Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 69
BIBLIOGRAPHY
BROOKS, I. and MARSHALL, D. (2004) Chambers Good Writing Guide,
Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap.
COTTRELL, S. (2003) The Study Skills Handbook. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan.
DREW, S. and BINGHAM, R. (2001) The Student Skills Guide. 2nd ed. Aldershot:
Gower Publishing Ltd
KIRTON, B. and McMILLAN, K. (2007) Just Write: An easy-to-use guide to writing
at university. London: Routledge.
LEKI, I. (1998) Academic Writing: Exploring Processes and Strategies. 2nd ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MACMILLAN, K. and WEYERS, J. (2006) The Smarter Student. Harlow: Pearson
Education Limited
PECK, J. and COYLE, M. (2005) The Student’s Guide to Writing: Grammar,
Punctuation and Spelling, 2nd ed., Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
STOTT, R. and AVERY, S. (2001) Writing with Style, Harlow: Pearson Education
Limited.
Electronic Resources
LEARNHIGHER CENTRE FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING AND LEARNING.
Support for your studies. [WWW] Available from: http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/
students.htm (Accessed 30th April 2010)
LEARNING AND TEACHING UNIT Academic Writing [WWW] University of
South Australia (UniSA). Available from:
http://www.unisa.edu.au/Ltu/students/research/
writing/academic.asp#introductory%signposting%20sentence%20stems
[Accessed on 20th December 2009].
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 1
Stage1
Understanding the
assignment title and
getting started
Higher Education Assigment Toolkit
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 3
STAGE 1: Understanding the assignment title and getting started
Can’t make sense
of the title
I feel in control of the
assignment
Made me think
about what the
assignment was
looking for
Stopped wasting
time doing work that
wasn’t relevant to the
assignment
I can now make
a start
I don’t know
where to start
The assignment
task is confusing
Clear about the
assignment task
I don’t know what they
want me to do
Understanding the assignment title:
Working out what you have to do
Why is it important?
This section will help to:
Understand what the assignment is looking for
Start to consider your ideas.
4 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 1: Understanding the assignment title and getting started
Unpick the title
Usually you will have a title or task, and very often this will include:
the subject
a keyword (telling you how to write your assignment)
the aspect of the subject matter (often a phrase ending in ‘of’)
and possibly restrictions (eg., a context for the topic).
See the following example:
Look at your own title and dissect it, (underline/cut out/separate the words) to
identify what is included. In the title above, the key word is ‘discuss’, however
this could be different, such as: ‘describe’ or ‘evaluate’.
For further definitions of key words see: ‘Glossary of academic key words
used in titles’ on page 5.
Investigate the assignment brief further
You may be provided with further information from your lecturers, such as the
assessment criteria or additional information you should refer to.
Key questions to find out:
What is the format that is expected of your assignment, a report or essay?
What is the word limit?
What criteria are being used to assess your work?
Are you being referred to specific sources of information?
What is the deadline?
Make the assignment your own
Take time to understand what you are being asked to do, and don’t rush into
writing straight away.
Record the information you have so far, a mind map with individual words is
enough at this stage. Try re-phrasing the title into your own words, this will
help you to understand it and prompt ideas for your response.
KEYWORD ASPECT SUBJECT RESTRICTION
What is the assignment looking for?
Discuss the impact of celebrity culture in the 21st Century .
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 5
STAGE 1: Understanding the assignment title and getting started
Account for Give reasons for: explain why something happens
Analyse Examine something in very close detail and from a number of angles. Identify the
important points and chief features, and understand their relationships.
Argue Present a case for and against a proposal or statement and present your own
opinion at the end.
Compare Show how two or more things are similar.
Contrast Look at two or more things and draw out differences. State whether the
differences are significant.
Critically
evaluate
Weigh arguments for and against something, assess the strength of evidence on
both sides.
Define Give the exact meaning of
Describe Give a detailed account of the main features or characteristics …
Discuss Write about the most important characteristics of something. Give arguments for
and against, look at it from a variety of perspectives.
Distinguish Identify the differences between two items.
Evaluate Assess the worth or usefulness of something. Use evidence to support your
opinion.
Examine Look at something in detail. You may be expected to ‘critically evaluate’ it as well.
Explain Make it clear why something happens or why it is the way it is.
Identify Recognise name and briefly describe something
Illustrate Use examples to further explain or justify something. Could be visual or verbal.
Interpret Explain the meaning or significance of information or data that you are presenting.
Justify Provide evidence that supports an argument or idea.
Outline Give only the main points, show only the main structure.
Prove Present evidence in a logical structure to support an argument for a point of view.
Relate (Two
meanings)
1. Show how ideas/theories/events etc are linked or connected
2. Tell a story. Explain something in a narrative fashion
Review Survey and comment on the key aspects of something or a range of things.
State Give the main features clearly and simply.
Summarise Draw out the main points, omitting detail and examples.
To what
extent…
How far is something true, or contributes to a final outcome. Also how far is it not
true? In academic writing the answer is usually somewhere in the middle.
Trace Describe the development of something; follow the order of different stages in an
event or process.
Adapted from Cottrell. S. (2003) The Study Skills Handbook. Basingstoke. Palgrave
Glossary of academic words used in titles
6 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 1: Understanding the assignment title and getting started
I don’t know how to
apply my knowledge
to the question
I’ve got a series of
individual points to make,
but don’t know how to
link them together
I feel I’m just
describing, and my
points are not clear
I don’t know
what to say
Undeveloped ideas
Made me think about
the subject from a variety
of perspectives
Felt confident in
starting writing, and I
now know what I
want to say
Helped identify the
gaps in my knowledge
Helped to focus my
research and structure
my writing
Developed ideas
Making connections, developing ideas…
This section will help to:
Develop confidence to make a start with your writing
Expand and organise ideas
Develop planning strategies.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 7
STAGE 1: Understanding the assignment title and getting started
How to develop your ideas
Start with what you know
A really good place to start, is writing notes about what you know already
about your title or assignment task. By doing this, you may discover that you
know more than you originally thought.
Choose a method of note taking to record your ideas that suits your
learning style. (See ‘Planning and breaking down your assignment using
your learning style’ page 9).
Refer to your lecture notes and course materials for initial references.
Dig deeper
Ask yourself some questions about the title eg. Is the subject important?
Why? What are the current views or research?
Apply these key words to your subject: What, Who, When, Where, How
and Why (see page 8 ‘Making a start’), to develop your thoughts further.
What do you need to find out?
Now look at your plan, and take a different colour pen and underline or write
notes on the things you need to find out or you don’t know. This will be your
‘jobs to do list’. By doing this, you will use your time efficiently and not waste
time making notes on areas that you don’t need.
Now, what do you think you want to say?
Even at this early stage, having an idea of your overall argument will help you
to write clearly and confidently. However, as you research your subject your
initial ideas may change, so be open to the opinions of others along the way,
and be prepared for this research to present you with lots of questions.
What is the balance of the points you want to make? Using the marker below,
where would you place your views at this stage? 50/50, 70/30, 60/40?
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Your argument may not be clear at this stage, and very often it is not about
finding reasons for or against. Your aim is to make ‘a careful judgement
after balanced consideration of all aspects of a topic’ (McMillan and Weyers
2006 p137).
8 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 1: Understanding the assignment title and getting started
Insert your title here:
Underline keyword, aspect, subject, restriction
Making a start
Use the format below to think around your topic, what could you include that is relevant to your title?
WHO?
Who is involved?
e.g., groups/organisations
WHEN?
What is the timeframe/genre
to be considered
WHAT?
What are the
problems/issues involved?
