Writing Up Your Project

About


One of the main ways students are assessed at university is through their writing. When you are writing your research project, you need to ensure you use a clear and concise style which is easy for the reader to follow. You also need to make sure that your writing reflects your independent thinking. This section will help you to you improve the quality of your writing and find your academic voice.



Video - What are the features of good academic writing?

Video - Do you have any tips for students writing up their project?



 

Your academic voice


Developing your own academic voice within your writing is an important part of any research project; it is how you can show the reader what you are thinking and what your views are on the topics being discussed. In your project you need to make your position and viewpoints clear throughout your writing, whilst showing balance and objectivity. This is called your academic voice.

Watch the video below, to hear academics share their advice on developing your academic voice.


Video - What makes a good argument?



Differences between critical and descriptive writing

An essential part of showing your academic voice is being analytical and critical, rather than descriptive in approach. Within your writing you should have a mixture of description, analysis and evaluation. Descriptive writing should, however, be kept to a minimum.

Watch the video below to see what academics expect to see, in terms of critical writing.


Video - What is critical writing and why is it important?


The following example extracts from real students’ projects demonstrate how they have taken a critical approach to writing:





The Manchester Academic Phrasebank has some great advice on how to show criticality with the academic language you use.

The following questions may help you to ascertain whether you have taken a critical approach to your project:

  1. Have I stated what my aims and objectives are?

  2. Have I discussed and evaluated relevant concepts, theories or principles and explained their significance to my research?

  3. Have I clearly stated my overall argument(s)/conclusion(s)?

  4. Have I given reasons for my argument supported by reliable and relevant evidence?

  5. Have I used academic/appropriate sources?

  6. Have I made connections between sources?

  7. Is there internal logic in the argument? How coherent is it?

  8. Are there any assertions in my dissertation that are unsupported?

  9. Have I drawn reasonable conclusions from the data I have collected?

  10. Have I made any assumptions that might bias my reasoning?

  11. Have I considered different viewpoints?

  12. Have I combined or reformulated arguments/evidence from various sources to create new/more developed point of view?

  13. Have I used language that is too emotive? Have I shown objectivity?

  14. Have I omitted any key information?

  15. Have I identified the strengths and weaknesses between different viewpoints/theories etc?

  16. Have I drawn a logical conclusion?

  17. Have I stated my position on the subject? Have I shown what I think about the arguments or ideas presented?

  18. Have I answered my research question(s)?



Discussing the Literature

When you are using the work of other authors, you do not want to just report or reiterate what someone else has said. It is important that your voice is also present. This might be in the way you make links between sources, discuss how the sources support your argument, how far you agree or disagree with the authors, or how the source is significant to your research.

Here are some examples of how you can use language to forefront your voice when discussing the literature:


Purpose Example
Making connections between sources Smith (2009) takes a different approach Liu (2017), building on the work of Song (2001) Similarly, Sycamore identifies...
Showing the significance of the text to your project Taken together, the findings from these studies emphasise the importance of investigating the experiences of carers in anorexia
Introducing the literature with a meaningful verb Weber (1998) pioneered/discovered...(for new contributions)
Bedford argues (for when an author is making an argument)
Arnold disputes... (when an author disagrees or critiques another author)
Show your strong agreement/disagreement/cautious agreement Use hedges and boosters (see below)




Hedges And Boosters

Certain words, known as hedgers or boosters, can help you to show caution or confidence in your writing. For example, you can show the degree of confidence in your claims by:

  • Using hedges such as 'may', 'appears', 'possibility', 'suggests' helps you to show caution or doubt. For example:

    • In what appears to be the first study on caregiver burden in anorexia...

    • If students experience this positive, helpful attitude from the librarians they encounter, it may help them to adopt a positive perception or academic librarians in general

    • He claims that it is a major factor in whether people are successful in all aspects of their lives

  • Using boosters such as 'clearly', 'indeed', helps you to express a measure of certainty and conviction. For example:

    • Current research clearly links methods of fundraising to changes in public and private spaces

    • The table clearly shows that the relationship between BMI and self-assessed general health remains strong, even when other factors are considered

    • Indeed, these statistics also fail to reflect the existence and behaviour of non-users of the libraries who did not participate in the survey

Be cautious not to overuse hedges and boosters; you need to judge whether you think they are necessary.

 

Academic language


Academic style

Academic writing is quite formal, but this doesn’t mean it has to be overly complex. There are some rules that you need to follow when writing an academic piece of work:


  • Use clear and formal language. To achieve clarity and formality, really think about the words you are using and make sure they are precise and meaningful. For example:
    I looked at the poems of... “Looked at” is very vague. It does not tell the reader what you actually did. “I analysed the poems of...” is more precise as "analyse" has a specific meaning

  • Avoid abbreviations, e.g. use 'advertisement' not 'ad', use 'approximately' not 'approx'

  • If you use an acronym, remember to write it out in full the first time you use it, with the acronym in brackets, e.g. National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE)

  • Be cautious using absolute terms, e.g. always, never, none

  • Avoid clichés, e.g. last but not least (use finally)

  • Avoid colloquial language, e.g. at the end of the day

  • Use plain English - avoid using jargon, long sentences and overly complicated language

  • Avoid sexist language and avoid gender-specific language, e.g. use 'they will' rather than 'he will'

  • Check your grammar and punctuation - for more advice on this, see the Revise, edit and proofread section

List adapted from How to write dissertations and project reports by McMillan & Weyers, 2011, p.243.


