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CIPPET Study Support: 6. Academic writing

This guide will help you find resources, understand academic and reflective writing and help you prepare for your coursework and exams

Writing for an academic versus professional audience

You may be used to writing for specific purposes in your professional role and it may seem that academic writing is far wordier and more abstract or theoretical.  This is often because in academic writing you are showing your working and using the writing to explore different perspectives and discuss the evidence fully. This thinking may go on behind the scenes in professional writing, but often only the outcomes and recommendations are shown in order to make it economical to read.

The sub-menus to this page include:

The 7 'sins' of academic writing

  • Writing in bullet points
  • Having paragraphs of only one or two lines
  • Forgetting to reference fully
  • Making statements that are not backed by evidence
  • Selecting the first piece of evidence that seems roughly related, thinking ‘that will do’
  • Including irrelevant information or wandering from the point
  • Neglecting to redraft and proof-read carefully

Differences between academic and professional writing


Professional writing shares some commonality with professional writing, they both:

  • follow specific criteria
  • have their own layout and formatting conventions
  • are written in a formal style
  • are need to be well presented and should be thoroughly proof-read
  • must meet stated deadlines


It can be helpful to think of academic writing as a different genre with different conventions, style and expectations. Being aware of these differences can help you adapt your writing for an academic audience:

Writing for an academic audience Writing for a professional audience

Written to demonstrate your learning and meet marking criteria

Written with a specific purpose and audience in mind (e.g. patients, healthcare professionals, managers)

Written in continuous prose with complete paragraphs and full sentences

Can sometimes be written using bullet points and very short paragraphs of a few lines

Explores ideas Presents information

Discursive – fully discusses the evidence used to justify arguments/points

Concise – may consider the evidence but summarises this for the audience

Evaluates different points of view and establishes a position based on this

May have evaluated evidence ‘behind the scenes’ but usually presents outcomes and/or recommendations

Often uses theories or abstract frameworks and applies them May not be as theoretical but based on professional standards/protocols
Always has full references Can be referenced, use a bibliography or may not need references

Draws conclusions or hypothetical recommendations

Makes specific recommendations to be acted upon

Business person

Effective proof reading

Your written work may be interesting, well structured and informed. Yet it may still make a bad impression because of poor proof reading.

Part of your assessment will usually relate to the standard of your written English. It's important to pay attention to things like tenses, gender, plurals and the structure of your sentences, especially if you have rewritten or moved sections of your work. It's easy to lose marks - but it's also easy to make sure you don't.

This brief guide offers ten brief tips to help you to proof read your work as effectively as possible.

Please note: Students are not permitted to use another person (‘third party’) to proof-read or edit their assessed work, whether a friend, family member, classmate, or a professional or paid proof-reading or editorial service (except, in the case of Higher Degree by Research students, where third-party proof-reading is undertaken during the publication process for part of the thesis). As a result, there is no proof-reading service available through the University, including from Study Advice.

Top tips for effective proof reading

  1. Print it off - it's much more difficult to read onscreen and there's always the temptation to start doing major rewrites.
  2. Leave it a day - if you can, leave some time between finishing your full draft and proof reading. It's easier to read critically when it's not so fresh in your mind.
  3. Read aloud - small errors of expression and punctuation are more likely to become obvious if you read aloud.
  4. Punctuate your reading - put pauses in for punctuation when you read, timed differently for different punctuation marks - so take a breath for commas, come to a halt for full stops. This is a good way to see if your sentences are too long or too short.
  5. Take it slowly - if you have time to do a really thorough proofing, first read each sentence in a paragraph one at a time to make sure each makes sense. Then read the whole paragraph. Finally, when you've read all the paragraphs, read the whole essay through.
  6. Take care with cut and paste - if you decide to move things about, don't forget to check the whole sentence again afterwards to make sure all the tenses, genders and plurals agree. Using the grammar check tool in Microsoft Word can help to prevent any errors.
  7. Learn punctuation rules - make sure you know how to use commas, apostrophes, colons and semi-colons. For more on this, see the page in this guide on Punctuation.
  8. Check your referencing - always check your course handbook for preferred conventions - if you have to reference something that's not covered there, be consistent.
  9. Get another view - ask a friend to read through your work and tell you if it makes sense (NOT correct it for you). Offer to do the same for them. Especially good if you can't leave time between writing and proofing - another pair of eyes will be fresher.
  10. Use your feedback - always read and learn from your academic feedback. Use it to make a list of the things you often get wrong. Look out for these especially. They should start to disappear as you get used to doing them right.