What impact has there
been?
What evidence and/or
research supports
your points?
WHERE?
Where did it occur?
Where is the evidence?
WHY?
Why has this happened?
Why has it developed in
this way?
HOW?
How has the situation been
reached?
How has it developed?
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 9
STAGE 1: Understanding the assignment title and getting started
The ‘Sticky Notes Shuffle’ or ‘Chop and
Sort’ Approach
You will need:
Pens/pencils (a range of colours)
A large piece of paper (or board, or even
your desk) and
A supply of sticky notes (in different
colours) or
Paper, scissors and poster tack
Brainstorm ideas about the assignment
title/question, move them around – start to
build a basic shape for your assignment and
identify what else you need to do.
Use colour here to link similar parts and go
on to use these colours in your research and
reading.
The ‘Family Tree’ Approach
Start with the basic title or question and
break it down into smaller and smaller
chunks:
Extend the ‘family tree’ as you get more
ideas.
The Thought-Mapping (or spider gram)
Approach
Just add more links as you get more ideas.
The ‘Tidy Table’ Approach
Do you
prefer lists or
shuffling ideas
around?
Use sticky notes or a
large piece of paper
that you cut into
pieces.
Tip: Writing for 10
minutes without
stopping is also a
useful start.
Are you the
creative type? Do
you like having lots
of handouts and
diagrams?
Try the thought
mapping or spider
gram approach
Tip: This works
particularly well when
using colours and
symbols.
Is your
approach to
break down the
title or question
into smaller parts?
The ‘family tree’
approach is useful.
Tip: This helps you to
see how different
parts merge into the
whole package.
Is your approach
quite tightly
structured and
organised?
A table may help you
to focus on the task.
Tip: This grid provides
guidance and a clear
outline of what you
already know and
what you need to
find out.
Assignment title/question
Topic What
does this
mean?
What do
I already
know?
What do
I need to
know?
How
am I
going to
find it?
1
2
3
4
Planning and breaking down your assignment using
your learning style
10 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 1: Understanding the assignment title and getting started
Jobs to do Specific jobs Target date Achieved
Revised dates
or
Notes
Understand the task
eg., read through assignment task, produce a
‘mind map’ of initial approach to the assignment
Collect and record
initial information
Plan your approach
Do supplementary
reading
Produce first draft
Review first draft
Produce final draft
Submit your assign-
ment
Hand in date
Hand in date
Collect your marked
assignment
Make the most of
feedback
Time planning your approach to the assignment
There is no guide to how long an assignment will take to complete. However, managing your actions and your time well will contribute to-
wards your success. Your target dates are likely to change as you begin to work on your assignment. Be ‘SMART’ with the tasks you set
yourself: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Related.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 11
Stage2
Finding and managing
information
Higher Education Assigment Toolkit
This section will help to:
Use different sources to find information
Plan your searching
Evaluate the information used in your assignments
Reference your sources and avoid plagiarism
Where can I find information?
The examples below highlight common sources of information – you will need to
use several different sources for your assignments/course work/projects.
There are clear differences between each type of information, and you must
consider which sources are the most suitable for your assignments.
Internet
Magazines
Journals
Books
Information
Sources
Broadcast
Media
Newspapers
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 13
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
This model is circular – you are thinking about your topic, identifying keywords,
considering which sources to use and evaluating your results, before revising
your search strategy and beginning again.
This process is an important part of academic research. It will help you to organise
your thoughts and arguments, to record what you have found and to critically
analyse the evidence used in your assignments.
Planning your search
Planning your searches will help you to find and assess suitable information for your
assignments. Below is an example of a simple model which can be used to search
for and assess information:
Search
Topic
Keywords
Information
sources
Evaluate
results
Search process
14 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
How do I start searching?
Start by thinking about what you are being asked to do. Breaking down the title of
your assignment and thoroughly reading your project brief will help you to identify
keywords and topics for searching.
Once you have decided on your keywords, you must think about which sources you
need to search. You may need to search several different types of sources in order
to find the broadest possible range of information on your topic.
Where should I search?
Many university, college and Local Government websites will feature links to
library services and online catalogues, enabling you to check book stock and
journal holdings in advance.
Online databases feature articles from many different journals. Talk to your
Librarian for about using and accessing databases for your subject.
Information Gateways gather web sources for study and research on one site.
A good example is Intute (http://www.intute.ac.uk/), a multi-discipline gateway
featuring evaluated resources for study and research.
Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.co.uk) features books, abstracts, theses,
articles and academic papers from academic publishers, professional societies,
universities and other scholarly organisations.
Revising your search strategy
You will need to narrow down your search results to find the most relevant
information – evaluating your results will help you to filter out irrelevant, false or
misleading information.
Revising your search strategy by changing keywords, the type of sources used
and the time period searched will ensure that you use the best available evidence
for your assignments.
Keyword Tip:
It is a good idea when searching to look at the language and
terms used by academics, professionals and experts to
describe or explain ideas and theories within your subject. The
terminology used by these experts will also be used in academic
journals, books and websites, and therefore make excellent
keywords.
Searching Tip:
Keeping records of the sources and keywords used and the
results found will help you to replicate your searches and check
for new results.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 15
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
Evaluating sources: The Information Cycle
Once you have found information it must be evaluated. A practical way of
evaluating the information is to consider where information comes from and how it
has been produced.
Look at the diagram below – it is the same as the list of sources
we saw earlier, but now the relationship between the different
sources is clearly shown – this is the Information Cycle.
The Information Cycle illustrates how information is published in
set patterns. Information at the beginning of the cycle (Internet) is
aimed at an audience wanting quick, up-to-date facts. As the
information progresses around the Cycle it becomes more detailed but also more
out of date. When deciding on the quality of the information you may have to
balance reliability (accurate and proven facts) against currency (the period of time
over which the information was written and produced).
Internet
Magazines
Journals
Books
Information
Sources
Broadcast
Media
Newspapers
16 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 17
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
The Information Cycle in practice:
Information changes as it progresses along the Information Cycle from format
to format:
Internet
The Internet is usually the first place information is posted. Information
can appear almost instantaneously on the Internet, but this leaves little
time for the author to write the information. As a result the information
tends to be descriptive, explaining what has happened and who was
involved – it is simply stating facts. There will also be a lack of depth
and the information posted will be short.
Broadcast Media
Information is also likely to appear quickly on television and radio.
Initially the information will be produced rapidly and is likely to be
descriptive, explaining what has happened and who was involved.
Professional journalists with expertise in a particular area may be able to
provide some relevant background information, and it is likely that
expert opinion will also be sought. As time passes and more
information becomes available, longer pieces and documentary
features may be produced.
Newspapers
Newspapers are published frequently; usually daily or weekly. The
articles will be written by professional journalists, who often have
expertise in a particular area.
The emphasis will be on reporting facts, and once the information
appears in newspapers the author has had more time research the
information, so there may be greater depth such as statistics, analysis
or expert opinion.
Newspaper articles will not be correctly referenced and they will not
provide a bibliography or list of sources, so it will be difficult to
identify where the author has found their information.
The articles are aimed at the general public, and so should use
accessible language.
18 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
Journals
Academic journals contain articles written by scholars and specialist
researchers. The authors have had time to conduct their own research
and review the available literature.
As a result the article will be a detailed examination of the subject with
analysis and primary research. Research can take months to conduct,
so the article will not be current. Before publication the articles are
reviewed by an editorial board comprising of other scholars and experts –
this is called peer review.
The articles in academic journals are aimed at scholars, experts in the
field and university students, therefore the articles tend to be detailed
and written in technical language.
