Writing Overview

Essay WorkflowProducing written work as part of a university exam, essay, dissertation or other form of assignment requires an approach to organisation, structure, voice and use of language that differs from other forms of writing. Understanding more about the conventions of your discipline and the specific features of academic writing can help you develop confidence and make improvements to your written work.

Breaking the writing process down into several smaller stages might help to make it more manageable (see the essay workflow). There are lots of resources available to help you develop your skills around all stages of the process including the following:

Try our Academic Writing Overview Prezi to find out more.

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Academic Skills Certificate


Language and Register

Academic writing uses a more formal register than everyday communication. There are a number of conventions to follow that will help you to hit the right level of formality in your writing:

1. Use 'Latinate' verb forms and avoid casual language

Academic Writing Everyday Communication






Look at

Put out

Find out

Carry on

Point out

2. Avoid contractions and abbreviations

Academic Writing Everyday Communication

Are not/is not

It will

Should not/Can not







United Kingdom

3. Appears neutral and impassive

  • Avoid first person (I) and use passive forms where possible: 'the experiment was conducted...'; 'evidence suggests...'; 'a sample was taken...'
  • Watch out for adjectives that imply a value judgement: fantastic, brilliant, rubbish, interesting, good, etc.
  • Avoid cliche: 'a hot topic...'; 'the other side of the coin...'; 'at the end of the day...'; 'the fact of the matter...'; 'in the current climate...'
  • Avoid overstatement. Make cautious use or avoid the following altogether: very, really, always, never, a lot

4. Uses Evidence

All facts and theories should be referenced using a standard system:

  • Harvard, MHRA, APA, Chicago, etc.
  • Author-date or footnotes
  • Include a bibliography of EVERYTHING that has informed your writing
    Check your department policy on preferred method
  • Visit the Library Referencing pages for more information, examples and tutorials
  • Always check department guidelines!

5. Has a clear overall structure

The skill of structuring your writing and building effective connections between paragraphs is one that will allow you to develop and sustain a compelling argument in your written work. By setting out your ideas and evidence with a natural flow, you will make your work much more readable. This important technique will help you work towards higher levels of attainment in assignments and help to improve the quality of your everyday writing.

Paragraph StructureWriting good paragraphs: Unity

A paragraph will usually discuss only one idea as outlined in the first sentence, the topic sentence. If you find a paragraph drifting away from this controlling idea, it is time to split it into more than one paragraph.

  • The opening sentence of paragraph should outline the main idea (topic sentence)
  • Every supporting sentence should directly explain, refer back to, or build on the main idea using specific evidence and examples where possible
  • Use the final sentence(s) to refer back to the topic sentence and/or lead into the following paragraph.

For more information about essay structure, visit the essay structure and planning pages.

Top Tips
  • Be as concise as possible – remove any unnecessary words
  • Changing words forms and word order in a sentence can help you to be more concise
  • Break down very long sentences into shorter ones
  • Check what is expected from the assignment – if it is a reflective piece then the conventions will be different
  • Show your opinion subtly without making sweeping or unsupported statements
  • Avoid waffling – stick to the point!
  • Remember: It shows MORE skill to express a complex idea in a simple way than to express it in a complex way.
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Manchester University - Academic Phrasebank