Skip to main content

Academic Research & Writing

Resources for Academic Research

Guide Creator

This guide was created by TOP's former English Language and Academic Skills Coordinator, Caroline Thornton.

Email Ettiquette



  • Don't use an unprofessional email address
  • Start with a new e-mail
  • Include an appropriate subject heading
  • Write a salutation
  • Write well!  
  • Provide context and background information
  • Write a clear and concise message
  • Sign your name
  • Proofread the e-mail
  • Allow adequate time for a reply

Paragraph Writing

What's important?
  • Developmental paragraphs relating to the information presented in the introduction (each paragraph contains only one main idea)
  • Paragraphs are arranged in logical progression
  • Evidence is presented and analysed
  • Reference is made to other sources
  • Includes examples, statistics, tables, charts, reference to cases/legislation (law), etc. to support your ideas
  • Paragraphs flow smoothly from one to the next

How to Proofread Draft Assignments

[ Open All | Close All ]

Make sure you have actually answered the question
  1. Have you clearly stated your position or argument (thesis statement)?
  2. Does your introduction clearly outline what is to follow?
Make sure you have clearly structured your essay
  1.  Is there a clear introduction, body and conclusion?
  2. Does your assignment progress in logical stages?
  3. Do your paragraphs flow and are they well connected?
  4. Do all the main points relate to the topic and contribute to answering the question?
Make sure your paragraphs are clearly connected
  1. Does each sentence flow on from the previous?
  2. Have you used transition words to connect ideas and points?
  3. Are your transitions varied, or have you used the similar types?
  4. Have you supported facts and opinions with appropriate examples and evidence?
  5. Are all examples and evidence presented relevant to the points you have made and the question you are answering?
Make sure you followed the conventions of academic English
  1. Have you used appropriate terminology?
  2. Have you checked your spelling?
  3. Is your language clear and direct?
  4. Have you explained key concepts?
  5. Have you used appropriate punctuation?
  6. Are your tenses correct?
  7. Is there any unnecessary repetition?
  8. Is there any unnecessary words or content?
Make sure you have properly referenced your sources
  1. Have you included in-text citations?
  2. Is there a complete reference list at the end of the assignment?
  3. Are your references in the reference list alphabetically ordered?
  4. Are your references accurate (will the reader be able to find them)?
  5. Is it clear what are your thoughts and what ideas come from credible sources?

Writing Resources

Features of Academic Writing

The ability to express yourself clearly and accurately is important in academic writing. Here you will find information to help you improve your academic writing and grammar.

Academic writing is:

  Clear and concise - only includes what is relevant and necessary in as few words as possible

 Structured (see the Essay Structure and Report Structure boxes below for more details)


  Based on research

  Objective - words should be neutral, showing neither too much emotion nor attitude

Academic writing does not:

   Use first person (e.g. "I", "we", "me", "us", "my", etc.)

   Use contractions (e.g. isn't, doesn't, it'll, can't)

   Use slang (e.g. stuff)

   Use qualifiers ("really", "very", "surely", "often", "basically", "hopefully", etc.)

The Academic Writing Process

[ Open All | Close All ]

1. Know the topic

Before starting, it is important that you read the assignment question carefully and make sure you understand what you are being asked to do. If you are unsure, check with your lecturer or tutor.

Once you understand the question and what it is you are being asked to produce, generate your initial thoughts and ideas about the topic through brainstorming and writing them down, no matter how 'creative' or 'simple' they may be. Consider the following:

  • Do you have any initial responses to the question?
  • What could a possible answer (or answers) be?
  • Do you have a particular opinion about the topic?
  • What prior knowledge do you have about the topic?
  • What are the key concepts relating to the question?

Generating some ideas before you start your research will help you to focus your reading. Without a sense of direction, it is easy to get lost in the research process.

If you really do not know anything about the topic, start by skimming and browsing the required or recommended readings to identify a few ideas and key concepts.

At this stage, it is also important to check your course outline for assignment guidelines and be certain about the following:

  • What format your assignment should follow: An essay? A report? A critical review? etc.
  • What the expected length is: This will affect the amount of research required, how much depth you should go into and how many references are needed.
2. Read and Research

As you conduct your research, your understanding of the topic will develop and your initial ideas are likely to change. The research process is something that evolves over time as you gain a deeper understanding and further engage with the subject area. 