Books
Books may take years to be published, and so are not good sources of up
to date information. The strength of books as a resource lies in their
authorship, they are usually written by scholars and experts in the field.
Their content can be variable ranging from a simplified overview of a
subject to an in depth piece of research.
Books offer a great introduction to a new subject. Books include a list of
the sources the author has used to research their book called a reference
list. The reference list allows you to review the original sources of
information used in the book, which can be used in your assignments to
strengthen your own research and arguments.
Magazines
Magazines are frequent publications in a ‘glossy’ format. Examples include The
New Scientist, The Economist and Scientific American. The articles are written
by professional journalists with knowledge of a specific subject area.
There will be emphasis on reporting facts but usually with some analysis
as the author has more time to reflect on the information and conduct
some research.
Although articles in the professional press are likely to be longer than
newspaper articles they are unlikely to be correctly referenced with no
bibliography or list of sources, so it is difficult to tell what sources the
author has used in their research.
The articles are aimed at the general public or a knowledgeable
layperson with an interest in the area of publication, and so should use
accessible language.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 19
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
Evaluating sources: Thinking critically
Thinking critically in order to evaluate the sources you use will help you to select the
best sources for your assignment. A good way to do this is by asking the following
questions:
Who has written, produced or published the
information?
Is the source biased? Can you verify the information presented?
Example: Political broadcasts will argue in favour of a particular idea or
political party, and will therefore feature bias. The Office of National
Statistics collates information from Government departments, but the
statistics are independently recorded and verifiable.
Why have they written it?
What is the purpose of the information? Is the writer or publisher trying
to sell me something?
Example: An advertisement will try to persuade you to buy a product.
When was the information written or published?
Is it still useful, and is it likely to be updated?
Example: For some subjects such as Science, it is important to have the
most up to date and accurate information. For other subjects such as
History or Journalism, accounts of the time are valuable first hand
evidence, and will be essential for your work.
De Montfort University’s Evaluation Source Matrix provides a useful framework for
assessing the sources you use:
http://www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Images/Selfstudy/ISEMLeaflet.pdf
20 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
Referencing and Citation
Why should I reference?
No academic research is entirely original – many ideas come from other people’s
research. It is important to acknowledge this within your work because:
Who said what (and when) is important – otherwise ideas could be
misrepresented and falsified.
Allows ideas to be traced back – the “long conversation” of academic research
Aids the production of a good argument. You are not alone: past research
provides vital back-up!
Demonstrates you have understood where your ideas are coming from = more
credibility = better marks
Correct attribution is simply ‘honest and open’
Academic research would be impossible without having a system in place to
trace ideas back – that system is referencing.
Referencing the sources you’ve used
It is good academic practice within your assignments to acknowledge where you
have found your information. There are two key elements when referencing
correctly:
Citing
Information is accredited within your assignment, usually in the format of
the Author followed by the date of Publication in brackets.
Example: Pears and Shields (2009) argue that…
Referencing
A list of references is usually found at the end of your assignment,
arranged alphabetically by author and providing full details of the
information you have used in a standard format which includes the
Author, Date, Title, Place of publication and Publisher
Example: PEARS, R. and SHIELDS, G. (2008) Cite them right: the
essential referencing guide, Rev. ed. Newcastle upon Tyne: Pear Tree
Books.
Always ask if you’re not sure!
AUTHOR(S)
TITLE EDITION
(if not first)
PLACE OF PUBLICATION PUBLISHER
DATE TITLE
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 21
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
Bibliography
A bibliography includes any sources you have read as part of your
research. Bibliographies can be annotated and are a useful means of
directing readers to further sources of information.
Quoting and Citing – what should I reference?
If you reproduce writing word-for-word, this is a quote and should be in
“quotation marks” or indented in the text.
If you paraphrase someone else’s idea, it should be acknowledged and cited in
the text.
In both cases, the acknowledgement in the text should refer to your reference
list. Any book read but not directly quoted or cited in the text should still be listed
in the bibliography.
Harvard referencing style
There are many different referencing styles. One of the most commonly used is
called Harvard. A Harvard reference would look like this:
PEARS, R. & SHIELDS, G. (2008) Cite them right: the essential referencing
guide, Rev. ed. Newcastle upon Tyne: Pear Tree Books
Referencing Tips:
Keep a record of all the books and articles you find as you find
them (create you reference list/bibliography as you go along).
Give yourself plenty of time to research and write your work
(this will allow you to avoid the temptation for last-minute
‘panic plagiarism’)
Always cite the sources used in your assignments – both
direct quotes and ideas you have paraphrased. This is the
basis of ‘good academic practice’.
For more information about citation and referencing, please see De Montfort
University’s Harvard System of referencing guide at:
http://www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Images/Selfstudy/Harvard.pdf
22 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 2: Finding and managing information
Avoiding Plagiarism
Many students are uncertain as to what constitutes plagiarism. Below are two
related but very different definitions of plagiarism:
Plagiarism is…
1. The deliberate attempt to gain advantage by presenting someone
else’s work as your own
2. The substantial duplication of another’s work without
acknowledgement of the original source
Bad Academic Practice
“Plagiarism by mistake”
Universities will have policies in place to detect both deliberate and
accidental plagiarism
Both plagiarism and bad academic practice attract severe penalties
– avoid them!
The first is intentional – where a student uses another individual or
organisation’s work (whether an academic, a fellow student or a third party)
and submits it as their own. There are heavy penalties for students who are
discovered to have intentionally submitted work which is not their own.
The second is accidental – where a student uses information from a book,
journal etc., but does not credit the information source within their assignment.
This can be avoided by accurate referencing and citation, and acknowledging
your sources.
For more information about plagiarism, see De Montfort University’s How to avoid
Plagiarism and be citation wise guide at:
http://www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Images/Howto/HowtoAvoidPlagiarism.pdf
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 23
Stage3
Making reading
more manageable
Higher Education Assigment Toolkit
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 25
STAGE 3: Making reading more manageable
Reading for your assignment
There is too
much to read
I’ve got my own ideas;
I don’t need to read what
other people think
It’s confusing
when you have no
prior knowledge or
understanding
I can’t follow the
writer’s argument
How to make
reading more
manageable
Reading for your assignment is essential
to show that you are aware of current academic thinking about your topic
to find evidence to support your ideas.
First you need to have a general overview and then find information directly related
to your task.
Don’t believe everything you read; you need to question what you are reading.
Identify why you are reading
Is it for an assignment? For an exam?
Think about the assignment title and decide what you want to find out.
You’ll find it helpful to write down the specific questions you need the
answers to.
You may be starting from scratch or filling in gaps in your knowledge.
This section will help to:
Make reading easier to manage
Improve note making skills by trying different strategies
26 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 3: Making reading more manageable
G
et
t
i
ng st
a
r
t
ed
A l
i
s
t
of qu
e
s
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on
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h
at
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i
on
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t
opi
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ral
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e
x
t
book
Find specific information in books by checking the contents page, the
index, the summaries, the headings and subheadings.
Skim read without making notes to get a basic understanding.
The first sentence of each paragraph usually indicates the point made.
This is a good way of following the author’s argument.
Make it easier
Don’t attempt to read all texts; choose 3 to start with and then decide
what else you need to look at.
P
rint or photocopy chapters or articles and highlight or underline
points. Colour code points so that they link with your assignment plan.
Read small chunks at a time and make notes on what you remember.
Use a dictionary to look up words you do not understand.
Start
writing
up
your
f
irst draft before you have finished your reading.
This
will
help
you
to
see
where the gaps are and where you need to
f
ocus
your
reading.
