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Academic writing: a practical guide

The writing process

The writing process

Approaching the stages in effective academic writing: before, during and after.

Stages in assignment writing

Writing is a process, not the end product!

There's a lot more to a successful assignment than writing out the words. Reading, thinking, planning and editing are also vitally important parts of the process.

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These steps take you through the whole writing process; before, during and after:

1. Read the assignment instructions thoroughly. What exactly do you need to do?

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2. Read, make notes, think critically, repeat. This is a crucial step!

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3. Make a general plan with the main points.

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4. Make a detailed plan, focusing on clear structure.

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5. Check the plan. Is the task addressed fully? Are you being critical?

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6. Write the first draft. Read and think more as needed.

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7. Edit and redraft as needed.

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8. Proofread carefully. Focus on referencing, spelling and grammar.

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9. Submit the assignment. Give yourself time before the deadline in case of problems.

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10. Read feedback carefully to help improve your next assignments.

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11. Start the process again for your next assignment!

 

This process applies to essays, reports, dissertations and other writing projects, with tweaks to adapt it to the required product. 

View in a new window: The writing process [Google Doc]

Planning tips

Doing any project takes time and academic writing projects are no exception. Planning it takes time; there's a lot to consider before you even start the planning process.

Here are ten #UoYTips on just that...

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Before you start: understanding task requirements

Meeting task requirements

To get a good mark, you have to complete the assignment that was set! This means answering all parts of the task, staying relevant throughout and using an appropriate structure and style.

For example, if the task is to write an essay critiquing the cultural influence of Star Wars, but instead you write a reflective piece on your own opinion of Star Trek, you won't get a very good grade as you've not completed the assignment that was set.

To make sure your work meets the task requirements:

  • Read the assessment brief carefully! If you have any questions, ask your tutor to clarify.
  • Break down the title/question - see the advice below.
  • Plan your points before you start writing. Have you covered everything? Are all points relevant?
  • Use the style and structure expected for that type of writing.
  • Identify where you need to be descriptive and where you need to be critical:

Breaking down your title

You've been given an assignment title, but what is it actually asking? This activity takes you through the stages of analysing a question, breaking down an assignment title to clearly identify the task.

Choose an assignment title:

Arts & Humanities
Sciences
Social Sciences

Analysing the question - Arts & Humanities

Below is an example question from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to show you how to analyse a question to ensure that all elements of the task are addressed:

Describe how the presentation of gender in children's literature from the 1950s to the present has changed and critically evaluate how the development of feminist criticism has contributed to this change. Illustrate your answer with examples from the module material and wider reading.


In the above text, select the words or phrases that identify the two broad topics

Submit

Describe how the presentation of gender in children's literature from the 1950s to the present has changed and critically evaluate how the development of feminist criticism has contributed to this change. Illustrate your answer with examples from the module material and wider reading.


In the essay question, click on the specific context you will need to look at.

Submit

Describe how the presentation of gender in children's literature from the 1950s to the present has changed and critically evaluate how the development of feminist criticism has contributed to this change. Illustrate your answer with examples from the module material and wider reading.


Now click on the instructional words or phrases that indicate the tasks which need to be completed - there are three to identify.

Submit

Describe how the presentation of gender in children's literature from the 1950s to the present has changed and critically evaluate how the development of feminist criticism has contributed to this change. Illustrate your answer with examples from the module material and wider reading.


Click on the part of the question which will get you the most marks and therefore should get the most attention.

Submit

Analysing the question - Sciences

Below is an example question from the Faculty of Sciences to show you how to analyse a question to ensure that all elements of the task are addressed:

To what extent have approaches to environmental management contributed to our current position on energy production and use? Evaluate the ways in which these approaches may help to shape our energy strategy for the future.


In the essay question, click on the words or phrases that identify the broad topic you will need to discuss in your answer

Submit

To what extent have approaches to environmental management contributed to our current position on energy production and use? Evaluate the ways in which these approaches may help to shape our energy strategy for the future.


In the essay question, click on the two words which specify the contexts you will need to look at.

Submit

To what extent have approaches to environmental management contributed to our current position on energy production and use? Evaluate the ways in which these approaches may help to shape our energy strategy for the future.


Now click on the phrases or instructional words that indicate the tasks which need to be completed - there are two to identify.

Submit

To what extent have approaches to environmental management contributed to our current position on energy production and use? Evaluate the ways in which these approaches may help to shape our energy strategy for the future.