The University of Manchester have developed an academic phrasebank that provides examples of academic phrases that you could use in your writing.

 

Use Of Tenses


It is important to use tenses correctly when writing up your final year project. There are a number of general rules to remember when using tenses:

  • When reporting other people's research, use the present tense

  • When describing your experiment/method, use the past tense

  • When referring to figures, use the present tense

  • When reporting your findings, use the past tense

  • When answering your question, use the present tense

  • When reporting other people's research, use the present tense

    • Smith (2005) argues that the precise dimensions of this variable are not crucial

  • When describing your experiment/method, use the past tense

    • However, our experiment showed wide variations in results when the variable was altered even slightly

  • When answering your question, use the present tense

    • We conclude that the correct choice of dimensions is a significant factor in achieving success with this procedure

Adapted from Writing styles and tenses by LearnHigher, 2012.

 

Active Versus Passive Voice


Most verbs can be used in either an active or passive form. Choosing which form to use in your writing can be difficult; there are no hard and fast rules. Check whether your department has any specific guidance on the use of active and passive voice, and ask your supervisor which is the most appropriate style to use when writing in your subject area.

The active voice is usually more direct and easier to read than the passive voice. When using active voice, the subject(s) is in charge of the relevant action(s):

  • The nurse administered the injection

Here the subject (the nurse), administered (the verb), the injection (the object).


  • The research assistant designed the survey


Here the subject (the research assistant), designed (the verb), the survey (the object).

In these examples, it is clear who is performing the action. Sometimes you may want to emphasise what is happening rather than who is doing it. To do this you can use the passive voice.

The passive voice is more formal than the active voice, but it can seem overly complicated and can be hard to read. When using the passive voice, the subject is left until the end or left out altogether.

  • The injection was administered by the nurse

Here the injection (the object), was administered (the verb), by the nurse (the subject).


  • The survey was designed by the research assistant

Here the survey (the object), was designed (the verb), by the research assistant (the subject).

It is usually appropriate to use a mixture of passive and active forms within academic writing. Always check with your department to see what form of writing would be most appropriate for your subject area.


Adapted from Writing with style by Stott & Avery, 2001, p.54.

 

Showing Relationships


Transitions

Transitional words are ones that link your sentences within paragraphs, and/or your paragraphs together, to let the reader know where you are going next. For example, you might go on to discuss an issue in more depth, provide further evidence, introduce a different perspective or alternative viewpoint, or create links between ideas. They will help you to create a well-structured piece of work which is easy to read and with clear connections between the paragraphs.

Here are some examples of commonly used transitions and what they are used for:

Transition Examples
Similarities Similarly, Correspondingly
Contrast However, Yet, Despite, Even so, In contrast, In spite of, On the contrary, Otherwise
Illustration For example, For instance, That is, In other words, In particular, Namely, Specifically, Such as, Thus, To illustrate
Extension Similarly, Moreover, Furthermore, In addition, By extension, What is more, Above all, Further, In the same way
Conclusion Therefore, Consequently, As a result, Thus
Emphasis Equally important, Especially, Indeed, In fact, In particular, Most important, Of course
Causal relations As a result, Consequently, For that reason, So, Accordingly, Owing to this, Due to this, Because of this, Under these circumstances
Temporal relations In future, In the meantime, In the past, At first, At the same time, During this time, Earlier, Eventually, Meanwhile, Now, recently, Simultaneously
Summarising Finally, In brief, In conclusion, In short, In simpler terms, In summary, To summarise, Overall
Qualification However, Nevertheless, Even though, Still, Yet
Alternatives Alternatively, On the other hand, Rather
Explanation That is to say, In other words, Namely, This means, To put it simply

Adapted from: Greetham, B. 2014. How to write your undergraduate dissertation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

 

Referencing


Referencing is a really important part of your research project. You need to accurately acknowledge the sources you have used as:

  • It is a requirement of your department/school

  • It demonstrates that you have read widely and researched your subject

  • It will show the basis or your arguments and conclusions

  • It provides supporting evidence for facts, opinions, data and approaches taken

  • It will give your work academic credibility

  • It will help you avoid plagiarism

  • It allows others to easily find your sources

  • It will help you re-trace your reading in the future

  • You can gain marks through accurate and consistent referencing

There are a number of different referencing styles. You can check our referencing pages to find out which referencing style your school uses, but you may also want to check directly with your school which style you should use, and the exact requirements they expect.

For comprehensive guidance on how to reference your work, please use our referencing pages. You can also find support to avoid plagiarism and improve your understanding of academic integrity on the Skills@Library pages.

You will need to store the details of your references, so you can use the information in your work and create your bibliography. For information on how to do this (including information on what EndNote is and how it can help you), see the Managing Your Project section.