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Writing at postgraduate level

To up your game to
postgrad level, look at
journal articles as a
model for writing.

Cath Senker
Author, editor, teacher
ß  1 Finding appropriate
ß  2 Critical reading

ß  3 Structure

ß  4 Finding your voice

and integrating sources
ß  5 Academic writing style
1 Finding appropriate sources
Use Use with caution
ß  Journal articles ß  Conference papers

ß  Published books ß  Academia.edu

for professional ß  Student papers

audience ß  Websites
ß  Published scholarly
ß  Grey literature
books for a general
Grey literature
Published or unpublished material without
ISBN or ISSN number, e.g.
ß  Magazines and newspapers

ß  Doctoral dissertations

ß  Official reports from governments or

research groups; patents; personal diaries;

trade catalogues
ß  Look for European materials on OpenGrey

Essay title keywords
ß  Directive words – words that tell you
what to do
ß  Topic area – the topic/s or theme/s

in the question
ß  Limiting/focus words – words that

provide boundaries for the essay

Keyword example
Researchers disagree about the importance
and desirability of assessment and testing at
primary level (Rea-Dickins’ & Rixon 1999).
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of
testing young learners’ achievements in
English, and explain how schools could
improve the quality of tests and/or other forms
of assessment.
2 Critical reading
In the shift towards deeper critical thinking, the text shifts:
ß  Towards a focused structure
ß  Towards including argument/comparison
ß  From dealing with surface characteristics of the words and
ideas to a deeper consideration
ß  From a descriptive text to one in which questions are raised
and responded to
ß  Towards dealing with and reasoning about emotions
ß  From unjustified opinion to a conclusion based on evidence
with a note of limitations of the thinking
ß  From a one-dimensional account to a recognition of other
points of view
ß  Towards taking into account prior experience and its effects
on judgement
ß  Towards reflexivity and metacognition (understanding of
one’s own thought processes).
Critical reading strategy
1 Understanding
ß  What are the key points?
ß  What’s the relationship between them?

ß  How successfully are the points made?

ß  Relevance to your topic?

ß  Be aware of the epistemologies used,

e.g. work experience, quantitative
research, culture specific
2 Questioning

ß  Does the author use reasoning and debate

to argue their case?
ß  Is the argument backed up with solid
evidence from appropriate sources?
ß  Is the writing balanced or biased towards a
particular viewpoint?
ß  What are the author’s underlying values?
3 Evaluating
ß  Compare with other perspectives on the topic.
ß  Identify strengths and weaknesses:
How robust are the arguments?
How robust are arguments against?
ß  Do they fit with professional literature?
ß  Are arguments useful to you? Can you apply
them to your topic?
ß  Any amendments that would make them more
3 Planning and structure
ß  Planning for length and content
ß  Structure: intro, conclusion, main text
Planning for length
Intro: 10% of word count
Main body text 80% of word count.
Divide into 3 or 4 sections:
Section 1: point A, B, C (no. of points
will vary)
Section 2: point A, B, C
Section 3: point A, B, C
Section 4: point A, B, C
Conclusion: 10% of word count
See Essay Planner on S3
Planning for content
Plan every paragraph
Ÿ Draft topic sentence (main point)
Ÿ Evidence
Ÿ Explanation/Analysis
Ÿ Concluding sentence
Introduction c. 10%
ß  Punchy first sentence – arouse reader’s
ß  Context: set the scene
ß  Explain how you interpret the question
ß  Define key terms
ß  Outline the issues that you are going to
explore, in the right order
ß  Introduce your main argument
Conclusion (c. 10%)
ß  Summarise main themes and state general
ß  Make it clear why those conclusions are significant.
ß  Set the issues in a broader context.
ß  You could mention what you haven’t been able to
cover or suggest further questions of your own.
ß  End with a strong concluding sentence. You may want
to sum up your argument briefly, linking it to the title.

Note: do not introduce new material – but a great quote

summing up your argument can be good.
Main body
ß  description/definition of issue and why it’s
ß  review of what others have said and your
critical assessment of those views
ß  presentation of your views on the subject,
with evidence to support them
4 Finding your voice and
integrating sources
ß  Become aware of the current knowledge in your
– read broadly
– synthesise information: ‘clump’ related arguments
– consider where you stand
ß  At PG level, you are expected to contribute
personally to the knowledge in your field
– think creatively: present information in a new way;
apply previous research to a new problem; prove a
– Always support your ideas with evidence
Adapted from Birkbeck University, London
A clear voice – structure
ß  Be bold – make your point in your topic
ß  Bring others into the conversation to show
how your ideas fit within the field
ß  Compare and evaluate their ideas
ß  Conclude your point
Good integration of sources
Group authors who share similar views:
Smith (2009) and Bromely (2011) state that….
Similarly, Hutchinson (2012) points out that
This is supported by Henderson (2013) who
argues that…

Note areas where authors disagree:

Marley (2012) suggests that ….. However,
Hartman opposes this by stating that… / In
contrast… Hartman found that…An alternative
point of view is suggested by Phillips…
5 Academic writing style
ß  Present ideas in a logical order
ß  Present objective analysis that is critical without
being too positive or negative

ß  Use formal style

ß  Writing style does not have to be complicated/
ß  Use clear precise language
ß  Avoid emotive language
Descriptive versus critical analytical writing
ß  Your writing should be critical/
analytical not descriptive
ß  Compare and contrast literature
ß  Find similarities and differences
between ideas and research
ß  Notice gaps, inconsistencies
and over-generalisations
ß  Consider facts versus
(all academics have a bias)
Further help
University of Sussex S3
• Study Skills one-to-one tutorials
• One-to-one tutorials with a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow:
• PG study skills guide www.sussex.ac.uk/s3/?id=185
University of Sussex BMEc – Business, Management and
Economics: Guidelines for Masters Students on writing essays
and dissertations
Open University PG study skills guide
Lecture: Critical thinking and scholarly writing