Top Tips:
Introductions and conclusions to chapters provide summaries
of the writer’s key ideas.
Take a break; pause, think and absorb what you have read.
Useful techniques
Skimming: when you read just enough to understand what the text is
about
Scanning: when you look for a particular word or piece of information
SQ3R is a useful approach to try (see page 29).
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 27
STAGE 3: Making reading more manageable
Good note making
reduces the amount of information you have to deal with. Your notes should
include main points and some examples or evidence.
helps you to process, organise and understand information. You can use notes as
the basis for your revision. You can summarise them further.
gives you practice in writing in your own words. This will help you to avoid
plagiarism (copying).
http://www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Images/Howto/HowtoAvoidPlagiarism.pdf
Notes from reading
Always record full reference details of the source at the beginning of
your notes. See the Harvard guide
http://www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Images/Selfstudy/Harvard.pdf
Choose a method that suits your ‘learning style’ and your needs.
Linear notes may suit you (see page 30). Also try spider diagrams
(see page 31) or column notes (see page 32).
You could start by underlining and highlighting on print outs or
photocopies.
Identify direct “quotations” by writing in a different colour.
Use abbreviations.
Leave spaces in your notes, you might want to add something later.
I don’t need notes:
I work directly from
books and websites
I want to write
everything in my notes
I’m afraid to leave
anything out
I can’t understand
my notes when I look
at them again
I get bored
writing notes
How to improve
note making
Note making
28 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 3: Making reading more manageable
Lecture notes
Prepare for a lecture by referring to your course or module handbook.
Add your own notes to the handout (use a separate piece of paper if
necessary).
Column notes may be suitable for a lecture. Have a look at the
example on page 32.
Ask the lecturer if you can record the lecture and make notes later.
Reread your notes as soon as possible after the lecture and make any
necessary alterations.
Revision notes
Make cue cards which include just key words and brief phrases.
Mind maps or spider diagrams are particularly useful for revision. You’ll
find an example on page 31.
A diagram allows you to summarise a lot of information on one page.
Top Tips:
Notes should be set out clearly so that you can easily find and
use the information later.
You must have references for your notes, otherwise you cannot
use them.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 29
STAGE 3: Making reading more manageable
SQ3R
Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review
This is a really effective way of coping with
academic reading – try it!
Survey
A quick look, to see if it appears useful.
Scan contents, index, first and last chapters
to get a general idea of what the text
is about.
Question
Is this text going to be useful and relevant
to your assignment?
Read
Read short sections and vary your speed.
Read aloud when text is hard to understand.
Recall
Note down the main points and important
facts and opinions in the text.
Review
Reread the text to check you haven’t
missed anything.
Complete your notes
30 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 3: Making reading more manageable
Linear notes
Always start with the reference details of your source. Make a note of page
numbers in the margin.
Headings
Subheadings
Bullet points
Start a new line for each point
Leave space around each point – you may want to add
something later
Remember
Write in your own words
Indicate quotations “when copying another writer’s words”
(author, date, page number)
Use abbreviations whenever possible
STAGE 3: Making reading more manageable
Mind maps
Pattern notes or mind maps can be particularly helpful when you’re developing your ideas and planning your assignment. You can
see your ideas and how they’re linked together. Make it even more helpful by using colour and images!
Adapted from Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook. 3rd Ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
31
32 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 3: Making reading more manageable
Column notes
Particularly useful for taking notes in lectures
Key words Notes Comments
Main topics Subheadings
• underline
or
important points
• identify argument, evidence,
opinion
• summarise in your own words
highlight
Your questions about
the content.
What do you disagree
with, or are not
convinced about?
Is there anything you
don’t understand and
need to look up later?
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 33
Stage4
Planning the structure of
your assignment
Higher Education Assigment Toolkit
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 35
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
This section will help to:
Choose a clear focus for your assignment
Clarify your ideas
Put your ideas in order
What are the benefits of PLANNING the
structure of an assignment?
I’m completely lost
– don’t know where
to start
I haven’t really got
anything I could show a
tutor to get some
feedback…
I just showed my
plan to my tutor – got
some feedback on the
whole assignment
When I plan, I can
think clearly – and know
what I’m trying to do. That
helps me write more
confidently!
I’ve written loads
of notes but I don’t know
what’s relevant and
what’s not
I’m over the word limit
already – but I’ve still
got so much to do
Using a plan made
the writing much easier
With my plan, I know
how to start the
assignment and what goes
where. I’d be in a real
mess without it
No planning =
stress, confusion
Planning =
confidence and
good marks
36 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
Clarify your ideas
You might already have used free writing when you started thinking
about the assignment – but it can be useful at this stage too, because
your ideas may have changed after your reading and they will certainly
have developed. (See page 38)
Use bullet points and lists to capture the information and ideas you
want to include.
Try using a mind map, a spider gram, a flow chart or use sticky
notes to get your thinking started. (See pages 39-40)
Choose a clear focus for your assignment
Have a go at explaining the main point of your assignment in just
one sentence, e.g. ‘This essay will show that students who plan their
assignments before they start writing, achieve higher marks than
students who do not’
Try to identify three or four key topics that you consider to be
essential to support or explain your main point.
These key topics will really help you to focus your writing. You could
use the ‘Table to make an initial Assignment Plan’ (page 41) or the
mind map example (page 31) to help you to do this
How to make an Assignment Plan
Top Tip:
There’s no right way to do this so find what works best for you.
Time to experiment!
Top Tip:
Why not give each of your topics a colour – and then colour-code
your notes with highlighter pens – so you can find all the relevant
information easily
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 37
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
Now put your ideas in order
(This will form the main body of your report or essay)
What order would be most helpful to your reader? Imagine helping
a fellow student to learn about the topic.
Try using one of these ideas
o A simple bullet point list
o A flow chart
o Sticky notes that mean you can move your topics around until
you’re satisfied with the order
Look at the ‘Essay Structure’ and ‘Report Structure’ Handouts to get
your thinking started. (See pages 42-44)
Top Tip:
It’s easy to sort out the structure of your assignment at this
stage – but it’s harder when you’re in the middle of writing the
assignment. Planning reduces stress!
38 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
Set a timer and write for 10 minutes
Don’t stop – keep writing, even if you’re writing ‘I don’t know what to
write about’
Any order, anything, (have a look at the questions below)
You can use single words, phrases, sketches, diagrams, pictures
Don’t worry about spelling or grammar – don’t cross anything out
Even writing down what you don’t know or don’t understand can be a
great starting point
After 10 minutes, look back and decide what you want to use and
develop.
Free writing – for your eyes only
This is a great stress free way to make a start on your assignment, or to begin to
plan your first draft, after your reading and research. Put your notes and books away
and just write…
These questions might help you…
Free writing
for 10 minutes
What’s difficult
about the topic?
What do you
remember about
the topic?
What examples
can you recall?
What do you still
need to find out?
Are there things you
don’t understand?
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 39
Focus on: starting or developing writing
There are many ways of doing this and you need to work out which suits YOU best.
Here are a few ideas to start with – see if you think any of them might help you, or
adapt them to suit your own way of learning.
The ‘Sticky-note Shuffle’
You will need:
Pens/pencils (a range of colours if it
helps)
A large piece of paper, or a wall or a
cupboard door, or even your desk
A supply of sticky-notes (preferably in
different colours)
How to do it:
One idea per sticky note
Stick them on a door or wall or table.
Look at them daily – live with your
ideas. Add in new ideas as they occur
Move them around until you’re happy
with the order – you will start to build a
basic shape for your writing and see
what else you need to do.
