Before you start
In order to be able to start researching and writing, you must understand your essay question. Please see the section called Understanding your question or topic, which explains terminology that may be used in the essay question or description, such as ‘consider’, ‘debate’, ‘explain’, and more.
For information on essay structure and paragraphs, please see the section on Planning and structuring your essay (above).
This section on writing covers writing styles, academic writing and reflective writing, some general tips and writing a paragraph.
- Have any rules been set in relation to style, font and format?
- What is the length?
- What is the marking criteria?
- Is any advice given on what voice should be used?
All of these should be in your module handbook or assignment area of WebLearn. Always ask your tutor if you are unsure about any of the requirements for your assignment.
Your lecturers want to hear your voice, not someone else's, so use your own ideas and words. You will need to back your ideas up with evidence from various academic resources such as academic journals, research and government reports, and statistics, but have confidence in your own expression of your ideas.
Follow the assignment instructions on whether you should be using an ‘active' or ‘passive' voice.
The active voice reads as follows: ‘I recommend ...'
The passive voice reads: ‘It is recommended that ...'
The active voice allows you to write short, punchy sentences. The passive appears more formal and considered, and may be more suitable for academic writing. Avoid mixing the two voices.
There are two main types of styles you will be asked to use for your writing for university:
- Academic writing
- Reflective writing
Both are described below.
For most written assignments at university you will need to write in an academic style. Although you will develop your own personal style of academic writing, there are a few key qualities that are found in most academic writing.
- Is formal;
- Builds on what others have done (you will have to read what others have written on the topic and cite and reference their ideas and research in your work);
- Is cautious (words like 'possibly' or 'likely' or 'may' are used instead of 'ought' or 'should' or 'must');
- Is succinct (you should try to say exactly what you mean in as few words as possible);
- Is impersonal (you typically write in the passive voice. For example, you would say, "It is surprising that..." rather than "I am surprised that...").
The University of Manchester have created a huge Academic Phrasebank which you may find helpful when getting to grips with academic writing.
Now have a listen to what your fellow students think about academic writing:
Reflective writing is evidence of reflective thinking and is more personal than other kinds of academic writing. It is a way to process your experience and turn it into learning. It integrates theory and practice. This means that you will read about, evaluate, and apply theories (as well as other evidence from scholarly research) to your practice.
In an academic context, reflective writing usually involves:
- Looking back at something (often an event, but it could also be an idea or object);
- Analysing the event or idea (thinking in depth and trying to explain, often with reference to a model or theory from your subject);
- Thinking carefully about what the event or idea means for you and your ongoing progress as a learner or practising professional.
Reflective writing is less formal and tends to be written in the first person. So use of the active voice is usually permitted. However, as you are linking your experience to theories and evidence, it may be necessary to switch between an active voice (your reflections) and a passive voice (when talking about theories or research), and maybe even past tense (your reflections on the past event) and present tense (when referring to theories or research). Here's an example of how this might work in a piece of writing:
One objective of the session was to help the client to understand the connection between her thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This is an important aim of HSD (Bloggs, 2009). To achieve this objective the following HSD method was used ….. (Smith, 2006). At times during the session I was too directive and could have used more open questions to allow the client more opportunity to verbalise her understanding.
During the session the client stated… I wish I had explored this further.
To prepare for an assignment that requires reflective writing, keep a reflective learning journal. This will help you to record your experiences and observations at the time and reflect on them later when you come to start your writing.
Many courses ask students to write reflectively. There are many different reflective writing models. It is vital that you follow any guidelines given by your tutors.