Writing skills

Developing good writing skills comes with practice. Good writing skills include flow, and paragraph and sentence structure. For your assignments you also need to write in an academic style. 

This page has some information on academic writing and some tips to help you with your assignment writing skills.

Tip – Different subjects may have different writing requirements. Check your course page or assessment instructions to see what style is needed for your course. If you’re not sure contact your course leader.

 

Academic writing

Academic writing is different to everyday writing. It’s more formal, objective and structured. Academic writing has:

  • a formal tone
  • uses third person rather than first person perspective* – for example, ‘they’ rather than ‘I’ or ‘me’.
  • (*exception – personal reflections)
  • follows a specific theme or answers a specific question, using a logical argument.

Academic writing should also:

  • be well organised with a recognised structure
  • be concise and specific
  • show you have thought about and understood the topic
  • show evidence of your research including referencing (acknowledging other writers and sources).

 

Commonly used words

Often the words used in academic English aren't the same as the words used in everyday spoken or written English. The website below has some useful words and phrases to help you write academically.

The academic phrasebank – University of Manchester

 

Writing tips

Be clear and concise

Good academic writing is clear and concise. This means writing that is straight to the point and trying not to use: 

  • more words than you need to 
  • complex language and sentences
  • ambiguous words.

Here's an example of how a complex sentence has been edited to be clearer and more concise:

Before

Taking a different point of view, there is now new research which shows that for a business to be successful there are three essential factors that the business owner needs to have. Smith et al. (2020) describe these as vision, resilience and adaptability.

After

In contrast, Smith et al. (2020) suggest that business success is dependent on three factors, vision, resilience and adaptability.

Make your writing flow

Good writing reads well or has flow. This is when the ideas that are being presented move smoothly from one to the other and make sense to the reader.

If you aren’t sure if your writing flows well, try reading it aloud. Does it sound OK? Does it make sense? Does one idea connect well to the next?

To ensure your writing flows well you need to plan the structure of your assignment. As you start writing, follow the plan, but don’t be afraid to move things around so your ideas follow on from each other in a logical way.

Use transitions and linking words

To help make your writing flow, use transition and linking words or phrases. These can:

  • connect words, sentences and paragraphs
  • show the relationship between ideas
  • show the order of things and their relative importance
  • indicate when something new is coming
  • signal to readers how an idea fits in and where it's going
  • introduce a summary or a conclusion.

Check out the list of transition words in the Strategies section of the  references page:

Paragraphs

Good paragraphs are another important part of strong academic writing. A good paragraph:

  • has a single idea or topic. If you start a new topic, start a new paragraph
  • includes a topic sentence, which usually starts the paragraph. The rest of the paragraph tells the reader more about the topic. It develops the idea by adding information, explanations, and/or examples
  • builds on the previous paragraph and leads on to the next (if relevant).

A paragraph also needs to be clear, logical and easy to understand. This means it needs to flow well. Each sentence should link to the sentence before and lead on to the next sentence or idea.

Topic sentences

The key to writing a good paragraph is to write a good topic sentence. Good topic sentences:

  • tell the reader what the paragraph is about (the main idea or topic)
  • help to answer the assignment question by referring directly or indirectly to it. This focusses the essay and keeps it on track.

 

Sentences, punctuation and grammar

Sentences

Correct sentences tend to follow certain basic conventions. The most basic sentence includes a subject (who or what is doing the action) and a verb (the action).

Punctuation

Correct punctuation is important because it helps make your meaning clear and your writing read well.

Here's an example of a sentence where the meaning changes depending on its punctuation. A group of learners were asked to punctuate the words: A woman without her man is nothing. 

  • Some wrote: ‘A woman, without her man, is nothing.’
  • Others wrote: ‘A woman: without her, man is nothing.’

Tip – If you aren’t sure if you have the punctuation right, try reading the sentence aloud to see how it sounds. This can help you work out if you have things in the right place.

Grammar

Grammar is also an important part of ensuring your writing makes sense. Grammar is:

  • the way words are used to make sentences and paragraphs
  • the words we use
  • the order we use to place our words.

 

Revising your work

Good writing takes a few goes. Draft, revise, edit and when you think it’s right, leave it for a while and revise again.

  • Revise the content to make sure you have answered the assignment question and have everything you need.
  • Check the structure and make sure it flows well.
  • Edit and proofread for errors and presentation.

Tip – MS Word and other software have built-in spelling and grammar checkers to help you with this. But they don’t pick up everything. So, it’s important that you read your work through too.

 

Remember  The more you write, the better your writing skills will become!