For academic research, you must use credible sources. These are sources that can be trusted. We trust that the author's ideas are his/her own and can be backed up with evidence, i.e. a source with a solid authority within its discipline.


 Books published by recognised authors and publishers

 Papers published in journals

 Scholar and official websites that are regularly updated

 Scientific and scholar database

  • Save interesting sources
  • Take notes
  • Summarise the main points
  • Make a note of the reference
3. Outline and Plan

After you have generated some ideas and conducted some research, it is important to sketch out your assignment before you start to write. For your outline, use:

  • Short sentences to describe paragraphs
  • Bullet points to describe what each paragraph will cover
4. Start Writing (the first draft)

A draft is the preliminary and initial effort of your essay. It is going to be subject to revision, amendments, refining, etc. When writing your first draft:

  • Don't worry (yet) too much about your introduction
  • Pick the way that is most comfortable for you (location, laptop/desktop computer/free hand, etc.)
  • Start writing your first draft in plenty of time so you have time to revise it and make changes

Note: Keep a copy! It is important to keep copies of any drafts you write. This will help you in case there is any dispute about your work in the future.

5. Review and Edit

Remember to proofread your essay! This means examining your essay cautiously to spot and correct mistakes in grammar, style and spelling. 

The proofreading process:
  1. Eliminate unnecessary words - write short, clear, concise, direct sentences
  2. Look at comments on old assignments and set a list of mistakes to watch out for
  3. Proofread using a hard copy of your assignment before going back to on-screen editing
  4. Read your assignment out loud to spot run-on sentences and hear other problems you may not spot whilst reading silently
  5. Use a spell checker
  6. Once you have edited your mistakes, proofread again!
Some tips:

 Review and amend the most important aspects of your content

 Don't make corrections at the sentence and word level if you still need to work on the focus, organisation, structure and overall writing of the paper.

 Give yourself time between writing and proofreading your assignment (this will help you spot mistakes faster and more easily)

Essay Structure

It is vital that all essays, whether for an assignment of in an exam, are structured clearly and logically for the reader.

All essays should include:

Example Introduction


Exercises to apply your knowledge and practice your skills

Exercise 1: The Introduction

Exercise 2: The Conclusion

Exercise 3: Voice

Exercise 4: Paraphrasing

Report Structure

Types of reports can vary greatly, depending on the aim of the report. There is, however a basic structure common to most reports:

Title page

  • Title of report
  • Assignment title
  • Your name
  • Your student number
  • Course code and title
  • Due date

Executive Summary

  • Briefly outline the report in full

Table of Contents (TOC)

  • A list of the major and minor sections of the report and their page numbers


  1. Set the scene; give some background information about the topic
  2. State the purpose/aim of the report
  3. Outline the structure (what you will be discussing within the report)


  • Main body of the report where you present the arguments for your recommendations
  • Needs to be presented in a logical order using headings and sub-headings to clearly break up the discussion


  • Brief summary of your report & judgment


  • Explicitly state what your recommendations are following your conclusion

Reference List

  • A complete list of ALL sources used
  • Use HARVARD referencing style
  • Any reference given in the reference list MUST ALSO feature in-text (do not include any references that have not been included in-text)
  • List references alphabetically with clear spacing between each

Appendices (if applicable)

  • Any information used in your report but not included in the body

Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is the main idea of an essay. It is often the point you want to argue or support in an essay. The thesis statement appears in the introductory paragraph of an essay and can be 1 or 2 sentences. A clear and well written thesis statement will help you to determine the direction and structure of your argument.

What is thesis statement?

 A clear and direct answer to the essay question

 A statement that can be discussed and elaborated further in the body of the essay

 Contain an opinion about the topic (what your attitude is toward the topic)

 Part of the introduction

 1 - 2 sentences

 Written in 3rd person 

Avoid the following:

 The first person (I believe / In my opinion, etc.)

 Unclear language (It seems, I appears, It may be that, etc.)

 Stating a fact - a thesis statement is something you plan to make an argument about

 Being too broad/general and too long/wordy


[ Open All | Close All ]

Example 1

 Many people do not like to watch violent horror movies.

