Writing well

If you have followed the Starting well steps, you should now understand the task, have a clear, logical plan of what you want to write for your reader and have research to support your ideas. You are ready to write.

Have realistic expectations

Have realistic expectations. No writer writes a perfect first draft. Be prepared and allow time to possibly reorganise your ideas, delete some writing, go back and/or find some more research. The important thing is to keep going and keep writing. Each change is likely to be an improvement but save versions of your draft, just in case you change your mind.

First focus on your ideas

It can be a challenge to concentrate on communicating your ideas and writing well at the same time. First focus on writing your ideas clearly and credibly (your research helps with this).

Other thoughts may pop into your head while you are writing and what you do with them is important. You can make a note or ignore. For example:

  • I’m sure there was something about this in an article I found (helpful)
  • I wonder if other students have finished this essay (ignore)
  • What’s that delicious smell? (ignore)
  • This sentence doesn’t feel quite right (helpful).

Any helpful thoughts can be noted for later (you can use the comment function or a different colour font) but do not act on them until you finish writing that section. The notes can be a good way to get back into the writing mood next time you sit down with your draft.

Writing in the expected way

An important consideration is the genre, or type of writing. The genre should be clear from your task sheet and if you have any questions, ask your teacher, tutor or lecturer. This table gives information on common genres, and you should always compare these descriptions to the expectation set out in your task.

Genre What is it? Why am I writing it?
Annotated bibliography

A bibliography is an alphabetical list, by author, of the sources (books, journals, websites, etc.) you have used to research and write your assignment.

A bibliography usually includes information such as the author, title, publisher and date. An annotation is a concise summary and/or evaluation of the value or relevance of each source. An annotated bibliography combines these two elements and provides bibliographic information plus a summary and/ or evaluation of each of the sources you have used. An annotated bibliography may be one part of a larger assessment item.

You may be asked to write an annotated bibliography for several reasons:

  • to provide a review of the literature on your subject
  • to demonstrate the quality and depth of your reading
  • to show the scope of sources or research available, e.g. journals, books, websites
  • to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy and quality of sources that may be of interest
  • to explore and organise sources for further research.
Case study

A case study is a description of a real-life problem or situation which requires you to analyse the main issues involved.

These issues need to be discussed and related to the academic literature and/or research findings on the topic and conclusions then drawn about why the situation occurred and how best to respond to it.

A case study is a way to apply the theoretical knowledge gained from the academic literature to real life situations that you may encounter in your work.

Writing a case study response enables you to:

  • analyse the issues in a real-life situation
  • apply the knowledge gained from your academic reading and research
  • draw conclusions about how to respond as a professional to that situation.

A critique is a genre of academic writing that briefly summarises and critically evaluates a work or concept.

Critiques can be used to carefully analyse a variety of works such as:

  • Creative works - novels, exhibits, film, images, poetry
  • Research - monographs, journal articles, systematic reviews, theories
  • Media - news reports, feature articles.

Like an essay, a critique uses a formal, academic writing style and has a clear structure, that is, an introduction, body and conclusion. However, the body of a critique includes a summary of the work and a detailed evaluation. The purpose of an evaluation is to gauge the usefulness or impact of a work in a particular field.

Writing a critique on a work helps us to develop:

  • a knowledge of the work's subject area or related works
  • an understanding of the work's purpose, intended audience, development of argument, structure of evidence or creative style
  • a recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of the work.
Empirical article (or research article)

An empirical research article reports on research using data collected from experiments or observations.

Such an article would give an outline of the question that the researcher is seeking to answer, how the research was conducted, the results of the research and the conclusions that could be drawn from those results. These articles are usually published in academic journals and publications.

Empirical articles present research findings. Other researchers and academics then review the research and ensure that there are no errors or false conclusions. This is known as 'peer review'. After research is peer reviewed, it is published and accepted as a part of the body of knowledge on that topic.


Essays at university need to respond to the question by developing an argument which is based on evidence and critical reasoning.

They must have certain key elements including:

  • a clear introduction with a thesis statement (an answer to the question or a response to the task) and a well-defined structure
  • logically structured body paragraphs which include supporting evidence from academic sources
  • a clear conclusion which restates your topic and summarises your essay and thesis.

Essays are used as assessment at University to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a topic. They are also useful tools to promote thinking and learning. You are required to develop an argument and apply critical thinking skills to analyse a range of academic sources in support of your argument.

Literature review

A literature review is a critical analysis of published sources, or literature, on a particular topic.

It is an assessment of the literature and provides a summary, classification, comparison and evaluation. At postgraduate level literature reviews can be incorporated into an article, a research report or thesis. At undergraduate level literature reviews can be a separate stand alone assessment.

The literature review is generally in the format of a standard essay made up of three components: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It is not a list like an annotated bibliography in which a summary of each source is listed one by one.

At university you may be asked to write a literature review in order to demonstrate your understanding of the literature on a particular topic. You show your understanding by analysing and then synthesising the information to:

  • determine what has already been written on a topic
  • provide an overview of key concepts
  • identify major relationships or patterns
  • identify strengths and weaknesses
  • identify any gaps in the research
  • identify any conflicting evidence
  • provide a solid background to a research paper's investigation.
Reflective task

Good reflective writing usually involves four key elements:

  • reporting and responding to a critical issue or experience
  • relating this issue or experience to your own knowledge in this field
  • reasoning about causes and effects of this issue/experience according to relevant theories or literature and/or similarities or differences with other experiences you've had
  • reconstructing your thinking to plan new ways to approach the issue or engage in similar experiences in the future.

