Academic writing

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University-wide resources for developing writing skills

Teaching students how to write good academic prose (with appropriate grammar, structure and style) and to follow the expectations of scholarly discourse (eg acknowledging sources) can be a challenge.

However, there are a number of excellent resources that can help you with these tasks.

Academic writing
  • The Learning Centre:
    a) offers free and comprehensive workshops on academic reading and writing.
    b) can also help you to embed academic literacy skills within your unit of study – allowing students to develop their writing skills in the context of their discipline in a way that is most relevant and useful to them.
    c) can provide assistance in using the MASUS procedure (Measuring the Academic Skills of University Students). This procedure involves administering a short diagnostic task that is designed to reveal any specific areas of weakness in each student’s academic literacy. The Learning Centre can then assist you in helping your students address these problem areas.
  • The Writing Hub offers units of study, workshops, seminars, and special events available to the entire university community. These are run throughout the year. It also offers free tutoring services to students from any degree program undertaking WRIT units of study, as well as to Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Sciences students. Contact the Writing Hub for more information.
  • The WriteSite is designed as a series of online modules that students can work through independently to develop their academic writing skills. It covers grammar, using evidence, and planning and structuring essays. The section on structure is likely to be especially useful to students in the humanities and social sciences. You can also use the WriteSite to give feedback to your students on their academic writing. Check the Staff Guide for ideas on how to do this, and for a handy marking key.
  • WRiSE improve their report writing skills in science and engineering.
  • iWrite is a web application designed to improve individual and collaborative writing skills and provide automated feedback on written work. Currently many engineering students use iWrite, mostly for writing their essays. However, the application has the potential to be more broadly applicable. For more information contact in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.

Other tips for developing writing skills in your unit

1. Keep track of the recommendations you have given students on their writing, and let them know you’ll look for specific improvement in that area in their next writing task.

  • If you give feedback electronically, you may find it quite easy to establish a system for keeping a copy of key recommendations.
  • If you give hand-written comments and/or use a paper-based grading rubric, make a quick note in your grade-book of your ‘number one’ recommendation to each student, when you record their mark.
  • If you have large classes, or you are sharing the marking with other colleagues, it can be complex task to track all the advice given, so that whoever is marking their work next time can follow up on feedback. In these situations, it is best to develop an efficient system where you can all share recommendations.


2. Turn your feedback into a ‘conversation’ with each individual student.

  • Rather than just giving students your recommendations for improvement, invite them to let you know, in a note on their cover sheet, what aspects of their writing they are most concerned about, or currently working to improve.
  • If they are clearly having problems, focus your feedback in that area and give them specific guidance on how to do better next time. You can still mention other points, but the student is most likely to be receptive if you pay clear attention to the issue they have nominated.
  • If they seem to be going well in that area, let them know what is good about what they are doing, and then suggest something new to work on for next time.
  • These ‘conversations’ can extend across units of study too. Work on this idea with your colleagues who teach units in sequence. You can all encourage your students to keep track of the key points of feedback they receive in one unit, to choose an area or areas they most wish to work on, and to report this to their teacher in the next unit. In this way, you can support students in developing their writing skills in your discipline area throughout the course of their degree program.


3. Use your unit of study outline and your classes to help students learn:

  • how to reference correctly in the reference system you expect them to use. Remember that, depending on their degree program and range of subject choices, they may be asked to use a different system in each unit they are taking! It can be very helpful to provide them with either hardcopy or online information that shows exactly how your referencing system is used, including how to present bibliographies or reference lists. You can also direct them to the Library resources on how to reference. Once students understand how to cite references correctly you can then direct them to Endnote. The library provides online tutorials for using Endnote software.
  • what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. See Academic honesty for more information.