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Developing your essay

Developing your essay

You need to develop the argument that is your essay. On this page we'll take a look at:

Features

Features of critical writing

Tips

Tips for writing critically

Editing

The editing and drafting process

Evaluating

Reviewing your feedback and evaluating your own writing

Features of critical writing

Writing academically means communicating with credibility and authority. It does not mean writing in an overly complex way. However, there are features associated with academic writing. We've isolated eight of them, although this list is not exhaustive, and there are other aspects of writing which you may need to develop.

Objectivity

  • Take a balanced view and support your ideas with evidence including arguments and counter-arguments

  • Report what the evidence tells you even if it isn’t what you hoped to find

  • Be precise in your use of reporting verbs to communicate opinion (e.g. research shows/suggests/argues/ challenges)

Precision

  • Quantify time, numbers and amounts clearly e.g. 10%, 100°C etc.

  • Avoid vague quantifying language such as: some, many, often, very etc.

  • Avoid abbreviations. If you do use them write the words in full the first time and then the abbreviation in brackets e.g. the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

  • Label tables and diagrams accurately

Caution

  • Use hedging to indicate the strength of your claim (e.g. research suggests, it is likely that, this may be due to)

Criticality

  • Weigh up the arguments from multiple perspectives

  • Evaluate your own and others’ ideas

  • Consider the strengths and weaknesses of arguments

  • Identify gaps and limitations

Formality

  • Avoid using colloquial or informal language such as contractions (don’t, it’s), clichés (loads of, at the end of the day etc.).

  • Avoid personal language (I, we, you) (unless you are writing reflectively).

  • Replace phrasal verbs with more formal alternatives (e.g. supports rather than backs up; obtains rather than gets)

  • Use a balance of active voice (e.g. x suggests) and passive voice(e.g. It has been suggested).

  • Use nominalisation (changing verbs/ adjectives to nouns to lend formality e.g. The fluctuation in pollution levels rather than Levels of pollution have fluctuated)

Organisation

  • Ensure your writing is cohesive

  • Organise ideas logically

  • Use linking words and signposting to improve a paragraph structure

Accuracy

  • Write accurately using correct grammar

  • Proofread your work to check for errors

  • Identify common mistakes you make, and do practice exercises

Concision

  • Write concisely and edit your work to make it as concise as possible without losing the key messages

  • Read through your work really carefully and ask yourself:

    • Is every point necessary?

    • What does each point add to your argument?

    • Can any points be condensed?

    • Have you used any wordy phrases or expression?

Writing a critical essay

What makes a critical essay? Here's a checklist of tips on how to write one:

The drafting process: editing and proofreading

After you have written a draft of your essay, you will need to leave time to proofread your work, make any changes and re-work some or all of it. Checking, editing and re-drafting are part of the academic writing process and will help you improve your skills as a writer. During the drafting process, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you answered the question?

  • Is your essay logical and structured overall? Are individual paragraphs logical and structured?

  • Is your writing critical and objective? Have you considered the issue from a range of perspectives? Have you used hedging to be tentative in your argument?

  • Have you use appropriate evidence? Have you referenced all the sources you have referred to? Is referencing consistent within your essay?

  • Have you used an appropriately formal style of written expression?

  • Is your writing precise?

  • Have you checked your essay for grammatical accuracy?

  • Are you within word count?

  • Have you checked your essay against the assessment criteria?

  • Does your essay follow departmental presentation guidelines?


Here's a useful checklist for editing and proofreading:

Reviewing your feedback

This template looks at how to review your feedback to identify areas for improvement. This should help you to work out which elements of academic writing you need to focus on.

Go to File > Make a copy... to create your own version of the template that you can edit.

Evaluating your writing

Here's an activity to support you in evaluating your response and identifying ways to improve your critical writing: