Books and websites

Resources available from The University of Sydney Library

Writing Basics

Highly Recommended - [[b||Oshima, A., and Hogue, A., Writing Academic English, 2006, Longman (4th ed.) New York.
Writing Academic English is an excellent essay-writing workbook. Many grammatical and structural issues are covered. It does not however, discuss any form of academic writing other than the essay.

Bailey, S., Academic Writing: a handbook for international students, 2006, Routledge (2nd ed.) London, New York.
Stephen Bailey’s Academic Writing provides background to the writing process, including a clarification of the terms used to describe university level assignments; information on and exercises in writing skills; advice on how to avoid plagiarism and models of different text types.

The advice in parts one, two and four on effective note-taking, citation, summarising and paraphrasing skills will be extremely useful to students attempting postgraduate work in a foreign language, or who are unfamiliar with attribution protocols. Parts two and three, ‘elements of writing’ (from argument to style tips) and ‘accuracy in writing’, deal with problems that are typically encountered by non-native English speaking students.

Swales, John M., and Feak, Christine B., Academic Writing for Graduate Students: essential tasks and skills, 2004, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
The introduction to Academic Writing outlines the changing academic landscape - the effects of new technology, co-authorship, and the breakdown of traditional understanding of the differences between native and non-native English speakers and the effects of these on the research world.

The first chapter begins with considerations for postgraduate writers from identifying audience through to presentation and positioning. Each ‘unit’ in the book then discusses particular kinds of writing tasks, and each also contains a ‘language focus’ where commonly problematic grammatical issues are dealt with and tasks for students to complete. Elucidation of each of these tasks is provided in the companion text, Commentary for Academic Writing for Graduate Students.

Swales and Feak have also produced Academic Writing for Graduate Students: essential tasks and skills: a course for non-native speakers of English and a Commentary designed specifically to assist non-native English speaking graduate students, also available from Fisher Library.

Highly Recommended - The Collins Cobuild English Dictionary, HarperCollins Publishers.
This dictionary is highly recommended for students as it contains not only the usual dictionary features of variant and inflected forms of words, examples, derivations and pronunciation, but phrasal verbs are supplied at the end of entries, as well as style, usage and cross-references. Definitions are given in full sentences, which is particularly advantageous for non-native speakers of English, as is the information on countability or non-countability of nouns - which makes the correct usage of articles clearer.

See articles section, The Write Site.

The Collins Cobuild English Dictionary is an outstanding tool for students, as is the Collins Cobuild English Grammar, an excellent companion volume, comprehensive and very readable. Chapter headings include: ‘referring to people and things’, ‘giving information about people and things, ‘making a message,’ ‘varying a message’, ‘expressing manner and place’, ‘making texts’ etc. Both of these textbooks live up to the claim on their front covers: ‘Helping learners with real English’.

See grammar module, The Write Site.


Bell, J., Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences: A Guide to Avoiding the Most Common Errors in Grammar and Punctuation, 2008, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London.
This extremely readable book begins by providing a glossary of grammatical terminology. Issues of both style and grammar are covered and exercises are provided after each chapter - on case, agreement, verb tense, usage and mood, modifiers, connectives and punctuation. Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences deals with common confusables that are problematic for any student or writer. It focuses on clarifying and explaining grammar and usage; for example, how verbals work, appropriate use of modifiers, how to use prepositions, conjunctions and adverbs elegantly, when to use ‘who’ or ‘whom, ‘affect’ or ‘effect’, single quotes or double. Bell’s book is a very handy guide for students (and teachers) at all levels.

Williams, Joseph M., Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 2007, Pearson Education, New York.
Lessons in Clarity and Grace sets out to demonstrate ways in which the language of argument may be manipulated, the effect on the reader, the ethics of such manipulation, and also discusses plagiarism from the reader’s point of view. There is a strong focus on style issues such as ways of integrating quotations into essays with elegance, and the effect of punctuation choices on prose; Lessons also provides examples of grammatical and stylistic errors so as to generate discussion on how to avoid them. The concept of ‘style as choice’ is examined; this is followed by chapters on clarity (which deals with actions, characters and cohesion) and ‘grace’ (concision and shape). The conclusion focuses on the ethics of style. Each section contains clear, well structured exercises.

Research Students

Paltridge, B., and Starfield, S., Thesis and Dissertation Writing in a Second Language: a handbook for supervisors, 2007, Routledge, New York.
This book was written with supervisors in mind and it is also useful for students embarking on research projects who want to better understand teaching and learning strategies in a broad sense, and specifically, how to structure a thesis or dissertation.

