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Writing for university

When writing university assignments for particular disciplines, you will usually be expected to follow some conventions. Your module materials will give you more information on which conventions to follow but this section gives you a general introduction to writing for university.

Covered in this section

  • Using a writing style that is appropriate to your discipline
  • Dividing your work into paragraphs
  • Using linking words
  • 25 mins to complete this section
  • Activities (2)

Although different academic subjects will demand different styles of writing from you, you will always be expected to offer a reasoned argument that is backed up with evidence. Look at your module materials for guidance on what kind of style you are expected to use in your assignments.

Top tips

To express yourself well in your assignments, try to do the following.

  • Avoid colloquial and idiomatic language.
  • Cut out redundant words, for example: 'absolutely essential' (just say 'essential'); 'combined together' (just say 'combined'); 'the great majority of' (just say 'the majority of').
  • Use a thesaurus to find alternatives to words you use too often. However, be aware that everyday words may not have the same meaning in a particular context (for example, in scientific fields, 'melting' is not the same as 'dissolving').
  • Keep sentences fairly short to aid clarity. There should be one idea per sentence.
  • Use inverted commas around words or phrases that are used in an unusual or contentious way.
  • Be aware of any terminology of the module you are studying and use a specialist dictionary, for example, a social sciences or technology dictionary.

Look at the following extracts from OU modules to get a better sense of the different styles in use.

You can see that even within academic writing there is variation between both subject areas and study levels. Different writers adopt slightly different styles, but they all conform to the standard rules of punctuation, grammar and spelling and they all use appropriate vocabulary for their particular field.