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Writing for your subject

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This guide highlights and summarises the key advice and guidance on academic writing provided by the academics in each of the UEL School videos.

1. Types of Writing

When you arrive at university you will be asked to complete different types of writing depending on which school you are studying in. One type common to all disciplines is essay writing.

  • A response to a particular question on a given topic.
  • Can occur under timed conditions (examination) where you compose a response to a question within a given time.
  • Can occur in a coursework context, taking a topic and composing an essay in your own time.
  • Within an essay you should tell a story, give an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.
  • Can be reflective, in which you will reflect on your learning or skills development.

Of course there are other types of writing of writing that you may be asked to complete depending on your subject of study. Below is a summary of some common types.

You may be asked to produce a report which could be, for example a:

  • Scientific report - articulating the empirical and theoretical bases for the research, detailing methodology and communicating your results.
  • Technical report - communication of technical information to assist in decision making, for example finding solutions to technical problems.
  • Business report – the application of theories you have been studying to realistic situations to inform readers, or to give a proposal or recommendation.
  • Field report - combining theory and analysis with observation and practice to describe and analyse observed, real world situations and events.

[Source: Uni Learning]

  • A review of existing literature (books, journals or any sort of media).
  • Bringing together lots of different types of writing.
  • A means to demonstrate your development as a professional and/or personal growth.
  • Written in a reflective, journalistic style. It chronicles your experiences, how you interpreted your experiences and how you make sense of your experiences.
  • Typically done in conjunction with a practical placement.
  • Focused piece of writing with less analysis than an essay.
  • You are presented with a number of scenarios where you will need to apply your knowledge of the Law, through cases and the statutes, in order to answer the questions.

2. Advice and common mistakes – common to all disciplines

Here is a comment from one of the lecturers in the videos:

“The most common mistake that students make is not answering the question that has been set or not writing something that is fit for purpose”.

Before you start writing you need to:
  • Read the title and read the instructions that you have been given.
  • Think about; what the document is trying to achieve – its purpose? What kind of material is needed? Why are you writing it?
The following links will help you work on this area:

Understanding the question- guidance on the first steps of thinking about your assignment title.

Planning your answer - guidance on how to structure your answer to the essay question.
Here is a comment from one of the lecturers in the videos:

“Unless you’ve got a purpose, and unless you are trying to fit that into what you already know and want to learn, you can end up getting overrun by the volume of reading being thrown at you”.

You need to do lots of reading to get the breadth and depth of knowledge required to start writing. However, to make sure you don’t end up feeling overwhelmed by all the information, it is important that you always read with a purpose, you need to target your reading.

Also practise reading closely so you begin to recognise the different tools, forms and terminology that are being used by writers to get different sorts of information across.

The following link will help you work on this area:

Critical Reading guide – guidance on reading more critically.
Start writing as soon as possible

Here is a comment from one of the lecturers in the videos:

“Students leave the actual writing of the essay too late and what they hand in really is a first or first and a half draft, as opposed to the finished article which is what we want to read”.

The best way to ensure that you do not fall into this trap is to start writing as soon as possible. It does not matter how rough it is, what is important is to get an expanded essay plan and the first draft down as soon as you can.

The following links will help you work on this area:

Structuring your essay
– guidance on how to structure your essay.

Planning your answer- guidance on organising how you will answer the question.
In your writing you will need to discuss and evaluate what other people have done and give your own opinion. However, what is important in order to ensure your writing is evidence-based is, any time you make an assertion of fact or opinion make sure you follow up your statements with supporting evidence.

Here are comments from some of the lecturers in the videos:

“This is usually under-valued when it comes to essay writing, especially at the beginning”.

“Academic writing is unlike normal writing in that, just because you say it’s the case, doesn’t make it so”.

“Has each paragraph made a ‘point’? Have you ‘explained’ your argument fully to the reader? What’s the ‘evidence’ that you are presenting from the literature, or your theory base that is going to support this point”?

To remind you of this structure for paragraphs, you can use P.E.E. – within each paragraph you will always have a Point, Explanation and Evidence.

The following links will help you work on these areas:

Critical  reading – video explaining what we mean by critical thinking and how to read critically.

Developing your critical skills
– video and guidance on demonstrating and developing critical skills.

Developing an argument – guidance on expressing arguments in your paragraphs.
Once you have a rough outline of how you are going to answer the question you can focus on the order of your ideas and ensure that what you write makes sense to the reader and reads well.

Here is a comment from one of the lecturers in the videos:

“The number one piece of advice that I would give to students in terms of structuring, is to think about the reader when you are writing the essay and make sure your essay has a transparent and logical sequence of events”.

The following links will help you work on this area:

Structuring your essay – guidance on how to structure your essay.

From notes to a paragraph – guidance on organising information into a paragraph.

Make sure you give yourself time to put your essay down for a couple of days and not look at it. When you revisit it you will be looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes. Do not just use a spell check. What you are looking for, as well as spelling errors, are grammatical and content errors and possible instances of plagiarism.

A top tip to help you proofread is to ensure you read your essay aloud so you can hear what you have actually written, rather than seeing what you want to see. A tip to help you set out all your references is to learn how to use End Note Web which is freely available to you as a student at UEL and allows you to set out all your references in a press of a button.

Here are some comments from the lecturers in the videos:

“It will take a number of revisions to a document to get it to a state to which the document is fit for purpose”.

“Often you know what you want to say but you haven’t quite told me that on the piece of paper. So it may be in your head, but if it is not on the piece of paper I can’t mark it”.

“‘I finished the essay I am now going to submit it’, and quite often that is the biggest mistake that a student can make.”

The following links will help you work on this area:

Checking your academic style - General advice on the appropriate style to use in your essay.

Proofreading and editing
– Guidance on how to proofread and edit effectively.

Checking your referencing – Links to guidance on referencing correctly at UEL.

3. Getting Help

There are a number of ways you can get help with your writing skills at UEL. All disciplines have access to advice and guidance from the following:

Can help you to understand the assignment that has been set and will be happy to give comments and feedback on drafts, so make sure you make time to submit a draft.
All degrees have a study skills module at level one, which in your first year studying will help you to develop some core skills, so you will be encouraged to attend the tutorials.
In the Skills Module area, you will find electronic resources, tips and links to other websites both within and outside the University to help you improve your writing.
This is essentially your checklist for checking whether you are doing what you should be doing, for the particular piece of work set.

There are also some further points of contact for specific schools of study.
You can make individual appointments or you can go to the group sessions that are organised.
You can get specialist help with your grammar, style and any other areas of your academic writing you need help with.
Found on the University VLE and it contains in-depth narrated guides to all aspects of writing and studying in the School of Psychology. Ask your tutor if you’re not sure how to access this essential resource.