The introduction provides background to and implications of thesis writing in a second language; it deals with social and cultural contexts of research projects and provides tables to illustrate attitudes to knowledge and approaches associated with developing learning strategies. Differences between thesis and dissertation writing are outlined.

Hart, C., Doing a Literature Review: releasing the social science research imagination, 1998, Sage Publications, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore.
This excellent guide elucidates the review process methodically, chapter by chapter. Chapter two, ‘Reviewing and the research imagination’ stresses the central importance of wide-ranging critical reading, without which the likelihood of identifying an original topic for investigation is unlikely.

Hart also deals with classifying research – considering both practical and conceptual aspects of the material under review – then identifying, analysing and evaluating arguments and explains how to organise, express and map out ideas. The final chapter details the writing of the review. Doing a Literature Review also includes five appendices containing advice which will be very useful for all postgraduate students in the arts and social sciences: proposal writing, citation styles, presentation of dissertations, managing information and a final checklist for reviewing. Hart’s style is readily accessible and lively and will appeal to both domestic and International students.

Critical Thinking

Cottrell, S., Critical Thinking Skills: developing effective analysis and argument, 2005, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
This text supplies a comprehensive introduction to the critical skills required at tertiary level. It will be useful for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. It is a practical guide to the processes involved in analysing information and ideas, of ‘reading between the lines’ of argument and as such, is highly recommended for students who are less familiar with Western methods of inquiry.

The first two chapters of Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills provide an overview and rationale of the concepts of critical and analytical thinking, including a questionnaire in which students are invited to consider their competence level and their attitudes towards this fundamental intellectual skill. Chapters three to seven deal with identifying arguments and recognising non-arguments; clarity and logical consistency; recognising underlying assumptions and implicit arguments and flaws in arguments. Chapter eight focuses on evaluating evidence. The final chapters are concerned more with clarifying the theory through practice, with information and exercises on effective note-making, analytical writing, and how to maintain a critical stance during the writing process. Evaluation sheets and checklists for assessing essays are provided. Each chapter contains well structured practice activities.

Paul, R.W., Critical Thinking: what every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world, 1990, Centre for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California.
The discussion in Paul’s book goes beyond that in Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills, which focuses more on the processes of critical thinking. Paul’s approach is more theoretical, emphasising throughout the difference between knowledge acquisition as the result of rational and sceptical thought processes, and recall. Paul also focuses on how to develop practical interpretive and other thinking skill and includes suggestions of the sort of questions students might ask themselves while involved in textual analysis.


Highly Recommended - The Purdue Online Writing Lab
The home page navigation panel of Purdue’s online writing lab lists 15 immediate access points including ‘General Academic Writing’. When clicked open it reveals another (alphabetical) list from ‘adding emphasis’ or ‘analytical research project writing’ through to sections – for instance – on ‘database research tutorials’, ‘email etiquette for professors’ and another for students, to ‘punctuation’ and ‘quoting’ to a huge ‘w’ range providing lessons and advice on different writing styles and a final ‘writing task resource list’. Other main navigation starting points include ‘Research and Citation’, ‘Grammar and Mechanics’, ‘English as a Second Language’. ‘Literary Analysis and Criticism’ and ‘Creative Writing’.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing
This website offers advice at word and sentence level, paragraph level, essay and research paper level. The Index opens onto a massive, but entirely clear list of 427 grammar and writing references and access to a search engine for further advice on grammar and composition. It contains 170 computer-graded interactive quizzes and many instructive online grammar tutorials. The section on essay writing contains information on organising principles, the composition of evaluative and argumentative essays, writing about literature, writing research papers and advice on citation styles.

Pathways Report

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has recently released a report on an English Language pathway to the University. This document is the outcome of a study which investigated a group of 173 (mainly postgraduate) international students who had completed courses at the pathway and intended to enter a range of university faculties in Semester 2, 2009. Three indices of preparedness for university were examined:

  • English written proficiency
  • Student perceptions
  • Academic progress

The study investigated these indices via the following methodologies:

  • The English written proficiency of the 173 students was examined by conducting a MASUS (Measuring the Academic Skills of University Students) test.
  • Student perceptions were explored via a self-report questionnaire to the 173 students and focus groups with 8 postgraduate Arts students towards the end of Semester 2 2009.
  • The academic progress of the 106 ex-pathway students who completed Units of Study in Semester 2 2009 was studied via FlexSIS.

The report is 94 pages in length and includes an Executive Summary and 70 Tables and Figures. Electronic copies of the report are available from