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ELISE | Informing your studies: The academic writing process


Quiz question There may be a quiz question related to the information on this page.

Breaking down your question

See the faculty videos on the Define > Breaking down the question page for more information on topic analysis.

Formulating an academic argument

The point of view you present in your written work requires supporting evidence, and is referred to as an academic argument.

Features of an academic argument:

  • a number of legitimate points of view or a disagreement should exist
  • your viewpoint must be well considered, the evidence thoroughly researched and carefully selected
  • base your argument on fact, not emotion
  • argue your point of view step-by-step, logically connecting one point to the next
  • cite all sources using an approved referencing style

Paraphrasing, summarising, quoting

Incorporating the work of others into your assignments is an important skill.

Knowing how to paraphrase or summarise important ideas, and quote from an original source will:

  • demonstrate your learning
  • help you to avoid plagiarism

Read more about these skills on the Academic Study Skills website

Learn more about plagiarism under the Check tab.

Time management

All the tasks involved in academic writing take time, so plan ahead

Essay and assignment writing

Writing at university requires you to persuade your readers of your viewpoint, based on the evidence you have found in your research.

Academic essays should:

  • answer a question or task
  • present an argument   
  • develop a premise or a set of closely related points, by reasoning and evidence
  • link arguments together in a logical sequence
  • use formal language
  • include relevant examples and supporting evidence from academic texts or credible sources

Writing reports, such as technical reports, lab reports or case studies, requires you to:

  • know your intended audience. Is there an assumed level of knowledge?
  • define your task and clarify the key issues that need to be addressed
  • understand that the aims of different types of reports will vary

For further information about writing academic essays and assignments visit these Essay and Assignment Writing links 

Topic analysis

Understanding the question is the first step in writing an essay. The meaning of the question may not be immediately obvious. The process of analysing your question helps you pinpoint the actual subject of your assignment.

To analyse the question, begin by identifying the different elements. Here is an example of an essay question:

"Any international response to climate change must address the economic development of developing countries." Discuss this statement with reference to two developing countries you have studied.

You could analyse this question in the following way:

  • look for instruction words that tell you what to do - discuss is the instruction word
  • other instruction words in an essay question could be describe, define, analyse, compare. Use the Learning Centre's Glossary Of Task Words to find other examples.
  • identify key concepts that focus the question - response to climate change, economic development and developing countries are the key concepts
    Use reference tools such as subject dictionaries and encyclopedias for help with finding definitions of key concepts.
  • identify limiting or qualifying words or phrases - the two developing countries that you select qualify the question
    Other limiting or qualifying words in an essay question could be specific time periods, geographical areas, organisations. They identify the context of the question.

Identifying these elements helps you to interpret and answer your question correctly.

Subject dictionaries and encyclopedias can help you find:

  • definitions of key concepts
  • broad overviews of a topic you are unfamiliar with 
  • alternative subject terms for database searching


The planning process for academic writing involves:

  • analysing the task
  • formulating an initial response to the question
  • constructing your first plan
  • reading and gathering research materials
  • writing a second, more detailed plan

Visit the Organising your Ideas page for more help with critical thinking and planning your essay.


Once you have formulated your plan, you can begin your first draft.

A draft will help you decide on:

  • your approach to answering the question
  • the evidence and examples you will use
  • the structure of your argument

Here are further guidelines on how to structure the essay and the individual paragraphs with additional tips for effective writing.

Revising and editing

Revising and editing your first draft will help you to clarify and refine your arguments.

Revise your work by checking you have:

  • answered the question as fully as possible
  • structured you essay clearly and logically
  • formulated balanced and well researched arguments
  • developed clearly connected paragraphs and coherent arguments
  • provided examples and quotes that support and are relevant to your answer
  • remained within the set word limit
  • used correct spelling, grammar and punctuation

Read more about editing your essay on the Academic Study Skills website.


Once you have finished writing, you will be ready to prepare your final version and finalise your list of references.

When you compile your bibliography, be sure you have:

  • used a consistent referencing style
  • cited all quotations you have used
  • cited everything you have paraphrased

Read more about citing and referencing, under the Check tab.

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