Approaching Academic Writing

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Approaching Academic Writing

  • Who are you writing for?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • How are you going to say it effectively?
  • Purposes of Academic Writing
  • Advance knowledge in a particular field
  • Replication
  • Rational inquiry
  • Ways to verify scholars’ claims
  • Scientific method (techniques for investigating phenomena)
  • Develop, test theories on how the world works
  • Source:

Differences Between Academic and Personal Writing

  • Adapted from Crème P & Lea M, Writing at University, Buckingham, OUP, 1997, p. 105
  • Personal Writing
  • Academic Writing
  • Tells personal experience
  • Comments, evaluates, analyses
  • Non-technical vocabulary
  • Subject-specific vocabulary
  • ‘I’ at the centre
  • ‘I’ as observer and commentator
  • Information comes from the writer’s experience
  • Information comes from sources and references
  • Personal views and feelings
  • Evidence and arguments
  • Free form of writing
  • Follow conventions for citations
  • Types of Academic Writing
  • Essays
  • Laboratory reports
  • Research proposals
  • Personal statements
  • Presentations
  • Reflective journals
  • Characteristics of academic writing
  • Clarity
  • Objective
    • Impersonal, usually formal
  • Unity
    • Focus on one topic only
  • Coherence
    • Achieved by consistent use of terms
    • Never use a long word where a short one will suffice.
    • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    • George Orwell, “Politics of Language
  • Source:

Formal vs. Informal Style

  • A) The inequity in the distribution of wealth in Australia is yet another indicator of Australia's lack of egalitarianism. In 1995, 20% of the Australian population owned 72.2% of Australia's wealth with the top 50% owning 92.1% (Raskall, 1998: 287). Such a significant skew in the distribution of wealth indicates that, at least in terms of economics, there is an established class system in Australia.
  • McGregor (1988) argues that Australian society can be categorized into three levels: the Upper, Middle and Working classes.
  • Source:

Formal vs. Informal Style

  • B) Because only a few people have most of the money and power in Australia, I conclude that it is not an equal society. Society has an Upper, Middle and Lower class and I think that most people when they are born into one class, end up staying in that class for their whole lives. When all three classes are looked at more closely, other things such as the differences between the sexes and people's racial backgrounds also add to the unequal nature of Australian society.
  • Source:

Clarity is more important than “sounding academic”

  • Which do you prefer?
  • A) Better evaluation of responses to treatment modalities depends on the standardization of an index allowing accurate description of learning behavior disorders.
  • Source:

Clarity is more important than “sounding academic”

  • or
  • B) We could better evaluate how those with learning disorders respond to treatment if we could standardize an index that accurately describes how they behave.
  • Source:

Passive vs. Active Voice

  • Passive voice, when overused, is weak
  • The actor of the verb is hidden, so is responsibility
  • Usually requires a “to be” construction
  • Find yourself asking “by whom or what”?
  • But it can be useful, if your topic doesn’t require a specific acting agent
  • Poland was invaded in 1939, thus initiating the Second World War.
  • Insulin was first discovered in 1921 at the University of Toronto and is still the only treatment available for diabetes.
  • Source:

Task 2: Scientific Writing

  • Which of the two samples of scientific writing is better?
  • A survey designed at the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST) offered two different ways of writing up the same piece of scientific information. The two authors were given neutral names, "Smith" and "Brown".
  • Read the two texts in Task 2 and discuss with your group. Choose your preferred text and give reasons.

What can you tell?

