Academic Skills

Helping you get the most out of your studies

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Worried about Exams?

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The Advice & Representation Centre are here to provide confidential non-judgemental  independent support and advice to all students. If you are worried about exams and would like to talk through your concerns you can drop into the centre on level 3 of the Student Union or e-mail  for advice by email or to book an appointment with an advisor. Advisors can also offer give information about the process of completing and submitting an  individual mitigating circumstances  form, and can discuss the process and your case with you in confidence.


Getting started on your final dissertation

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Choosing a suitable dissertation topic may not be a straightforward task as there are many complex factors to consider. However, the earlier you explore and consider possible themes and ideas the better. Firstly it is important to choose something you are generally interested in, and not something that you believe you should be writing about. Remember, you will be focusing a lot of time and effort into this single piece of work over a period of months, thus your interest and motivation are critical to successful completion.

A dissertation can be connected to a future career move, or around focus topics in the ‘real’ and non-academic world, however, more importantly it is first and foremost a work of academic research. Therefore you have to find the right balance of personal interest, and what is available to study. This means that you will have to be realistic about what is achievable within the time you have to complete your dissertation. There could be many areas that may hold your interest, and you think are worthy of researching, but ultimately a dissertation must be attainable.

In addition, you have to be flexible. It is inevitable that your dissertation will change during the course of undertaking it, as you read more literature and discover new research ideas. Being flexible is important in the research process, and is good academic practice but it does not mean that the areas you have worked on already have been a waste of time. They will have helped shaped your research direction, and can also be used as part of your literature review if still relevant.

Finally, it is also important to keep checking the topics and ideas that you are considering with your supervisor, as he or she can guide you in the early stages,  particularly whether your dissertation topic is achievable, and he/she can also provide you with connected areas of research,  key authors and useful sources. This dialogue  is something you should also try to initiate as early as possible.

So good luck, and start reading now!

Dave Evans is a  Graduate in MSc International Development & MA TESOL and Academic Skills Teaching Fellow at The University of Bath



Choosing suitable reporting verbs when building your reasoned argument

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The University of Warwick has some great online resources on academic writing skills, including this very helpful table on how to select the most suitable reporting verbs (based on the strength of the writer's position) when quoting or paraphrasing sources.

The Use of Reporting Verbs in Academic Writing

Here's the link to their Academic skills pages: The University of Warwick


How to build your critical response using argument-counter argument

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Developing a critical response in your assignment involves carefully selecting and combining the voices of others to support your thesis ( your argument, position, or purpose) and drive it forward. These voices  may include academic argument, evidence, data, theories, examples, case studies and so on. Critical response, however, is also about evaluation of those selected voices, even when this could potentially undermine your thesis. However, the use of an argument-counter argument approach in your writing can help you to evaluate and strengthen your position at the same time. Here's how it works:

Stage 1:

First, you need to consider and predict some of the arguments that may be pitched against your thesis (position). You need to unpack them and show how and why this evidence may be flawed. You can then present your counter-arguments or counter-evidence, using your academic 'soldiers' to counter-attack and strengthen your thesis. Thus by predicting and counter-attacking your enemies' game plan with counter-evidence, you strengthen your own case.

Stage 2:

Some of these arguments of course, may be directed towards the views or evidence presented by your academic supporters. The most effective critical responses in academic writing take this into account, and involve the evaluation of not only the evidence and arguments presented by critics of your thesis, but also the evidence and arguments of your own supporters.  So, if you spot a weakness in the evidence presented by one of your ‘soldiers’, then it is important to acknowledge and address this without undermining your thesis. You can do this by finding further sources that answer or refute these criticisms and so continues to support and further strengthen your thesis.

Argument/counter-argument structure therefore  allows you to explore, analyse and evaluate all sides of the issues around your thesis. This approach also strengthens your argument as it shows that you have thought of every angle, whilst providing a compelling and convincing case.

The following diagram illustrates how argument-counter argument works in practice.

argument graphic 6


Understanding Instruction Words in Academic Essay Titles

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Instruction or command words indicate what your tutor would like you to do in your written assignment. It is vital that you understand exactly what these instruction words mean so that you can address all parts of the assignment question and provide a comprehensive and complete response.

Here is a list of some of the main instruction/command words most commonly used in essay questions (and examination questions as well), together with explanations. (more…)