The ‘Family Tree’ or
‘Flow Chart’ Approach
Start with the basic title or question,
break it down into topics and then
smaller and smaller chunks:
Extend the ‘family tree’ or ‘flow chart’
as you get more ideas
The ‘Thought Mapping’
Approach
Just add more ‘clouds’ as you get
more ideas
The ‘Tidy Table’
Approach – example
Assignment title – and your focus
Topics What do I
already
know?
What do I
need to
find out?
Key
points
1
2
3
4
5
6
Topic or
assignment title
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
40 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
Introduction to your assignment: explain your focus and what you’re going to do or show
Conclusion: key points from the whole assignment and link back to title
Introduce your 1st topic
You may need more
explanation
Present good example(s)
Present relevant evidence
from reading
Link to your 2nd topic
Introduce your 2nd topic
You may need more
explanation
Present good example(s)
Present relevant evidence
from reading
Link to your 3rd topic
Introduce your 3rd topic
You may need more
explanation
Present good example(s)
Present relevant evidence
from reading
Link to your 4th topic
Introduce your 4th topic
You may need more
explanation
Present example(s)
Present relevant evidence
from reading
Try using a flow chart like this to plan your assignment.
Note how the plan asks you to LINK all your topics
Introduction to your assignment: explain your focus and what you’re going to do or show
Conclusion: key points from the whole assignment and link back to title
Introduce your 1st topic
You may need more
explanation
Present good example(s)
Present relevant evidence
from reading
Link to your 2nd topic
Introduce your 2nd topic
You may need more
explanation
Present good example(s)
Present relevant evidence
from reading
Link to your 3rd topic
Introduce your 3rd topic
You may need more
explanation
Present good example(s)
Present relevant evidence
from reading
Link to your 4th topic
Introduce your 4th topic
You may need more
explanation
Present example(s)
Present relevant evidence
from reading
Top Tip: Brief notes in each box will help you stay on track when you
start to write your assignment.
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 41
Assignment title:
Your central idea (in just one sentence)
List the main topics of
your assignment
Key ideas and information about
each topic
What evidence or examples will
you include to support each
topic?
Reference details for where you
found your information, ideas and
examples
1.
2.
3.
4.
Using a table to make an initial assignment plan (Just use brief notes in each of the boxes)
42 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
A Basic Essay Structure
Title/question
Every essay title contains an explicit or implicit question. Your essay should focus on
answering that question. Try rewriting the title so that it is a question.
Introduction: (about 10% of the essay)
1. Explain how you interpret the title 2. What issues/topics are you going to explore?
3. What will be your focus? 4. What will your essay show?
Main body: (about 80% of the essay)
Use a chain of paragraphs to EXPLORE AND DEVELOP your ideas/argument.
You will probably have 4 or 5 main topics.
Each topic will need 3 or 4 paragraphs in which you will introduce the topic, and present
examples and evidence to show why it is important and how it links to the essay title.
In each paragraph the reader is asking you to explain:
What is this paragraph about? What is your argument on this?
What is your evidence? What does it mean? How does it link to the essay title?
How does it link to the topic in the next paragraph?
Conclusion: (about 10% of the essay)
Do not introduce any NEW material here.
Summarise your ideas/argument (you might also have done this in your introduction)
Restate what you consider to be the main points
Make it clear why those conclusions are important or significant.
In your last sentence: link your conclusions or recommendations back to the title.
Some students find it helpful to write a rough conclusion first, before they write
the essay, so they know where they’re going. They rewrite it, if necessary, when
they’ve finished reviewing and editing the essay.
Reference List
Use the Harvard Referencing System to list all the books, articles, materials you have
referred to in your essay:
AUTHOR (date) Title. Town: Publisher.
In alphabetical order by author’s surname
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 43
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
Report Writing
(Report – an account of a matter after consideration/investigation)
This is a suggested format. Check your instructions or ask your tutor if there is a
specific structure required for this report assignment.
Title
Author
Date
Summary
A brief (one paragraph) account of
what the report contains including
conclusion/recommendations.
Do your summary last.
List the contents in the order
they appear.
Number the section
headings/sub headings, pages.
Each section should have an
appropriate title.
List appendices
List illustrations/figures
(separately if there are a lot)
Start with the introduction as
number 1.
Write the contents page at the
end.
Contents
Page
1. Introduction 1
2. Type your chapter heading 2
2.1 Section heading 3
2.1.1 Subheading 5
2.1.2 Subheading 7
2.2 Section heading 12
3. Type your chapter heading etc
Continued…
44 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 4: Planning the structure of your assignment
Report Writing
Introduction
A brief (one paragraph) explanation of:
Terms of reference
Aims and objectives
Methods used in the investigation
Necessary background information
Definitions of abbreviations
Acknowledgements
(You will probably find it easiest to do
this page at the end.)
Main Body
Logical sections with clear headings.
Section numbers next to headings.
Figures/diagrams/charts.
Essentials only – background
information can go in the appendices.
Written in a clear, brief and direct style.
Written in the passive voice (not I, we,
you) “The survey was carried out” not
“I carried out the survey.”
Conclusion
Draws together your findings.
Tells the reader which findings you
consider to be most important.
Explains what you believe to be the
significance of your findings.
Shows whether your hypothesis (if you
had one) was correct.
You may wish to suggest areas for
further research.
Recommendations
A numbered or bulletted list of things
you believe should happen. These must
logically relate to the findings in your
report.
It’s not always necessary to include
recommendations.
Bibliography
Harvard system unless told otherwise:
(AUTHOR LAST NAME, first name
(DATE), Full Title, where published,
name of publisher
All sources cited including Internet.
References should be traceable –
somebody reading your report may want
to follow up one of your references; they
must be able to find it from what you’ve
written.
Appendices
(Documents which add to the reader’s
understanding of the report.)
Numbered and listed in the contents
Referred to in the appropriate section of
the report.
No need to wordprocess appendices.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 45
Stage5
Writing your assignment
Higher Education Assigment Toolkit
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 47
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Writing your assignment
What is academic writing?
When you first start university, the term ‘academic writing’ may be a
frequent topic of discussion for you, your peers and indeed your tutors.
Often it is used with the expectation that you fully understand what is
meant by the term. Primarily, writing at university is ‘a way of confirming – to
yourself and others – that you’re understanding things’ (Kirton and
McMillan, 2007). This doesn’t mean that you are expected to sound like a
textbook, or even that you have to clutter your writing with long and
complicated words. Quite simply, your tutors want to see evidence that you
can express yourself clearly, concisely and logically. Often, this means
becoming aware of your reader and of the need to guide them through your
writing by offering clear signposts to each new idea you are developing.
It is worth remembering that writing is a process and not simply a finished
product. You will continue to learn more about writing as you progress
through your course. The important feedback you receive from your tutors
will also help you to improve the quality of your work. The materials over the
following pages offer you guidance on how to develop a range of writing
skills which will extend way beyond your time at university.
I’m not sure how to
develop my ideas into a
logical argument.
Sometimes my
paragraphs are a
page long!
I feel as if I have
to use loads of long,
complicated words in
my writing. Help!
How do I write
someone else’s ideas in
my own words without
plagiarising?
How can I make my
writing sound more
‘academic’?
I have lots of ideas
but I just can’t write
them down.
What do students
say about writing?
48 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Learning materials in this section:
Structuring an introduction
Structuring a paragraph in the main body of your assignment
Structuring a conclusion
Signposting sentences
Ideas into sentences
Writing in an academic style
How to summarise, paraphrase and use direct quotations
Using and developing new vocabulary
Tips for writing when you don’t want to write
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 49
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Structuring an introduction
An introduction is like a guidebook to your whole assignment. It gives background
information into your topic area and outlines all the ideas you are going to present.
Remember that most introductions will be about 10% of the final essay and will
include some or all of the following:
An introduction to the context or background of the topic (you could include
interesting facts or quotations)
The reason for writing about this topic
Definitions of any complex terminology that will be referred to throughout
the assignment (definitions are not always necessary)
Introduce the main ideas that stem from your topic/title and the order in
which you will discuss them?
You may want to use the grid below to help you structure your introduction; you can
use the right-hand column to jot down your own ideas.
Structuring an introductory paragraph
Introduce the context or background
to the topic: Perhaps you could explain
the title in your own words or use a
quotation from an author who offers a
supporting or contradictory statement
about your topic area.
What is the purpose of writing about
this topic? Is there a problem or
controversy with the topic?
Definitions: Are you using any complex
terminology or acronyms that need
defining? Try to use a working definition
from an expert in your subject area rather
than referring to a general dictionary
definition.
Introduce the main ideas that stem
from your topic: You cannot write about
everything; for a 2,000 word assignment,
select between 3-5 key ideas and
introduce them in the precise order in
which they will be discussed.
50 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Structuring a paragraph in the main body of
your assignment
What is a paragraph?
Paragraphs in the main body of your assignment usually contain a number of
sentences which develop new ideas or expand upon existing ones. You may also
need to construct paragraphs which offer contrasting views on the ideas you have
already developed. A succession of well-structured paragraphs can help to create a
coherent and logical argument. You need to consider the purpose of each paragraph:
Is it developing a new idea?
Is it expanding on an idea already mentioned?
Is it offering a contrasting view on an idea already mentioned?
You may wish to use the grid below to record your ideas for each of your paragraphs.
Structuring a paragraph in the main body of your assignment
An introductory sentence (this is
sometimes called a topic sentence):
This tells the reader the purpose of your
paragraph and introduces the main idea
you are developing, expanding upon or
contrasting with another.
Examples/evidence/quotations: You
will usually need to include evidence that
develops/contrasts an idea. This informs
and strengthens your argument. Try and
introduce your evidence clearly and
remember to reference the source (either
as a citation in the body of your text or as
a footnote/endnote).
Evaluative sentence/s: You may
need to offer some explanation on
the relevance of your examples/
evidence/quotations. Why is this
evidence useful? What does the author
say that supports the idea you are
developing? Does this evidence have
any limitations?
Concluding sentence: This draws
together the main idea being made in
your paragraph.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 51
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Structuring a conclusion
Your conclusion is the final paragraph in an assignment. It must summarise (very
briefly) every important idea you have discussed in your work as well as draw
conclusions based upon the evidence you have presented. You need to make sure
that you have directly answered the question. It is always useful to link your
conclusions back to the essay title.
Structuring a conclusion
Summarise each of your points in the
order in which you have presented them.
State your main conclusions based upon
the evidence you have presented.
Link your conclusions back to the title –
make sure you have directly answered
the question and that you have clearly
presented your viewpoint on the topic
(you must do this without saying ‘I’).
Tips to remember:
Your conclusion will be about 10% of the whole assignment
You should not include any new information in your conclusion.
You can use the grid below to help you structure your conclusion. The right-hand
column can be used for you to make a note of your own ideas.
52 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Signposting sentences
What are signposting sentences?
Signposting sentences explain the logic of your argument. They tell the reader what
you are going to do at key points in your assignment. They are most useful when
used in the following places:
In the introduction
At the beginning of a paragraph which develops a new idea
At the beginning of a paragraph which expands on a previous idea
At the beginning of a paragraph which offers a contrasting viewpoint
At the end of a paragraph to sum up an idea
In the conclusion
A table of signposting stems: These should be used as a guide and as a way to
get you thinking about how you present the thread of your argument. You may need
to adapt certain words and phrases for your own purposes. You may also wish to
add your own sentence stems to the list below:
Signposting stems for an introduction
To understand the role of … (your topic*) this essay aims to provide a
discussion of … (the ideas you will develop)
This essay seeks to investigate/evaluate/illustrate/discuss the impact of …
(your topic) in relation to … (the ideas you will develop)
Firstly, this assignment examines … (your topic) and its links with … (your first
idea) Next, it closely examines … (your next idea) Finally, it focuses on … (your
next idea)
Signposting stems for a paragraph which introduces or develops a
new idea
One aspect which illustrates … (your topic) can be identified as … (the idea
you want to develop)
The current debate about ... (your topic) identifies an interesting viewpoint on
...(the idea you want to develop)
This first/next/final section provides a general discussion of … (the idea you
want to develop)
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 53
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Signposting stems for a paragraph which expands upon a previous idea
Building on from the idea that … (mention previous idea), this section illustrates
that … (introduce your new idea).
To further understand the role of … (your topic or your previous idea) this
section explores the idea that … (introduce your new idea)
Another line of thought on … (your topic or your previous idea) demonstrates
that … (introduce your new idea)
Signposting stems for a paragraph which offers a contrasting view
However, another angle on this debate suggests that … (introduce your
contrasting idea)
In contrast to evidence which presents the view that … (mention your
previous idea) an alternative perspective illustrates that … (introduce your
contrasting idea)
However, not all research shows that … (mention your previous idea). Some
evidence agrees that … (introduce your contrasting idea)
Signposting stems to sum up an idea in a paragraph
This evidence highlights that … (sum up your idea)
There is general agreement that … (sum up your idea)
The strength of such an approach is that … (sum up your idea)
Signposting stems for a conclusion
Clearly, this essay has shown that the main factors which impact upon … (your
topic) are … (summarise your main ideas)
The evidence presented in this assignment has shown that … (mention the
conclusions you have drawn)
To conclude, this assignment has addressed a number of significant issues
which show that … (mention the conclusions you have drawn)
* The word ‘topic’ refers to the subject area you are being asked to discuss and is
usually referred to in an assignment title or brief.
54 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
The ‘idea into sentence’ chart
What is the idea you want to discuss?
globalisation
What do you want to say about it?
it gives smaller communities a voice
Add the two together
globalisation gives smaller communities a voice
Does the sentence need ‘framing’ or introducing?
Firstly, this essay argues that
Add to your sentence
Firstly, this essay argues that globalisation gives smaller
communities a voice
Do you want to add another related point? (You may decide not to)
it makes the wider economy stronger
Which conjuction would link the second part of your sentence best?
(and, if, but, so, which, thus, therefore)
and
Put your completed sentence together
Firstly, this essay argues that globaliation gives
smaller communities a voice and it makes the wider
economy stronger.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 55
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
The ‘idea into sentence’ chart
What is the idea you want to discuss?
What do you want to say about it?
Add the two together
Does the sentence need ‘framing’ or introducing?
Add to your sentence
Do you want to add another related point? (You may decide not to)
Which conjuction would link the second part of your sentence best?
(and, if, but, so, which, thus, therefore)
Put your completed sentence together
56 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
1. Create an objective,
confident voice
Use the third person (this means
not using ‘I’)
Most of the time you will be expected
to use the third person as it enables
you to show that you are being
objective.
You could try using:
This essay discusses the importance
of …
This research shows that …
It could be said that …
Consider your use of tenses
You need to be clear about whether
you are discussing something that
happened in the past or something
that is having an impact upon the
present.
The present tense:
Smith’s argument illustrates that …
Freud’s theory supports the view
that …
The past tense:
The Industrial Revolution had an
impact upon society in a number of
different ways.