  • 69.5% of the scientists who responded to the questionnaire ‘preferred’ Smith's version.
  • In all, 1580 scientists gave their views.
  • Not only did they prefer the easier passage, but they also found it ‘more stimulating’ and ‘more interesting’.
  • In answering the question, ‘Does one author seem to have a better organized mind?’, three-quarters said, ‘Yes, Smith’.
  • A majority of the scientists who filled out the questionnaire perceived Smith's version as more impressive, more credible, and more worthy of esteem than the Brown version.
  • WHY???
  • Source:

A more impressive scientist…

  • Both passages have the same content and the order of presentation.
  • The use of technical terms is similar too – both passages use five undefined technical words (adrenal, androgen, corticosterone, glucocorticoids and hormone).
  • The difference is more in the handling of ordinary language than in the technical language.
  • Source:

A more impressive scientist…

  • Smith's version
  • Brown's version
  • more readable
  • short sentences with direct, active constructions.
  • avoids unfamiliar words, and inflated roundabout phrases
  • good paragraphing
  • difficult to read
  • with long sentences, convoluted constructions
  • long words like ‘adrenalectomized’
  • all in a single paragraph
  • It was these differences in style, not the technical content and organization, which made readers feel that Smith was a more impressive scientist.
  • Source:

Academic Writing for Science Subjects

  • Concise
  • 3 C Principles
  • Clear
  • Correct
  • Reference:

Useful formula

Correct Verb Tense

    • Generally accepted theories >> present tense
    • Specific research papers >> e.g. “describe, present” or “deal with, investigate” >> past tense
    • Author+ Reference number or date+ verb of report ( past tense)+ that +Findings (Present tense)
    • Curie [1] showed that aluminum in seawater is regulated by a thermodynamic balance.
  • Reference:

2a. Choosing between active & passive voice

  • The passive voice:
  • The actor is not really important but the process or principle being described is of ultimate importance.
  • The active voice:
  • The actor is more important than the process or principle being described.
  • Reference:

2b. The cases using Active Voice

  • A process description employs verbs that indicate a change of state, such as expand, rise, cool, and form.
  • e.g. Most metals expand and contract with variations in temperature.
  • Intransitive verbs:
  • stem from, originate (in), become
  • Research terms, such as “The study”, “The project”, “The report”, “The paper” >> use the active voice.
  • e.g. The paper aims to investigate the effect of X on Y.
  • Reference:

3a. Effective Verbs

  • Use “Formal + Precise” verbs
    • Phrasal verbs often have one-word synonyms, which are usually of Latin origin and are more formal than their phrasal verb equivalent.
  • e.g. figure out --> determine
  • go up to --> reach
  • keep up --> maintain
  • Reference://

3b. Effective Verbs

  • Avoid “Verb + Noun” Collocation
  • >> use direct verbs
  • >> Workshop Ex: Task 3
  • e.g. Make an analysis --> analyze
  • Make a consideration --> consider
  • Perform a simulation -->Simulate
  • Have a discussion about --> discuss
  • Present a claim on --> claim
  • Reference:

4a. Skills to write clearly

  • Avoid using unclear pronouns: it, this, that, these, they.
  • >>use “ This/ these + noun” to join ideas together.
  • e.g. According to a recent survey, 26% of all American adults, down from 38% thirty years ago, now smoke. This drop can be partly attributed to the mounting evidence linking smoking and fatal disease such as cancer.
  • Reference:

4b. Skills for writing concisely

  • Reduce the relative clause into a prepositional phrase:
  • 1. S+Be/V +(N1)+ which has +N2.
  • → S+Be/V+(N1)+ with +N2.
  • Use a prepositional phrase to express the less important idea:
  • e.g. A further experiment was conducted which had more accurate results.
  • >> A further experiment was conducted with more accurate results.
  • e.g. Labor cost is rising and manufacturers have to relocate their factories to places where there is cheaper labor.
  • >> Due to rising labor cost, manufacturers have to… labor.
  • Reference:

4c. Skills for writing concisely

  • Reduce the clause into participle phrase:
  • e.g. A current is sent through the material; therefore, the electrons are polarized.
  • → A current is sent through the material, (thus) polarizing the electrons.
  • Prices rise; thus, the chance of hyperinflation increases.
  • →Prices rise, thus increasing the chance of hyperinflation.
  • >> Workshop Ex: Task 4
  • Reference:

4d. Dangling Modifiers should be avoided

  • Have the same subject in two clauses:
  • e.g. 1. To calculate the temperature, the energy balance equation should be used.
  • --> To calculate the temperature, we should use the energy balance equation.
  • 2. Based on the energy balance, we can calculate the temperature.
  • Based on the energy balance, the temperature can be calculated.
  • On the basis of the energy balance, we can calculate the temperature.
  • Reference:

Concluding Remarks

  • 3 C Principles
  • Concise
  • Clear
  • Correct
  • Phrases >> single words (能用單字表示,就不要用片語,)
  • Clauses >> phrases (能用片語表示,就不要用子句,)
  • Vary sentence structures, but remember: simplicity brings clarity (能用簡單句表示,就不要用複合句。)
    • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (盡量用最少的單字表示一個句子。)
  • >> Workshop Ex: Task 5
  • Reference:

The Process of Writing

    • Analyse the question
    • Check your understanding of the topic through reviewing the lecture notes or other information
    • Brainstorm
    • Collect more data
    • Organise the details
    • Plan – draft an outline
    • Write out the first draft
    • Rewrite it/ edit it

Characteristics of a good essay

  • Focuses on the question/ task
  • Has a clear structure - easy to follow
  • Is well researched - evidence based
  • Adheres to academic conventions
  • Is correctly referenced
  • Is well presented – word limit, page numbering, margins, line spacing, font type, spelling …
  • Source:

Physics (Science) Essay should …

  • include diagrams/ equations/ graphs/ tables
  • keep the readers in mind
  • >>A reader has to be able to understand your writing
  • include technical terms but should not overuse jargon
  • >> define the terms
  • prefer clarity and accuracy over elegance
  • >> shorter sentences, no padding, no poetry
  • have a thesis statement or work from a hypothesis
  • >> have a clear objective
  • use some quotations
  • Source:

Analysing the Essay Question

  • Read the question carefully; check any unknown vocabulary
  • Suggestion: use colour pens or highlighters
  • Draw a box around phrases which instruct you how to tackle the questions
  • Outline /evaluate / analyse / justify / describe
  • Identify and underline the words or phrases which establish the subject(s) of the question
  • Underline with dashes, the refining words/ phrases which further limit the subject area

A good introduction should:

  • Give an overview of the text.
  • Present the central idea.
  • Give reasons for writing the text.
  • Explain how the title will be interpreted.
  • Justify why the question is answered in a particular way.
  • Give the background to the main topic of the essay; explain the context.
  • Present a thematic statement that the rest of the essay will attempt to justify
  • Include some relevant quotes to interest the reader and set a ‘feel’ for the text.
  • Present a concrete example that the text will explain and elaborate on it.
  • Relate the text to other works in the same field.
  • Crème & Lea, p. 116.

A conclusion should:

  • Summarise the ‘answers’ to the questions the assignment set out to address.
  • Refer back to the question posed in the title and show that it has been answered.
  • Give a sense of an ‘ending’.
  • Point out what the assignment has and has not answered.
  • Put forward the writer’s view in the light of the evidence that has been presented.
  • Point the reader in the direction of a new idea.
  • But do not introduce new information.
  • Crème & Lea, p. 121

AP Hamburger Method

  • Body of Your Essay
  • Thesis
  • Conclusion
  • 3 Paragraphs 1) Topic Sentence 2) Facts 3) Facts 4) Facts 5) Analysis/ Transition
  • A Broad Statement on the Topic Question
  • Thesis: The Position you want to PROVE
  • The Organization Statement – 3 Points you want to prove that make up the (ESSAY) BODY
  • Restate your thesis
  • Recap your points
  • Analysis/Conclusion

Questions to ask when checking Your work

  • Does the introduction act as a signpost for the whole text?
  • Does the assignment address the title question?
  • Does the text have a central idea? Is the idea apparent to the reader or do you have to search for it?
  • Do any points need more explicit ‘framing’ to provide a necessary context for a point raised?
  • Does the text raise questions that it does not answer?
  • Is there a sense of an argument developing?
  • Is the evidence provided substantial? Are the illustrations/examples relevant?
  • Do points, both within and beyond paragraphs, follow logically? Does the whole piece hang together coherently?
  • Why is this piece of information in the text – what purpose does it fulfil?
  • Is the use of subject specific terminology clear?
  • Is the ending satisfactory?
  • Worthington, P. Language & Learning Centre, UWA 2003

What is a laboratory report?

