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Academic Writing Study Guide

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Academic Writing

Good writing is clear, concise, logical and unambiguous. The reader must be led through the writing assignment by a path of connected points clearly explained and justified. Here are a few points that may assist in making your writing clear and improve the flow of argument.

Who will read your work?

* A common question about assignments is 'how much do I have to explain?' or 'how much do I assume the reader/marker knows?'

* One answer is that you are writing for an intelligent reader with general knowledge of the field, but perhaps not specific knowledge of the topic; therefore, you need to be informative. Some necessary description or explanation may be involved, but only insofar as it prepares the reader for your critical analysis or evaluation of the issue/topic.

* Another answer is that your writing needs to demonstrate to the marker that you understand the issues and implications of a topic, i.e. don't settle for a superficial treatment of the topic.

Structure

INTRODUCTIONS & CONCLUSIONS

* A clear introduction is essential in making the reader aware of the purpose of the assignment. The introduction should address the assignment question by explaining the context, purpose, overall structure and the proposed outcome of the assignment.

* The conclusion should summarise and highlight the connections of the points in the body of the assignment, and confirm the proposition of the assignment that was outlined in the introduction.

PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE

The paragraph is the basic unit of all your written assignments. Each paragraph should discuss one topic only. A well-constructed paragraph is comprised of three parts:

1. The topic sentence states the focus of that paragraph, e.g.:

Advocates of online learning quote some advantages over traditional instructor-led training.

The topic sentence necessarily places limitations on the focus of the

paragraph; this one will only be about 'some advantages'.

2. The body or supporting sentences develop the topic sentence by giving supporting information, illustrations and/or examples, e.g:

The most immediate advantage is that online learning facilitates ease of delivery where employees may be geographically dispersed (Noe, 2002), or where the task of organising a physical space for training would take time or even production space (Dobbs, 2000). Consequently, a significant advantage of online learning is that it is cost effective: the company does not incur travel expenses or lose production hours.

These sentences elaborate on two main advantages, i.e. that online learning is easy to deliver and is cost effective.

3. The concluding sentence closes the paragraph with some kind of concluding remark. It may summarise the body of the paragraph, or refer back to the topic sentence, or link the paragraph to the overall thesis (emphasising how the paragraph discussion further proves the argument), e.g.:

Given these savings in costs, it would seem that computer technology may easily replace the HRD professional.

This concluding sentence refers, in a summary way, to the main idea of the paragraph body, and makes a conclusion about it which also refers to the essay question, which was: 'Will computer-based training replace much of the work undertaken by HRD professionals?'

The sentences within the paragraph should have a logical sequence of information and ideas. Use linking words such as 'however', 'therefore', 'additionally', 'in addition', 'moreover', 'furthermore', 'subsequently', and 'consequently' to make smooth transitions between sentences. Here is the whole (brief) paragraph, with transitional words and phrases in bold:

Advocates of online learning quote a range of advantages over traditional instructor-led training. The most immediate advantage is that online learning facilitates ease of delivery where employees may be geographically dispersed (Noe, 2002), or where the task of organising a physical space for training would take time or even production space (Dobbs, 2000). Consequently, a significant advantage of online learning is that it is cost effective: the company does not incur travel expenses or lose production hours. Given these savings in costs, it would seem that computer technology may easily replace the HRD professional.

There should also be a smooth transition from one paragraph to another. The topic sentence of the next paragraph in this hypothetical essay is:

Nevertheless, there is evidence that organisational enthusiasm for e-learning is waning.

The transition 'nevertheless' signals a change of focus, and therefore a new paragraph, while linking it to the previous paragraph.

Language and Style

Academic writing is formal writing. Consequently, it must conform to the rules of grammar, and aim for a clear and objective style. If you want to improve your writing, or if you know you have difficulty writing clear, meaningful sentences, seek advice and learning support as early as possible. In the meantime, here are some explanations that may assist you.

SENTENCE STRUCTURE AND LENGTH

The natural structure of a sentence in the English language is subject - verb - object (S-V-O). For the purposes of this discussion, they will be indicated like this:

Subject - verb - [object]

Here is a sentence, followed by a codified example identifying these parts of speech:

Technological advances do not signal the redundancy of HRD.

Technological advances do not signal [the redundancy of HRD.]

This S-V-O order is clear and easily understood, and is described as active voice because we see the subject first, and then we see what the subject does. It is more powerful and direct than passive voice, e.g.

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