Click on the part of the question which will get you the most marks and therefore should get the most attention

Submit

Analysing the question - Social Sciences

Below is an example question from the Faculty of Social Sciences to show you how to analyse a question to ensure that all elements of the task are addressed:

Outline the ways in which young people criminally offend in society and how restorative justice seeks to modify such behaviour. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in terms of rehabilitating young offenders and also protecting the public.


In the essay question, click on the words or phrases that identify the broad topics you will need to discuss in your answer

Submit

Outline the ways in which young people criminally offend in society and how restorative justice seeks to modify such behaviour. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in terms of rehabilitating young offenders and also protecting the public.


In the essay question, click on the phrase which specifies the context you will need to look at.

Submit

Outline the ways in which young people criminally offend in society and how restorative justice seeks to modify such behaviour. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in terms of rehabilitating young offenders and also protecting the public.


Now select the phrases or instructional words that indicate the tasks which need to be completed - there are two to identify

Submit

Outline the ways in which young people criminally offend in society and how restorative justice seeks to modify such behaviour. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in terms of rehabilitating young offenders and also protecting the public.


Click on the part of the question which will get you the most marks and therefore should get the most attention.

Submit

Planning assignment structure

Once you've understood the task requirements, done some reading and come up with some ideas for what to include, you can start mapping out your assignment structure.

A good plan is key for a well-structured assignment - don't just launch into writing with no idea of where you're going!

This planning stage can also be a useful opportunity to think more deeply about the assignment and consider how the different ideas fit together, so it can help you develop your argument.

It's ok to make changes to your plan later - you might come up with more ideas, or another line of argumentation while writing. Make sure that you check the structure is still logical though!

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Find out more about planning the general structure of an assignment:

Proofreading & checking

Everyone makes small mistakes and typos when they write; things like spelling mistakes, grammar or punctuation errors, incorrect referencing format or using the wrong word. 

When you've spent a long time working on an assignment you may not notice these small errors, so make sure to proofread (or check) your work carefully before you submit it. You don't want these mistakes to make it into your final assignment, as they can make it harder for the reader to understand your points and so could affect your grade.

Our top proofreading tips:

  • use a spellchecker - but remember this won't pick up everything!
  • put your assignment away for a little while, then come back later and read through carefully, focusing on spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • it can be easier to notice mistakes if you read your assignment out loud, or use a tool like Read&Write to read it to you.
  • check that each of your citations and references is correctly formatted

Here are some specific things you can look out for in proofreading:

Spelling and grammar

  • Check for spelling errors using a spellchecker and also by reading through the work.
  • Check for double spaces and repeated words.
  • Check for homophones - words that sound the same but look different (eg, to/too/two, right/write)
  • Check that verbs and nouns match (eg, These results suggest.., NOT These results suggests...)
  • Have any personal or informal words/phrases been used?

Punctuation

  • General guide to correct punctuation use [Web]
  • Full stops (.) and commas (,) come immediately after the word and need a space after them.
  • Brackets () go inside a sentence (ie, before the full stop).

Formatting

  • Have you followed your department's formatting guidelines?
  • Is the same font and text size used for all body text?
  • Have you double spaced the writing? Is this required? 
  • Have you use the correct method of linking to appendices?

It's very important that your citations and references are correct - this is something that markers will definitely be looking for!

Before you submit, check your referencing is correct: 

  • Are author names correct? Especially pay attention to which name is the surname.
  • Have all authors been included? Check your referencing style's format for dealing with multiple authors.
  • Do references include all of the required information?
  • Is the correct punctuation and text formatting used, especially full stops, commas, ampersand (&) and italics?
  • Are in-text citations inside the sentence (ie., before the full stop)?
  • Are all sources cited in the text included in the reference list (or vice versa)?
  • Do you have to include a reference list (which includes only sources directly cited in the text), or a bibliography (which includes all sources used to produce the writing and not all have to be cited in the text). 

More detailed advice:

Submitting assignments on Yorkshare VLE

Most assignments will be submitted through the Yorkshare VLE (Blackboard). You'll receive information on how to do this from your department.

For advice on using the submission points, see our dedicated guide:

Use feedback to improve your next assignments

Feedback on your work can show what you're doing well and identify areas that you need to work on. For example, if you receive feedback that your work isn't clearly organised, you could focus on planning carefully and using a logical structure in your next assignments.

Find out how to use your feedback to improve and advice in dealing with common issues in our assessment and feedback guide: