Writing at university
Sara Steinke
Aims of the session
• Key features of academic writing
– essays, reports, dissertations
• Building on and developing your writing skills
• Improving your reading skills
Why write the way ‘they’ want?
(Northedge 2007: 246)
1. Deepens your learning
2. Develops your writing skills
3. Doing yourself justice
4. Enables the reader to understand your point
of view
5. Strengthens your powers of self-expression
6. Major medium through which your progress
is assessed
Challenging English
Writing in an academic context may be challenging
for one or several of the following reasons:
• your previous educational experiences may not have
prepared you for an academic writing style
• you may have a specific learning difficulty such as
• you may not be a native speaker of English
• you may not have had much practice at writing
• you have learned a different academic style within
another cultural context
How to annoy your lecturers
Christine Sinclair asked a
group of lecturers from
different subjects what
really annoyed them
about students’ grammar
and language, and the
following were their ten
pet hates:
Sinclair, C. (2007) Grammar: A
Friendly Approach,
Maidenhead: Open University
Press/Mcgraw-Hill Education
page 3
Using apostrophes wrongly
Confusing common words, for
example there/their
3. Making spelling errors
4. Using informal language
5. Writing sentences without
6. Making every sentence a
7. Not using paragraphs
8. Writing long convoluted
9. Trying to write too pompously
10. Using run-on sentences/comma
Check your academic English at
• Grammar
• Punctuation
interactive tutorial
previous orientations
sessions/tests on academic
• Vocabulary
• Spelling
• Academic style
Academic writing style
• Use formal style
• Writing style does not have to be complicated
• Be well organised and present ideas in logical
• Present objective analysis that is critical
without being too positive or negative
• Use clear precise language
• Avoid emotive language
Academic writing: key conventions
Do not use contractions or slang
Use the terminology of your field
Avoid the first (‘I’) and second person (‘you’)
Define key terms you use in a particular way
Include only ideas that are relevant to your
argument and subject
• Limit ideas to one per sentence/single point for
each paragraph
• Be kind to your reader – give reader clues
(transition words, summaries) to let them know
where they are in your argument
• Use subheadings and sections
What is wrong with this piece of
critical writing? (Cottrell 2008: 209)
Mount Pepe is going up – it’s going to take
everything with it when it goes. And I mean
everything – villages, farms, trees, the lot. It’s
frightening to think of how powerful a volcano
can be. Think of the damage they cause!
Remember Pompeii and Mount Etna!
What is right with this piece of
critical writing? (Cottrell 2008: 209)
In order to assess whether it is necessary to
evacuate the villages on Mount Pepe, three main
factors need to be taken into consideration. The
first, and most important, of these is the element of
safety. According to seismic experts currently
working on the volcano, there is likely to be a major
eruption within the next ten years (Achebe 2007)
According to Achebe, the eruption is likely to
destroy villages over a radius of 120 miles (Achebe
2008, p.7).
What can I do to make my writing
more academic?
• check your academic English
• attend free Academic Development Workshops
offered by Centre for Learning and Professional
Development (CLPD) at
• enrol for an one-term Academic Writing module
• note how the ideas in the books and articles that
you read on your course are presented and
expressed – reading and note-taking
Academic VS Non-academic Reading
In academic reading
the reader is:
In non-academic
reading the reader is:
• Active
• Passive
• Selective and interacts
with the reading
• Reads from page one till
the end
• Has a particular
question in his/her
• Re-reads with a purpose
• The author guides the
reader through his/her
Recap of the session
• Key features of academic writing
• Building on and developing your writing skills
• Improving your reading skills
Useful reading for academic writing
Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook (3rd edition) (Palgrave
Macmillan, London) chapter 8 ‘Writing for university’ and chapter 9
‘Developing your writing’
Crème, P. (1997) Writing at University (Open University Press, Milton Keynes)
Greetham, B. (2008) How to write better essays (2nd edition) (Palgrave
Macmillan, London)
Northedge, A. (2007) The Good Study Guide (Open University Press, Milton
Keynes) chapter 10 ‘Writing the way ‘they’ want’ and chapter 11 ‘Managing
the writing process’
Peck, J. & Coyle, M. (2005) Write it Right: A Handbook for Students (Palgrave
Macmillan, London)
Redman P (2001) Good Essay Writing (Sage, London)
Rose, J. (2007) The Mature Students Guide to Writing (2nd edition)
(Basingstoke, Palgrave)
Useful websites for academic writing
• online resources available on the Birkbeck Library website
• Get ahead Stay ahead interactive tutorials
• website supporting the Palgrave MacMillan study skills books
• Useful listening