Five tips to improve your academic writing and assessment activities

Subject:  Multidisciplinary
One person writing

Advice from the UOC Language Service on ways to communicate effectively.

With the academic year under way and assessment activities on the horizon, we're sharing five practical tips from the Language Service to help you improve your writing and communicate effectively! 

1) Use a three-step process: plan, write and revise.

Before you start, consider the following. Who will read it? What do you want to say? What is the purpose of your text? The answers to these questions should help determine the sequence in which you explain your ideas, the specific information you include, and even the type of text you'll produce. 

It's a good idea to start by focusing on the content; you can leave aspects such as style, correction and different forms of expression to be addressed later on. 

Writing involves drafting and redrafting, cutting words out, inserting others and moving chunks around. Each time you go over it, you get closer to the message you want. It's normal to revise your work at the same time as you're creating it. However, as the last step, remember to revise your text from start to finish. If possible, do this after spending some time away from it..  

2) Think about your communicative purpose and try to fulfil it effectively.

Any piece of writing should be suited to its communicative context; for assignments at the UOC, the context is academic. Bear in mind what your role as a writer is, how you address your reader, what line of argument you take, and any contextual factors relevant to your field of study. These considerations are key to making your writing effective.

Check what you have written to make sure that it is coherent – in other words, that the order in which you put forward your ideas forms a logical progression. You should also aim for an appropriate distribution of paragraphs; as a general rule, each paragraph should contain the development of one single idea.

Try to make sure that the connections between each idea are clear and cohesive. Adverbs and transitional devices (for example first, secondhowever or lastly) can help achieve this. Parallel structures can also help, and repetition can bring emphasis and clarity when referring to central concepts.

Your text should be easy to read and understand. Use language that most people should be familiar with; seek common alternatives to unusual words and avoid long, complex sentences by dividing them or removing clauses. This should help make your work easier to read.

3) Use technology to detect errors.

Although you can never eliminate all possibility of errors, there are ways to minimize your chances of making mistakes. The spelling and grammar checkers that are widely available in word processors and online are very useful, but are not infallible. If the program highlights as incorrect a word that you think is correct, check it in a reliable dictionary. (It is worth noting that some very new words may neither be recognised by spellcheckers nor appear in the dictionary; if you are sure a word is correct in your field, perhaps having seen it in your course materials, then use it!) Further advice regarding automatic spelling and grammar checkers and other tools for text production can be found in chapter 10 of this Interuniversity Style Guide for Writing Institutional Texts in English.   

4) Get advice from multiple sources.

There is a vast wealth of language advice freely available online. The Language Service's website, UOC Language & Style, provides solutions for a wide range of style questions, a resources page and a grammar guide with comparisons between English and Catalan. For a wider range of links, see the Library's dossier of English language resources, which has categories such as dictionaries, language learning, translation, and writing. And if none of those pages provides an answer to your doubt, you can – stating the obvious – just google it (searching the string of words causing your doubt "between double quotation marks" may help). Try cross-referencing whatever answers you find, and remember that sometimes there will be more than one correct answer to your doubt!

5) Use citations and references correctly.

Lastly, a vital requirement for any academic work or activity is to provide a record of where you get your ideas, data or images from. Within the text you should use citations (author, year, page number), and in the bibliography at the end of your work you should include the corresponding reference. Follow these guidelines on bibliographic references provided by the Library. They will help you find the correct reference format using the APA, ISO or Vancouver styles, and they cover everything from a tweet to a YouTube video or web page.

Following the Language Service's advice is sure to help you improve your writing ability and be more effective in your work. We wish you all the best for the academic year ahead!