The interviews were conducted with
a group of parents in the
Leicestershire area.
2. Use appropriate
language for your audience
and purpose
Academic writing need not be
complicated, but it does need to have
an element of formality. Your choice of
words for an academic assignment
should be more considered and
careful.
Avoid contractions
Rather than; ‘don’t’, ‘can’t’, ‘it’s’,
‘should’ve’
You could try: ‘do not’, ‘cannot’,
‘it is’, ‘should have’
Use the full forms of words
Rather than: ‘TV’, ‘memo’, or ‘quote’
You could try: ‘television’,
‘memorandum’ or ‘quotation’
Avoid using informal words
Rather than: Smith’s bit of research
is ok.
You could try: Smith’s research is
significant because …
Rather than using words such as:
‘get’, ‘got’ or ‘a lot’
You could try: ‘obtain’, ‘obtained’
or ‘many’
3. Be clear and concise
Keep words simple:
Rather than: The denotation was
obfuscated by the orator.
You could try: The meaning was
hidden by the speaker.
Aim for the right word for the right
occasion:
Example 1: Crusade against crime
Example 2: Campaign against crime
The word ‘crusade’ has connotations
of a battle and is more aggressive in
tone than the word ‘campaign’.
‘Campaign’ implies a more
considered approach.
How to write in an academic style
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 57
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Make every word count:
Rather than: The theorist called
Sigmund Freud wrote a significant
piece of work called On Narcissism
which offers valuable insights
into …
You could try: Freud (1914) offers
valuable insights into …
Avoid any vague words or phrases:
Ensure that your reader knows who
or what you are referring to when
you use words such as: ‘it’, ‘them’,
‘they’.
Words such as ‘people’ and ‘ideas’
have the potential to be vague. So,
avoid saying: ‘according to many
people’. Ensure that you explain
which people or which ideas.
When talking about events that have
happened in the past, avoid phrases
such as: ‘in the past’ or ‘in recent
times’. You need to be specific.
Avoid using clichéd phrases:
A cliché is a phrase or expression
that is overused to such an extent
that it loses its value. For example,
‘as bright as a button’ or as ‘clear
as mud’.
4. Use language sensitively
Avoid expressing strong opinions too
directly. Academic writing is
concerned with presenting your
discussion in an objective way, so
there is no need to assert your
opinions too strongly.
Rather than: Smith has an extremely
important point to make because
You could try: Smith’s view is
significant because …
So avoid words like: ‘very’, ‘really’,
‘quite’ and ‘extremely’.
Lean towards caution
We need to be aware that our views
are contributing to a much wider
debate surrounding your given topic.
Your use of language must show that
you are making suggestions which
contribute to this wider discussion:
Rather than: ‘This view is correct
because …’
You could try: ‘It could be said
that …’, ‘It appears that …’,
‘It seems that …’
Avoid using taboo language
In academic writing it is important
not to offend your reader – you want
her/him to trust your judgment and
authority. Using swear words or
making offensive comments will
upset the balance of your writing and
undermine your point of view.
Do not stereotype, generalise or
make assumptions
This especially applies to individuals
or groups on the basis of their
gender, race, nationality, religion,
physical and mental capacity, age,
sexuality, marital status, or political
beliefs.
Your use of language should always
remain neutral.
Rather than: fireman or policeman
Try using: fire fighter or police officer
Rather than: mankind
Try using: humankind
What does it mean to use direct
quotations?
Using direct quotations means to copy an
original piece of text word for word. To show
that you are doing this, you need to enclose
all the original text in quotation marks. It can
be particularly useful to directly quote an
author when:
The author’s style is clear and engaging
The author’s views support your own
exactly
When it is important that your reader
knows exactly what an author has said
about a topic
Tips for using direct quotations
It is best to use small quotations as it
means that you can make an evaluation on
a single idea rather than many ideas
Enclose the quotation in quotation marks
(either single or double are fine, but be
consistent)
If you do quote more than three lines of
text, indent the whole quotation (you do not
need quotation marks when you do this)
If you do not need to use all of the
quotation, then you can use ellipses […] to
show that parts are missing
What is summarising?
Summarising involves taking the main ideas
from a piece of text and rewriting them in
your own words. A summary is significantly
shorter than the original text and tends to
give an overview of a topic area.
Tips for summarising
Highlight the main ideas in the text you
want to summarise (do not include any
minor details)
Combine these ideas together in your own
words
Correctly interpret the original
Do not include your own opinion or add
extra information
Use your own words and not those of the
original author (unless using quotation
marks)
Remember to cite your source using a
recognised referencing format
Keep reminding your reader that you are
summarising the work of someone else:
The author goes on to say that …
The text further states that …
What is paraphrasing?
Paraphrasing means to rewrite an author’s
ideas in your own words. This still means that
you have to cite the original text. Often you
are referring to a text in greater detail than
you would in a summary. You may only be
paraphrasing a sentence or two.
Paraphrasing enables you to explore and
interrogate individual ideas at a deeper level.
Tips for paraphrasing
Read the text several times to understand
the meaning
Extract the main idea from the sentence
and think about it on its own
Frame the idea in a new sentence
You could try and structure the sentence
differently (try starting with the main idea)
Now return to the original and make sure
that the meaning is still the same and that
nothing has been misinterpreted
Remember to cite your source using a
recognised referencing format
How to summarise, paraphrase and use direct quotations
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 58
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 59
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Using and developing new vocabulary
Vocabulary refers to the body of words known to an individual. When you start
university you will be exposed to a range of new words and terms that may be
unfamiliar to you. The key to learning these new words is to turn them from words
you know (passive words) into words you use (active words):
words we know (passive words)
words we use (active words)
In order to make these new words useable, you need to learn what they mean and
how to use them. One way of familiarising yourself with them is to produce a chart
similar to the one below. An Art and Design student, for example, might produce a
chart like this:
Word Definition Context (use your new word
in a sentence
superimpose Place or lay one thing over
another, typically so that both
are evident.
Blake superimposes fabrics to
create depth and intensity.
art-deco A style of decorative art
characterised by precise and
boldly delineated geometric
shapes.
The art-deco movement
evoked an awareness that
pattern could be bold and
daring.
Tips for developing your vocabulary:
Read as much as you can, including text books in your field. Absorb the language
of your subject and make a note of how writers in your area use language. What
sort of words and phrases do they use? You could always keep a list of useful
words and phrases.
A dictionary and a thesaurus are useful tools to help you to develop your
vocabulary. A good dictionary will provide you with a definition of your word and a
guide to its pronunciation. A thesaurus will offer you a list of synonyms
(alternative words) and can help you to expand your vocabulary.
Try to gain some ownership over your new vocabulary by using it when you write
and when you speak. It is not until new words are actively used by you, that the
language is fully absorbed.
To develop your understanding of terminology in your subject area, go to your
subject text books for a working definition rather than a dictionary.
60 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 5: Writing your assignment
Tips for writing when you don’t want to write
Start by writing down any thoughts you have for your essay. This helps to get rid
of the expanse of white page. (Remember you don’t need to show these thoughts
to anyone else at this stage).
Try different approaches such as mind-mapping, flow charts or free-writing.
Discuss your ideas with others in your group. Discussion can be a useful way of
generating new ideas and also encourages you to see other perspectives.
Try writing in a different location or writing at a different time of day. Make a note
of which locations/times suit you best.
Type out your topic headings, references or bibliography.
Type out any quotations you think you might use.
An action plan for writing:
1
Consider your short term and long term writing objectives. Work out what
writing needs doing now or in the next few days, and what needs thinking
about for the future.
2
Make a timetable. This makes the workload organised and manageable.
