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Writing skills

A hand writingWhat do we mean by academic writing?

Every course you study will feature academic writing and this will often take the form of an essay or report. Most assignments will ask you to demonstrate your academic objectivity and to show this in the form of an argument, rather than just produce a summary of everything you know about a topic. There are a number of ways to achieve this. Most importantly, throughout your studies you will develop your ability to argue a cause and provide evidence for your argument. Tackling tasks such as writing an essay or report for the first time can be daunting, especially if you are new to academic study. But remember that support is available from your tutor.

What style of writing will be needed?

Different subjects will demand different styles of writing. For example a vocational subject, such as health and social care, may require descriptive writing where you set the scene and describe what happened in a particular work situation. Words that tell you a descriptive style is needed may be when you are asked to ‘state’, ‘list’ or ‘describe’.

If you are working, or studying, a more technical subject such as science or engineering perhaps, you may need to use a more analytical style of writing. This style may draw on research or evidence from various sources and you may need to discuss and critically assess information in your writing.

Finally, reflective writing is needed when you are asked to think about your own learning or approach to a particular workplace situation. In this style of writing you need to reflect on your learning or experiences and discuss how these will inform and improve your future studies or practice.

What are the important points to remember when writing for study?

  • Answer the question – this may seem obvious, but an assignment question will rarely ask you to regurgitate everything you know about a particular topic. Read the question several times looking for the instruction, sometimes called process words, for example, discuss, describe, illustrate. Plan your answer fully before you write.
  • Use your own words – when you write an essay or an assignment you must make sure you use your own words, as this shows that you understand what you have read. You also need to avoid using (copying), the words of other people as this is known as plagiarism and it is not allowed.
  • Support your arguments with evidence – in your writing you will be expected to support your argument with information you have found in the course material, for example in a book or on a DVD, rather than base your discussion purely on your own opinion. In addition any evidence used should always be referenced to its source.

Learn more about writing skills

Visit the skills for study section of the OU website for tips on how to practise your writing skills.

Further information on writing skills

Practise various activities, particularly if English is not your first language, at Improve your writing skills

iTunes U has a good section on essay writing