  • A laboratory report is a way of describing research in a standardized format.
  • A lab report will include the following:
  • An abstract
  • An introduction to the research topic
  • Methods section
  • The results of the research’
  • A discussion of the results
  • References

Why Reference

  • To support your ideas with evidence
  • To show that you have read within your subject area
  • To inform your reader of the:
  • Range
  • Extent
  • Nature
  • of your source material
  • To show that you are able to select and use appropriate materials
  • To acknowledge that part of your work has been derived from other people’s works.
  • To indicate the approach you have adopted.
  • Adapted from: Trzeciak J & Mackay S, Study skills for Academic Writing (London: Prentice Hall, 1994), p. 56

Why cite?

  • Readers can look up related works
  • Show that you are a professional and that you have understood what other researchers have done
  • Give credit to previous researchers
  • Avoid plagiarism

Citing and References

  • Departments have their own guidelines
  • Two main styles of citation in common use
  • Harvard places references within the text (Smith, 2002) and a bibliography
  • Chicago uses footnotes or endnotes1
  • e.g. 1 Smith, D, “The Freudian Trap in Combat Motivation Theory” in Journal of Strategic Studies, 25(3), 2002

Cite what?

  • What needs to be cited1
    • Quotations taken from a published source
    • Someone else’s theories or ideas (even if you have paraphrased them)
    • Someone else’s sentences, phrases, or special expressions (invented jargon)
    • Facts, figures, and research data compiled by someone else (not you or your colleagues)
    • Graphs, pictures, and charts designed by someone else
  • Source:

Cite for credibility

  • Use credible sources (not Wikipedia!)
  • Avoid statements out of context, e.g.
    • All human minds start as a blank slate.
  • Instead, use a source:
    • John Locke developed the concept of tabula rasa, that is, that all humans start as blank slates and all experiences are learned (cite here). I agree/disagree because . . .
  • Clarity of style contributes to your credibility.
  • Source:

What the ILC cannot do

  • We will not edit or proofread your paper.
  • But we shall work with you to help you become a better writer and editor of your own work.
  • We cannot tell you whether or not you have met your professor’s expectations.
  • But we can tell you, based on the topic and content you have presented, whether you have written the paper clearly.

Writing for science

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing by Michael Alley held in the main library: UL  -  T11 .A37 1996
  • Also see the downloadable work available through the university library catalogue: The Craft of Scientific Presentations


  • Practical Sharing of Paper Submission to Journals
  • Academic Writing - Why it is what it is
  • Essay writing for Physics Students, Angela Koch
  • Style and flow in Scientific Writing
  • Writing for Science and Technology Students, Effective Learning, SLDC
  • Writing about Physics (and other sciences), University of Toronto
  • Effective Writing by Pedro Pak-tao Ng, CUHK (H62. N338 2003), Appendix 7 “Writing Clear and Effective Sentences”.

Any questions?

  • If you want more help, don’t forget the Independent Learning Centre has writing workshops and online resources !

  • ILC offers a range of resources
  • Check out our resources links
  • Join other workshops
  • Make a booking for a 20 minute face to face consultation

What the ILC can do

  • Join our workshops on various types of academic writing, e.g. academic essays, reports, personal statements, application letters, etc.
  • One-on-one consultation with writing issues such as:
  • Focusing your ideas
  • Developing a thesis for an academic paper
  • Constructing an argument
  • Planning and structuring literature reviews
  • Targeting a particular audience
  • Using appropriate referencing styles
  • Learning how to edit for grammar and syntax
  • Developing writing strategies


  • “Keep It Simple and Short.”
  • Thank You!

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