 Today's movies do not have the emotional impact of the classic horror movies of the 1940's.

Example 2

 Rap music is the best music ever.

 Although many people find rap music offensive, it has had a positive impact on today's youth.

Example 3

The recycling of one aluminium can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours. 

 Recycling is one of the most important jobs a person can do to protect our environment.

Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarising

Quoting Paraphrasing Summarising

 Must match source verbatim (word for word)

 Appears between quotation marks ("...")

 Only to be used if the original meaning will be lost if written using your own words

 Must give attribution to original source and author (including page number)

 Paraphrasing is putting another person's words into your own

 Simplifies original source of information

 Does not match original source word for word

 Changes the words, but keeps the original meaning

 Must give attribution to original source

 Simplifies and shortens main ideas of original source

 Does not match original source word for word

 Presents a general overview

 Must give attribution to original source

[ Open All | Close All ]

How to QUOTE

Quoting should be done sparingly - you must have a good reason to use a direct quotation! Direct quotes should support your own ideas, and not replace them. For example, make a point in your own words, then use a direct quote from a credible source as evidence to support what you have said. 

SHORT QUOTATIONS appear as a continuation within the main paragraph and often work well integrated into a sentence.


Social mechanisms are important in instances of scarcity as ‘[m]aking the best use of scarce resources will … involve forming agreements with others’ (Ricketts 2002, p. 4). 

LONGER QUOTATIONS (more than 3 lines of text) should start on a new line and be indented.


Researchers have examined the role of social mechanisms in instances of scarcity:

As part of a community of individuals, however, individuals …usually find that their best strategy is not to cut themselves off from all communication with their fellows, but rather co-ordinate their activity with that of other people. Making the best use of scarce resources will therefore involve forming agreements with others, and economics then becomes the study of the social mechanisms which facilitate such agreements (Ricketts 2002, p. 4).


Paraphrasing involves saying the same thing as the original source, but in different words, using a different sentence structure.

 What to avoid:

  • Do not just replace words with synonyms
  • Do not simply reorder the sentences
  • Do not simply remove or add words or phrases
  • Do not use some new phrasing but keep much of the original phrasing
  • Do not forget to cite your source

 What to do:

  • Make sure you fully understand the information you would like to paraphrase
  • Break up and combine ideas
  • Expand on or shorten some ideas
  • Use common language (words that do not have a likely synonym and must be used to describe a topic)
  • Maintain the idea of the original passage as truly as possible

Original Text

In order to communicate effectively with other people, one must have a reasonably accurate idea of what they do and do not know that is pertinent to the communication. Treating people as though they have knowledge that they do not have can result in miscommunication and perhaps embarrassment. On the other hand, a fundamental rule of conversation, at least according to a Gricean view, is that one generally does not convey to others information that one can assume they already have.

Nickerson, R. S. (1999) How we know-and sometimes misjudge-what others know: Imputing one's own knowledge to others. Psychological Bulletin, 125 (6): p. 737.

 Unacceptable Paraphrase

To effectively communicate, it is necessary to have a reasonably accurate idea of what is known or not known that is relevant to the communication. Assuming people have knowledge that they do not have can cause miscommunication and sometimes embarrassment. However, an important rule of conversation is that people do not generally convey information that they assume of thers already have.

 Acceptable Paraphrase

Nickerson (1999) suggests that effective communication depends on a generally accurate knowledge of what the audience knows. If a speaker assumes too much knowledge about the subject, the audience will either misunderstand or be confused; however, assuming too little knowledge among those in the audience may cause them to feel patronised.


The amount of detail included in a summary depends on the length of the original text and how much information you need/would like to provide. 

What to do:

  • Highlight the main points in the text
  • Make notes of the main points, omitting examples
  • Rewrite the main points in your own words
Attributing the work of authors using introductory phrases

Every time you use the ideas of another person, you much acknowledge the original source by referencing. There will also be times when you would like to name the author directly within the main text. To do this, you can use one of the following introductory phrases:

According to X... X states that... X argues that... X claims that... X notes that...
As X observes... X proposes... X concludes that... X maintains that... X contends that...
As X states... X comments that... X asserts that... X agrees that... X reports...

Further Academic Writing Resources

Featured Resource

Proofreading Tool