Skip to Main Content

CIPPET Study Support: Writing at level 6

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


When studying at level 6 (Bachelor's level) you will be aware that you need to develop your academic writing for higher education - but how? Will you need to use a lot of long words and complicated sentences? Will you be expected to include some original idea that no-one else has ever written about to get good marks?

Actually neither of these are what good academic writing is about. Rather you will need to be able to communicate complicated ideas clearly, know how to support the things you say with evidence, and explain your thinking.

Academic rigour means checking and testing information to assess whether it is free of errors and is backed by accurate and appropriate evidence. It needs to be strong so that it can support your arguments - like making sure foundations will hold a building up. 

Whether you are writing about someone else's ideas or your own, you will be expected to support the points you wish to make with evidence, perhaps from your own primary research or observations, or from your reading. When this evidence is taken from someone else's work (a book, journal article or website, for instance), you need to provide a reference or citation to show the source.

The full marking criteria for bachelor's study can be found at the link below, the information in this section of the guide interprets this information to the context in which you are doing your studies.

Communicate your ideas clearly

In higher education, you are going to be asked to think about, explain and discuss a complex range of ideas and arguments. You may be bringing together ideas from a number of different scholars that you have read, for instance: or showing what the results of your own primary research mean in the context of a particular problem. In either case, it's important to write clearly so that your reader can be certain that they understand what you're saying, and that you understand what you're writing about.

 How is this different from previous study?

  • The ideas you're expressing will be more complex than those you have been used to working with, so you may need to spend more time thinking about what you want to say before you start writing. 
  • You may need to use specialist terms - if you do, it will be important that you understand what they mean and use them appropriately.
  • You will need to be more careful and rigorous in your writing: to make sure that your words and phrases convey exactly what you mean to say.
  • You will have longer assignments and being accurate will be more important, so you'll need to give yourself plenty of time for proof-reading.

Female student studying in the LibraryAvoid long, complex sentences... You are less likely to lose track of what you are trying to say if you write in shorter sentences. If you need to link a number of ideas together in a sentence, make sure you separate them with appropriate punctuation: commas, semi-colons, colons and parentheses. More on how to use punctuation.

Longer words don't make your writing more academic... A good piece of advice is to 'write to express, not to impress'. You are looking for words that will best communicate your ideas. Sometimes these will be long complicated words and sometimes they will be shorter. What you need is the most appropriate words for the job they have to do.

Tip: How would you know if you were using specialist terms correctly? Find a good source of definitions for specialist terms in your subject discipline: this might be a dictionary or encyclopaedia of your topic, or a introductory textbook.

Give your reader signposts... If you tell your reader what you are going to say, they will know what to look out for. Include a few sentences in your introduction on how you are going to answer the question: something like, "This essay will discuss the proposition that Brown's thesis is flawed. The proposition will be examined by first considering x, then looking at y, and finally z. Conclusions will then be drawn about the validity of Brown's thesis." Then start each of your sections with a topic sentence (or sub-heading, in a report) that shows what it is you are going to be discussing.

Watch out for informality and vagueness... You are trying to reduce any possibility of your reader misunderstanding what you are trying to say, so aim to avoid the kind of language that might be interpreted differently by different readers. More on writing formally.

Being original

It is confusing when you are told you need to be original in your thinking - but then you are told that you need more references to other people's work too. In higher education, being original is rarely about having a brilliant idea that no-one has ever had before. Rather it means that you will be expected to take different sources of information and think about how they fit (or do not fit) together so that you can work out your own interpretation and understanding of the topic.  

 How is this different from previous study?

You may be used to putting your own ideas in your conclusion as speculation (e.g. It is possible to argue that...). In higher education, you will need to avoid speculation, so it's better to include your own ideas earlier and to make it clear how you reached those ideas through your research and critical thinking.

Always start from your own ideas… so that you are less likely to fall into the trap of uncritically believing the first scholar you read. Before you start doing detailed research, take what you know already about the topic, and use it to make an educated guess about the answer to the question or main message about the topic you are researching. Then test that idea against your reading or research.

Your conclusion is for summing up… not for adding speculative ideas with no evidence to support them. If you have a brilliant original idea and can show how you worked it out and how it fits into the evidence you have, then include it in the main body of your work.

Do not worry!... your work will naturally be original if you always think critically and have a bit of confidence in your own interpretations and evaluations. If you and your best friend both read the same books and articles, attended the same lectures, and wrote an answer to the same question, they would still both be different and original, provided you do your own thinking and don't uncritically believe other people's ideas.

Students studying in the Library