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?
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?
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:
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:
|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)|
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:
Be cautious not to overuse hedges and boosters; you need to judge whether you think they are necessary.
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:
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.
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:
Adapted from Writing styles and tenses by LearnHigher, 2012.
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):
Here the subject (the nurse), administered (the verb), the injection (the object).
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.
Here the injection (the object), was administered (the verb), by the nurse (the subject).
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.
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:
|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|
Referencing is a really important part of your research project. You need to accurately acknowledge the sources you have used as:
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.