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Academic writing process

Prepare

  • Analyse the task for key words – words that identify the topic or issue. See Table 1 for some common key words used in assignment/examination questions

  • Try rephrasing the assignment question to ensure that you fully understand it

  • It can be helpful to break down the assignment question into a series of questions

  • Use the assessment criteria as a checklist:

    • the marks allocated for each criterion give an indication of how much time should be spent (and therefore how much should be written) on each part of the question, and
    • ensures that no parts of the question are left unanswered
  • Seek clarification if necessary – discuss the interpretation with your classmates, and ask your lecturer/tutor if unsure

  • Knowing precisely what content is required will help you make an informed choice on the material you need to read about or research

Common key words in interpreting a task

Key words Interpretation

account for

give reasons for, explain

analyse

break an issue down into its component parts, then examine each part and describe the relationships between them

argue

make a case based on evidence. Develop a logical sequence of discussion, either presenting opposing views or supporting a particular attitude

assess

consider the value and significance of an issue, event or other matter, weighing up the positive and negative features

compare

show similarities and differences between characteristics or qualities

contrast

emphasise the differences between characteristics or qualities

critically evaluate

make a judgment weighing up positive and negative features to arrive at an evaluation of the significance or usefulness of something

critically analyse

examine each part of an issue or argument, weighing up positive or negative features and the relationships between features or parts

criticise

analyse and make a judgment, weighing up positive and negative features. Base your judgment on criteria and give examples of how the criteria apply

critique

see criticise

describe

tell about features, factors, qualities, aspects

define

set out the meaning (of a term, word); describe (sometimes explain)

discuss

see account for; also to weigh up and compare several views on an issue, develop a thesis, attitude or viewpoint

enumerate

specify and list main features

evaluate

consider various arguments to reach a judgment on significance or value

explain

give reasons for, clarify cause and effect; reason and result

indicate

point out and list main features or factors

identify

select and list main features or factors

interpret

explain what is meant and relate this to the topic

illustrate

give examples; explain

justify

give reasons for a course of action, thesis or attitude

outline

describe the main points

prove

demonstrate by logical argument

(give a) rationale for

give reasons, explain why

review

provide an overview; also to make a critical analysis

summarise

give a concise description

Research

Read broadly

To get an overall picture of the topic in question, start with your lecture notes, subject learning guide, introductory and general texts. Keep the assignment question in mind while you read. Refer to Academic reading for efficient and critical reading strategies.

Formulate a tentative position

Once you have an overall understanding of the topic, you are ready to formulate a tentative position on the assignment question, and are able to focus on more detailed texts.

Focus your reading

Focussed reading helps to validate your adopted tentative position. Search for texts that detail the issues you have identified as part of the overall picture by referring to the reading list in your subject outline, the reference lists in the introductory/general texts and relevant journal articles, and the library catalogue and databases.

Commit to a position

Having done the research and focussed your reading, you should have a clear view of your position; this will help to keep your writing focused, logical and coherent.

Writing

Plan

First, organise your argument and evidence, and establish connections between your points. You may not need a detailed plan prior to writing a draft; some students may work well with just a list of headings and sub-headings to guide them. Whatever the format of your plan, it is essential to have one prior to writing as it provides an overview of what your assignment will cover, guides you along the way, and ensures that nothing is left uncovered.

Draft and redraft

Once you have a plan, start writing the first draft. You will probably find that you need to redraft your writing several times. In the process of drafting and redrafting, you may find that you need to do more researching or reading in a particular area in order to strengthen an argument or evidence in your assignment.

Edit

After you have completed the final draft, leave it for at least a day before you do the final editing. Check for the following:

  • structural aspects (introduction-body-conclusion) – logic and coherence;
  • grammar aspects and punctuation; and
  • technical aspects – presentation, in-text referencing and reference list, and spelling.

It is also useful to have a fresh pair of eyes to read it over – ask a friend, or book an individual consultation session with HELPS.

Adapted from the following sources:
Morley-Warner, T. 2009, Academic writing is… A guide to writing in a university context, Association for Academic Language and Learning, Sydney.
UniLearning 2000, accessed 10 June 2000, <http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/main.html>.