Work out what can be achieved in a day/week/month and be realistic about
what can’t be achieved.
3
Plan to write regularly. Short bursts of 20 minutes are often more
successful and manageable. Set yourself a daily target; 200 words seem
more realistic and achievable than a whole project or assignment.
4
Break big sections of writing into smaller parts. Focus on the individual
paragraphs rather than the whole essay.
5
Finish your daily quota of writing at a point where you feel confident in what
you are saying, even if it is mid-way through a sentence. When you return
to your writing, it will not be so difficult to start again.
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 61
Stage6
Drafting, editing and
proofreading
Higher Education Assigment Toolkit
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 63
STAGE 6: Drafting, editing and proofreading
Why write several drafts? Why not just
write it one go?
This section will help to:
Organise the process of editing and proofreading
Edit your first draft
Proofread your final draft
I repeated ideas and the
order was a bit random – I’ll
check next time
I lost marks because my
sentences rambled
I missed the point
completely – I can see that
now. What a waste!
I knew what I wanted
to say but didn’t write it
very clearly – I’ve got to
resubmit it now
I left it to the last
minute so no time to
check – embarrassing!
I checked my references – thank
goodness. It took a while but it was
worth it – I got positive feedback
about them and a good mark
When I read it out loud, I noticed
I‘d missed words out and that lots of
my sentences were so long they didn’t
make sense (even to me)
I checked my essay using
my original plan and could see where
it was confusing for someone
reading it
I could see that my sentences
and paragraphs were really muddled –
but wasn’t sure how to correct them.
I got help from CLaSS
No checking…
Checking and
improving…
64 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 6: Drafting, editing and proofreading
How to edit and proofread your writing
What’s the difference between editing
and proof reading?
Editing and proof reading are not the same! Editing happens as
you write your assignment while proof reading is the last part of the
writing process.
Aim for 3 drafts of your writing:
First draft: Focus on getting your main ideas and information down.
Second draft: Take a cold hard look at your first draft and edit it for
content, structure, style, evidence and referencing .
Third draft: This is the proof reading stage when you check carefully
for errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling. This is the final
refinement of your writing.
Editing your first draft
Now’s the time to take a good hard look at your first draft
What’s your main point? Is it clear to someone reading the
assignment? Could you write it in one sentence?
Have you provided convincing evidence to support your main
point? Have you acknowledged opposing views?
Will your structure make sense to a reader? Does it follow the
conventions for academic essays or reports?
Check that all your information and ideas relate clearly to the
assignment title and your main point.
Proofreading your second draft
Now check for misspellings, mistakes in grammar and punctuation
Read for only one error at a time, separating the text into
individual sentences eg. check for spelling first, then grammar,
then punctuation. Find out the sort of errors you make and learn how
to correct them.
Read every word slowly and out loud. This lets you hear how the
words sound together.
Read the paper backwards, working from the end to the
beginning. The focus then is entirely on spelling.
Note: You might need to do more than two drafts!
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 65
STAGE 6: Drafting, editing and proofreading
Ckecklists to help you edit and proofread
your assignment
I find it difficult to
spot any mistakes I
may be making
I don’t know where
to start when I edit
Editing your essay can seem tedious but is a necessary part of the writing process.
Editing something you have written invariably makes it better. It is actually a simple
task if tackled in an organised manner.
Top Tip: take it slow and check for one thing at a time.
1. Print a copy of your essay and begin by looking at the content:
Begin with the introduction Does it state your intentions and the
structure of the essay?
Look at each paragraph Does it contain relevant information
and have clear links to the next one?
Look at the conclusion Does it sum up your argument and
answer the question?
2. Read your work out loud or get someone to read it to you. If you hear something
you don’t like, change it and see if it sounds better.
Pause in your reading as punctuation
indicates
This helps you determine how your
essay flows and sounds and whether
your punctuation needs changing.
Check for spelling errors Read the work backwards as it will not
make sense and so the spelling will be
easily noticed.
Set your essay aside for a few days This will allow you to go back and
critique it with a fresh pair of eyes.
66 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 6: Drafting, editing and proofreading
Understanding feedback from tutors
I don’t understand
what the tutor is trying
to say
I never look at
comments from tutors
when I receive my
assignment back
I don’t know what
to do next
It is important to look at feedback from your
tutor in order to improve on your marks. Here
are some comments from tutors and questions
to ask yourself in order to improve on your next
assignment.
Feedback from tutor Questions to ask yourself
Failure to answer the question Did you interpret the question
correctly? Did you look at the action
words? (e.g. compare, contrast,
evaluate)
Too long or unfocussed Have you kept to the point? Did you
refer back to the title?
Too short or lacks sufficient content Did you explain your points fully? Did
you use examples? Did you research
the question thoroughly?
Inclusion of irrelevant information Did you understand what the question
required you to do? Did you answer it
and not just give information you were
comfortable with?
Top Tip:
Could those questions relate to the fact that you did not read
the question properly or plan your essay with questions for
reading?
Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010. 67
STAGE 6: Drafting, editing and proofreading
Feedback from tutor Questions to ask yourself
Badly organised, rambling Have you used an essay plan?
(eg. Thought mapping or spider
diagram?) Did you check for
repetition?
Lacks fluency, poor style or
presentation
Did you link your points/paragraphs?
Did you check your spelling and
grammar?
Poor introduction Did you introduce the topic and explain
what you were going to do?
Poor conclusion Did the conclusion indicate how you
answered the question? Did you avoid
including new information?
Top Tip:
Could those questions show that you need to organise your
structure, proof read your work or remind yourself what
introductions and conclusions are for?
Feedback from tutor Questions to ask yourself
Unbalanced answer Have you presented both sides of an
argument? Is it objective?
Reaching conclusions without good
evidence
Have you presented the evidence for
your conclusion? Have you proved it?
Too descriptive Were you critical and evaluative of
information you found? Did you have a
theoretical background and examples
to support your points?
Top Tip:
Was your reading focused on the aims and objectives, different
points of view and linking theory to practice?
68 Higher Education Assignment Toolkit. © De Montfort University 2010.
STAGE 6: Drafting, editing and proofreading
Proofread for only one error at a time
eg. spelling
If you try and identify too many things
at once, you lose focus and
proofreading becomes less effective.
You may have some idea of the sort of
mistakes you make so you may want to
prioritise spellings for example, and
then reread to check for another error
such as punctuation.
Read slowly and read every word
You pick up errors that you miss when
reading silently.
Try reading out loud, which forces you
to say each word and also lets you
hear how the words sound together.
Separate the text into individual
sentences
Read each sentence separately
looking for grammar, punctuation or
spelling errors.
If working with a printed copy, try using
a ruler or a piece of paper to isolate
the line you are working on.
Circle every punctuation mark
This helps you to clearly focus on any
mistakes.
This forces you to look at each one.
As you circle, ask yourself if the
punctuation is correct.
Read the paper backwards
Start with the last word on the last
page working your way back to the
beginning, reading each word
separately.
Helps check spelling. Content,
punctuation and grammar won’t make
any sense; the focus will be entirely on
spelling.
Useful Tips:
When you’ve just finished it put it aside for a while; decide
whether you are going to work from the computer or a printed
copy; alter the size, colour or font to trick the brain into thinking
it’s a different text, allowing you to see it from a different
perspective; find a quiet place to work and do it in blocks of time
rather than in one go to enable full concentration.
Proofreading (checking your work)
This is the final stage of the editing process (revising your work) and is done when
you have completed your assignment.
Proofreading is important as you will be marked on your style, content,
structure and presentation.
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