Reflecting on an experience involves drawing on current understandings to think deeply and purposefully about what can be learned from the experience. The purpose of academic or professional reflection is to transform practice in some way, whether it is the practice of learning or the practice of the discipline or the profession.

This form of writing is a process where you can learn from your experiences and connect theory with practice in your professional field or discipline. It can help you become more aware of assumptions and preconceived ideas, and it can help you to plan future actions.


A report is a clearly structured document that presents information as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Reports should be easy to read and professional in presentation.

Reports are used to help make decisions or account for actions. Reports use research to make recommendations for action. There are many different types of reports including business reports, scientific lab reports and case study reports. The common feature of all reports is that they are structured into sections with headings. Reports may include tables, illustrations and/or graphs to present information. A report may include recommendations and/or appendices.

Always check with your lecturer or tutor for any other specific requirements and report conventions.

Reports are a common form of workplace communication, from a simple work assessment report to a technical write-up. Report writing is an essential skill for professionals in many fields including business, science, education and information technology. Mastering report writing at university will help prepare you for your professional life.

No matter what genre you are writing, it is likely to have all or most of the characteristics listed in this Writing Well section.

Writing academically

Academic writing has a typical style with some variations depending on the genre, task and audience. Common characteristics of academic writing are:

  • It is concise. Everything you write should relate directly to the task. Communicate your ideas as concisely as possible. Each word should contribute to the content and/or correctness of your writing. This is good for your reader and word count. Use grammar and vocabulary wisely to help with concise, clear writing. You can include the terminology of the topic/your field and that is used in your course and the literature.
  • It is formal. Avoid contractions (won’t) and text or slang language (IMHO, heaps of research). Write in complete sentences that create paragraphs and write in third person (they/he/she) unless your task instructs you otherwise.
  • It is objective. Use a neutral, impersonal tone. Focus on facts, ideas supported by evidence rather than opinion.
  • It is inclusive. Your language should be inclusive. That means using language that does not discriminate based on age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or beliefs. Be careful not to portray one group as superior to another as this can interfere with your main message.
  • It is tentative. Unless something is proven, you should use tentative language in your writing. Being tentative is common in academic writing because data can be interpreted in different ways, all evidence may not have been read, and new discoveries can mean understanding changes. Tentative language can also show your level of confidence and the strength of your evidence in your writing. Use of verbs such as suggest, appear; modals such as may, could; and adverbs such as likely.

These characteristics of academic writing are important to focus on when writing as they are often not picked up by grammar checking programs.

Planning your structure

You are now ready to write. Before you put your fingers to the keyboard, review your task and marking criteria to make sure you have stayed on topic.

Start by making a note of your main points and organise the research that supports them. Each of your main points is likely to become a paragraph and the order of these depends on what your research has found, the genre and your overall response to the task.

Don’t be afraid to try different ways of organising your work. It is important that your writing has a logical flow for your reader. This means it is always clear to the reader what you are writing, why it is important and how it relates to the task.

You may find it helpful to develop an essay plan with a topic for each paragraph and dot points for each of the supporting ideas and research. This plan then becomes the starting point for the next steps in finishing your work.

Writing an introduction

The purpose of an introduction is to orientate your reader to the topic, your position and what will be covered in the essay. The form of introductions may change according to genre but the need to orientate your reader is always necessary.

You can use dot points to record your ideas and then write your full introduction after the body, making sure they match. A good introduction does all these things and motivates the audience to continue reading.

Writing the body

The body of your writing is where you develop your argument. Each paragraph in the body should have a main point that is explained, supported by evidence and linked to your overall argument. All together your paragraphs should complete the picture of what you want to say to the reader.

The typical structure of a paragraph is a topic sentence that introduces the main point of the paragraph and how this is relevant to your overall argument. Your following evidence and points will typically shift from general to more specific. To show your understanding of, and engagement with, the topic it is important that each paragraph has a mix of research and your own analysis of how the evidence is relevant to your argument. Evidence can be relevant because it supports, contradicts or provides another perspective and as the writer you need to make these relationships clear. Remember by paraphrasing and citing the ideas of others shows a deeper understanding of the source than a direct quote. A paragraph will usually finish with a concluding and/or linking sentence that summarises the point of the paragraph and, if appropriate, links to the next paragraph.

The number of body paragraphs that you write will vary depending on the length of your assessment. As you write continue to check if each paragraph makes a clear point, the order of all your paragraphs is logical as well as reflecting the genre and your argument.

Writing a conclusion

Your conclusion should do more than the introduction. Both your introduction and conclusion make the topic and your position clear with a summary of the points and evidence you have included. Your conclusion may also write about how this specific topic is related to bigger issues, and/or mention limitations, related issues, predictions or suggestions for future research.

Remember your conclusion leaves a final impression on your reader so take care to write in a way that shows you have engaged with the topic and can see its relevance to your studies.