Top tips

Writing for assignments is a skill - it takes practice!

Think about your audience

It can be important to explain ideas and concepts. Although your audience may know a lot, this doesn’t always mean that you should skip explanation if it is relevant to your arguments or ideas.

You have done your research, found your information and now you are reaching the final stages. While writing their assignment, students may need to go back and find further evidence. You may find the ‘write it’ phase leads back to the ‘find it’ phase.

Academic writing takes practice. Use feedback to improve your style and remember it is not always something that comes naturally.

In everyday life, we are more likely to use informal writing styles, for:

  • Updating Twitter
  • Updating a facebook status
  • Writing a text message
  • Writing emails

Think about your audience

You will need to adapt your writing style depending on your purpose and audience. Do you write differently when you send an email to your friends, your parents and your lecturers? We’d guess that your answer is yes. The audience is different, in each case you might be saying the same thing, but you will change your style, language and tone of voice depending on the person to whom you are writing.

Your writing will convey an impression of you, so it can be important to think about how you portray yourself in a variety of contexts.

When writing for an assignment or paper you need to think about adopting a more academic style of writing.

What makes academic writing different?

Academic writing is how you portray yourself to a more academic audience.

So who is your academic audience? What are their characteristics? How do they write?

  • Experts themselves, able to comprehend in-depth information
  • Published (experienced authors)
  • Publishing (in competition with other authors)
  • Cite works by others (use references) - academic integrity is key
  • Use footnotes to amplify ideas or qualify them without disturbing the flow of the main prose
  • Use specific and detailed information, with parameters, limits or boundary conditions stated
  • Use strong arguments, with both sides considered, shortcomings admitted and justifications made
  • Write as if the author is absent or 'dead'; remove fallible humans from the discussion
  • Methodology matters: how something was done is as important as what was learned
  • In academic reports make use of diagrams, illustrations, tables and data, including captions to aid reader understanding. In essays, use prose-based arguments.
  • Discuss all figures in the text, ensuring they are not merely decorative
  • Analysis should be more than just opinion. Set out a framework of theory and place the analysis within that framework.
  • Concept of PROOF: there is a rhetorical imperative to persuade the reader of the truth of the information/data or justification of the argument/judgment

(This list is based on Ahearn, A. (2009) Personal communication)

Remember you do not always have to be expressing the views of other people in your assignment. How do these ideas etc. agree with your thoughts and ideas on an area?