Top tips for successful essay writing
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Registration via Moodle. (You will need to self-enroll)
We are gearing up for the new semester and planning our Academic Skills Programme. We have a number of classes that students can attend, to help them improve their academic skills, from writing, to presentation skills to reading complex academic texts. The classes are open to all students, regardless of your level, discipline or first language.
You can see more information on our website (www.bath.ac.uk/asc)
Registration will open at 9.00am on Wednesday 28th September. You will register through Moodle. (You will need to self-enroll)
The abstract is a vital part of any research paper. It is the shop front for your work, and the first stop for your reader. It should provide a clear and succinct summary of your study, and encourage your readers to read more. An effective abstract, therefore should answer the following questions:
Why did you do this study or project?
What did you do and how?
What did you find?
What do your findings mean?
So here's our run down of the key elements of a well-written abstract.
- Size - A succinct and well written abstract should be between approximately 100- 250 words.
- Background - An effective abstract usually includes some scene-setting information which might include what is already known about the subject, related to the paper in question (a few short sentences).
- Purpose - The abstract should also set out the purpose of your research, in other words, what is not known about the subject and hence what the study intended to examine - (or what the paper seeks to present).
- Methods - The methods section should contain enough information to enable the reader to understand what was done, and how. It should include brief details of the research design, sample size, duration of study, and so on.
- Results - The results section is the most important part of the abstract. This is because readers who skim an abstract do so to learn about the findings of the study. The results section should therefore contain as much detail about the findings as the journal word count permits.
- Conclusion - This section should contain the most important take-home message of the study, expressed in a few precisely worded sentences. Usually, the finding highlighted here relates to the primary outcomes of the study. However, other important or unexpected findings should also be mentioned. It is also customary, but not essential, to express an opinion about the theoretical or practical implications of the findings, or the importance of their findings for the field. Thus, the conclusions may contain three elements:
The primary take-home message
Any additional findings of importance
Implications for future studies
Example Abstract 2: Engineering
Development and validation of a three-dimensional finite element model of the pelvic bone.
Abstract from: Dalstra, M., Huiskes, R. and Van Erning, L., 1995. Development and validation of a three-dimensional finite element model of the pelvic bone. Journal of biomechanical engineering, 117(3), pp.272-278.
And finally .. A word on Abstract Types & Styles
Abstract types can differ according to subject discipline. You need to determine therefore which type of abstract you should include with your paper. Here are two of the most common types with examples.
The majority of abstracts are informative. While they still do not critique or evaluate a work, they do more than describe it. A good informative abstract acts as a surrogate for the work itself. That is, the researcher presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the paper. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract [purpose, methods, scope] but it also includes the results and conclusions of the research and the recommendations of the author. The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is usually no more than 300 words in length.
A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only describes the work being summarized. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less.
Very often at this time of year students receive feedback on what they have written, and can be puzzled by what some of the comments mean.
So, for this reason, here are some of the most common feedback phrases, and what they mean.
“More analysis needed”.
This is very common, and suggests that you have done too much description, and have not gone into enough depth about what it actually means. For example, you might have done a lot of reading, but just written out what the various texts books say, without examining what the strengths and weaknesses of the different writers are. Or maybe you have described the reasons for something, without addressing alternative explanations and why they are flawed. Of course, you need to describe, to show that you have understood the facts, but you also need to analyse, to show you understand what these facts do, and do not, mean.
This is another common criticism. It is used because students' work is difficult to follow, and their writing seems to jump from one idea to another. To avoid this, always make sure that you plan your essay and look at the organisation with a very detached eye. Does it make sense? Do the ideas flow? Also, make sure that you use words and phrases like “another argument in support of….. is….” To show your reader what you are doing, and where your essay is going.
Correct grammar matters at university. Make sure that you understand the rules for punctuation, especially commas and apostrophes. Find out what “run on sentences” and “dangling participles” are, to ensure that you avoid them. Proof read your work carefully before you submit it.
This criticism may have two meanings; the first is connected to plagiarism (copying the words of others and pretending they are your own), and the tutor may be highlighting poor paraphrasing and summarising skills. The second (and more likely meaning) is that you haven't used your sources logically and creatively to build your own argument, thesis or position in your assignment. You have simply listed, summarised, described or presented evidence, similar or different expert views, data and so on, without combining them in such ways as to create a convincing argument and drive your thesis forward. In other words, your own academic voice is being drowned out by a mish mash of other academic voices that don't seem to be working together without a clear logical purpose.
And finally.. remember that all feedback is constructive (even the most critical!). Take your tutor's advice and use it to build on your academic skills and improve your next assignment.
Co-authors Tom Reid, University of Bath, and Mike Groves, University of Birmingham - 2016
Here is a useful checklist to help you work through the process of getting started, writing, and completing your next essay /report assignment.
Whether you are undertaking an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, time management and organisation skills are key to giving yourself the edge that may be required to get over a grade boundary or reach a deadline. Whenever I have had academic work to do, I have always made sure that I have started it as early as possible, even on the day the assignment has been set.
This may seem quite simple advice, however if you have a task that has been set in October, and the deadline is not until January or even February, it is quite easy to just leave it for a couple of weeks. My advice is to start working on your task or assignment as soon as you can. You may wish to wait until you have had a couple of lectures on the topic for some extra insight, but there is nothing to stop you reading around the subject, and starting the note-taking process.
This will help relieve pressure when other tasks are set, and will also make you feel much better. Then when the deadline for the assignment is approaching, you will not feel rushed or in a panic, as you will have the confidence that you have been working on your task for a while. There’s nothing worse than last minute assignments, as: a) You will not have displayed your full academic potential and b) tutors can easily spot signs of rushed work.
Regarding organisation, it is always a good idea to have separate computer files for different subjects, to make sure you can easily access your work in a logical, time-efficient, and stress-free manner. This is also true for paper notes as well. When I was a student, I had a different note pad and file for each class I attended to make sure it was easy to find handouts, or refer back to key points from lectures. Additionally, I kept a separate note pad for each essay I was writing. And when it comes to dissertation time, the same advice goes. It is useful to have different note pads and computer files for each chapter or section you are writing.
Dave Evans - Graduate MSc International Development & MA TESOL; Academic Skills Tutor, The University of Bath
Here is a useful checkilst to help you prepare an effective and successful presentation (more…)
This short podcast explains a feature of academic writing that often concerns students :
Is "data" a singular or plural noun?
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