How to optimise your academic writing process

Person typing at a keyboard to represent academic writing

Academic writing in English can be daunting when it is not your first language. Here is some advice to make your project go smoothly.

1. If you need to, improve your level of English

Are you confident in your English skills and abilities?

When you submit written work, can your tutor understand what you have written and the points that you are trying to make?

If the answer to either question is no, then seek help and advice at your academic institution, or contact MB English Plus – we can evaluate your English and provide some lessons to help you improve your skills.

2. Get up to speed with specialist vocabulary

When carrying out your research, pay special attention to the technical words being used in your subject area; in particular their definitions, spelling and collocations (words that are commonly used in association with these terms). Also, note if these words are written with capital letters or not. If necessary, create your own glossary so that you have something to refer to when writing.

3. What is your story?

Lightbulb on blackboard representing brainstorming

After you have decided on the title of your essay / dissertation / other academic project, brainstorm your ideas so that you know what you want to say about your topic. Then think about the best order in which to put your views across and make a plan.

Imagine that you are guiding your reader through your work:

  • Are you explaining things clearly?
  • What are the important points that you are making?
  • What are the key facts or ideas that you want them to remember after they have read your document?

When you have done this, review the title again. Make sure that your title accurately reflects what you are going to write about.

4. Get your referencing right from the start

Check the referencing requirements of your academic institution. Use software such as Mendeley, Zotero or Endnote to organise and store your academic references, and link them to Word so that you create correctly formatted references as you go along.

Familiarize yourself with DOI digital referencing.

5. Create the required layout at the beginning

Make sure that you know how your document should look in terms of font type, font size and line spacing. Also check what the rules are regarding the labelling of tables and figures, and how to include appendices.

Carefully read through the layout advice given by your academic institution before you begin writing, and use the correct layout from the beginning.

6. Use Word’s Styles function

In Word, allocate different styles to your title, headings, subheadings, body text and figure / table labels.  Make sure that each style reflects the layout requirements mentioned in Tip 5.

Using Word’s Styles function will save you a lot of time when you come to create a table of contents or if you need to make changes across the document without having to go painstakingly through each paragraph.

7. Proofreading

Check your work thoroughly before submitting your work or get someone to do it for you!

Make sure that you are consistent in your spelling, labelling, use of capitals etc. If you do decide to get your work professionally proofread, then make sure that your academic institution allows it, because some do not.

8. Publishing your work in a journal

If you are planning to publish your work in a journal, then consider how you might hyperlink data in tables and figures to the original article, and think of the technology that you could use if you want your research data to be made public.

Also, consider using DOI digital referencing terminology in your paper.

Following the advice given in these tips should enable you to get the best from your academic writing.

Photo credits: Lightbulb + blackboard: Pixabay from Pexels

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