence

Basic Sentence Structure

Check that all sentences in your assignment follow a basic structure.
The cat sat on the mat.



additional information

Public disagreement by the members of the board

led to

decreased consumer confidence.

In academic sentences, the subject is often very long and contains a lot of information!

Personal pronouns includes words such as you, we and I, and are usually avoided in academic writing. They may, however, be used if you have been asked to reflect of refer to personal experiences, but always check first with your tutor. There are three main writing techniques you can use to avoid personal pronouns. 1. 2. 3. Delete the personal language I think the company should expand into South East Asia. Refer to what the research suggests As this research indicates, the company should expand into South East Asia. Use the passive voice

Personal Pronouns

Passive Voice
The passive voice is used most often when: The The The You person doing the action is not important person is unknown effect of the action is more important wish to avoid using personal pronouns I reviewed three theories in this essay. Three theories were reviewed in this essay. Passive voice

Active voice


Be careful not to overuse the passive voice as it can make your writing unclear and difficult to follow.

Put simply, nominalisation is the process of changing the main verb in a sentence into its noun form. This noun then becomes the subject of the sentence. There are a number of reasons for doing this. It moves the focus of the sentence away from the action, and onto concepts and things Your writing becomes more abstract, which sounds more academic You can avoid personal pronouns You can add extra information to the sentence You can reduce the number of clauses in a sentence, making your writing clearer Identify the main verb

For example

The company decided to expand its market. Change to the noun form The decision to expand the companys market Make subject The decision to expand the companys market led to increased sales. This is not a complete sentence now!

Add verb

Add extra information to complete the sentence

This is a difficult sentence structure to use, so wait until you feel confident enough to try it!

Academic Style
Students are often told that they need to write in an academic style, but what does this mean, and how can you do it? Below are a number of tips you can use to make your writing more academic.

In academic writing, very few things are completely certain. It is important to include phrases and modal verbs in your writing to show this lack of certainty. Common words and expressions include: Appears to Seems to Tends to May Might Possibly Apparently Generally Seemingly In some/many/most cases The evidence suggests It is likely...

As you read your textbooks and other forms of academic writing, make a note of some of the other common words writers use to express uncertainty. Just remember, the more of these expressions you use in a sentence, the more uncertain you sound, so use them carefully!

Use the correct cohesive markers or conjunctions

These are the words used to express ideas such as addition, examples, similarity, contrast, generalisations, cause and effect, or conclusions. It is very important that you choose the correct words, as an incorrect word choice can completely change the meaning of your sentence or paragraph. If you are unsure which word to use, consult a grammar textbook.

Correctly use technical words from your course

Read academic journals and textbooks often to identify the technical words from your course Make a note of how the words are used, and common sentence structures Identify the noun, verb, and adjective forms of words

Avoid over-generalising
Over-generalising is when we take a situation that is often or rarely true, and write about it as though it is always or never true. For example: Everybody knows that the Internet has increased the amount of accessible information. Australians are open, honest, caring people. 4

Avoid judgemental language (in most cases)

Try to avoid using expressions such as: I agree I disagree In my opinion I believe/think Your topic sentences and the evidence you use should already clearly indicate your position, without you directly using the above expressions

Be concise
You may be trying to reach a word limit, but your reader will know if you are simply adding unnecessary words in order to do this! A man called Robert Smith discovered In a book called Living in Australia Look at how the sentence below could be better written. I have researched many academic textbooks and most of them say that human resource planning is not used effectively by companies.

Avoid emotive language

Emotive language (such as terrible or disgusting) is often used in newspaper articles to make the reader respond emotionally. However, it should be avoided in most forms of academic writing. For example: The tragic death of an innocent child or The companys current marketing strategy is terrible.

Much of the current research suggests that human resource planning is not used effectively by companies. (In your next sentences, it would be a good idea to refer specifically to some of this research)

Avoid vague sentences

Academic writing is very precise and specific. It is important to clearly state who, when, what, how, and where in your sentences. For example, the sentence below contains some very vague expressions!

The companys current marketing strategy has many problems.

Bob Hawke was Prime Minister for several years and introduced a range of policies that not everyone liked.

Avoid using too many, or confusing, pronouns in one sentence

Example 1: The politician and lawyer discussed when she would use it. She could refer to the politician, the lawyer, or some other person not mentioned It could be anything! Example 2: He spoke for an hour and when he sat down it was loudly applauded. What was loudly applauded? It could be the speech (because it was so wonderful), or it could be the fact that he finally sat down (because the speech was so long and boring!)

Avoid slang and clichs

Slang is fine when talking with friends, but not appropriate in academic writing. Clichs, while tempting, are so overused that they have lost meaning or impact. So avoid expressions like those below: There are two sides to the one coin This should be taken with a pinch of salt I reckon...

Avoid abbreviations and contractions

Write the whole word, rather then abbreviations. For example: Dept Department Assoc Association e.g. for example i.e. that is/for instance

Avoid starting sentences with...

And Or Yet But

Also, instead of using contractions, write both words. For example: Dont do not Cant cannot Wasnt was not

Note: Try not to use etc as it appears lazy. For example: Studentes at Macquarie University come from China, Japan, Norway etc. Students at Macquarie University come from a range of countries, including China, Japan and Norway.

Using Numbers
Numbers below one hundred are usually written in full, such as: Nineteen people Thirty countries However, figures referring to statistics or science are often written numerically, but check with your tutor first. 31% 25C

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Prepared by Study Skills Support Unit, Dean of Students. With proper acknowledgement, materials can be adapted and distributed for educational purposes.