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What does academic writing mean to you?

To help you get ready for this course, why not answer this quick
question: Which of the following statements about academic
writing do you most agree with?
Academic writing involves…

1. analysing questions and issues clearly and precisely.

2. adopting a critical viewpoint.
3. using appropriate sources.
4. a process of drafting, reviewing and editing your work until you are
satisfied with it.
5. a form of self-expression.
6. the clear expression of ideas, knowledge and information.
7. producing groups of grammatically correct sentences.

Choose a statement, and share your choice and reason in the discussion
area below. Take a moment to read other people’s comments and if you
read something you agree with, let the other learner know by liking or
replying to their comment. You can also filter comments to see the ‘Most
liked’ and find your own by selecting ‘My comments’.

When you are ready to move to the next Step, mark this one as
complete. Do this for each Step you finish as this will enable you to keep
track of your progress throughout the course.

What is academic writing?

In order to understand what an academic essay is, you need to
recognise the differences in style, organisation, and language
used in a piece of writing.

You are going to look at extracts from three texts on the subject of food
waste. The first is from an online student newspaper, the second from an
essay typical of those written in the IELTS exam, and the third is typical
of a real academic essay submitted as part of coursework. Take your
time and read each one carefully. Consider and take notes of what you
think the differences are in style, organisation, and language used in
each extract.

Tip: It may be useful for you to note down your thoughts as you
read through each text, to determine the different features.

1. A newspaper article

Let’s talk about food waste

I would like you to imagine something next time you pop down to the
Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Asda, or Tesco to do your average weekly shop. I’d
like you to take half of the salad you just bought, and toss it in the bin.
Take half of that loaf of bread, two of your bag of five apples, a couple of
bananas, and a quarter of your bag of grapes, and chuck those too. Or
you might even consider not bothering with going to the shop at all –
just take a fiver from your wallet and throw it away. Repeat every week.
Sound ridiculous? It’s more accurate than you think.

A recent report from Tesco has highlighted the extent of food waste in
Britain today, and the statistics are shocking. Of all the bagged salad
produced in the UK, 68% never makes it onto our plates, with 35% of
that being wasted by us – the consumers. Bakery products are the next
most wasted sector, with 47% of total production wasted, and 25% by
us. That’s nearly one in two loaves of bread being thrown away overall,
and nearly one in four being thrown away by the consumer at a time of
growing concerns over food poverty.

2. An essay typical of those written in the IELTS exam

What are the causes and impacts of food waste, and what measures can
be taken to reduce it?
As the world’s population continues to grow, the problems of feeding this
population urgently need to be addressed. One solution is to increase
food production, but reducing food waste can also play a part in solving
these problems. Food waste occurs at every stage in the process of
growing, processing, selling and consuming food, and can have a
number of social, economic and environmental impacts. In this essay I
will address the main issues that lead to food waste and some of its
negative impacts, and present a number of ways of reducing food waste.

In my view, most farms work in very efficient ways, so little food is

wasted on farms. In many developing countries fruit and vegetables are
grown for export to the developed world. Supermarkets in these
countries expect high-quality products, so farmers in developing
countries can usually sell sub-standard fruit and vegetables on the local
market, or use them to feed cattle. Some food may be also wasted
through in efficient harvesting or problems during transportation.

3. A real academic essay submitted as part of coursework

Describe the key issues related to food waste in Europe and evaluate the
effectiveness of methods to reduce food waste


In Europe, food waste is considered a major nutritional and

environmental problem. It also detrimentally affects the stability of the
whole food chain. According to a recent report, 90 million tons of food is
wasted every year in European countries, on average, 180 kg per person
(Europe Commission, 2011)

Food waste has many sources which include households, manufacturing,

food service and retail. The European Commission (2011) estimated that
the proportion of food waste at the retail stage is about 5% of total food
depletion in the EU, accounting for approximately 4.4 million tons of
food. Food waste has several extensive yet harmful effects on food
security, food quality, and also food safety. Even economic development
and the environment can be negatively impacted by food waste
(Gustavsson et al, 2011). Although at the retail stage food waste may be
considered small in comparison with the amount of food waste overall, it
is still an issue which can lead to significant economic loss as well as
environmental and social problems. However, if this waste can be
recycled effectively, it can potentially have huge value economically,
environmentally and socially. This essay will demonstrate this potential,
by explaining the values of food waste and introducing some methods
for recycling food waste.

List of references

European Commission, (2011). Industry, Preparatory Study on Food

Waste across EU 27. Publication of the European Commission, DG
Environment, Directorate C, Paris.
Gustavsson, J., Cederberg, C., Sonesson, U., Van Otterdijk, R., Meybeck,
A., (2011). Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes and
Prevention. FAO, Rome.

Newspaper article
In the next three Steps, Jonathan is going to look at the
newspaper article, IELTS exam essay and an academic essay in
closer detail. As you watch through these videos think about
the audience, content, and style and tone of the writing.

This first video focuses on the newspaper article taken from the
University of Reading’s student newspaper, Spark.

IELTS exam essay

You will now look at an example characteristic of an answer to
an exam question in an IELTS test. As you watch this video,
again think about how the audience, content, and style and
tone of the writingdiffers from the newspaper article in
the previous Step.

Academic essay
In this video, Jonathan explains the typical characteristics of an
academic essay. Think about the purpose and audience of an
academic essay and how this influences the style and tone of
the text.

This third video focuses on an academic essay written by Patrick (Yu

Zhao), a Chinese student on the Pre-sessional English programme at the
University of Reading. Jonathan highlights that the essay follows
a situation, problem, solution structure. You will explore different
essay structures in more detail later this week.

what is academic writing?

The grammar and vocabulary are likely to be more formal than in other kinds of writing.

The writing is objective rather than personal.

There is a clear logic to the development of ideas and arguments.

There are frequent references to sources of information in the same knowledge area.

There may be frequent use of facts and figures or other data.

The writer may adopt a particular viewpoint or develop an argument within the text.

There may be claims expressed in cautious language eg may, might, seems, possibly etc.

There is likely to be evidence of critical thinking.


There are many differences between an academic essay and other 2 types of
writing (article and IELTS) which we need to concern. I divide it into 2 features:
content and format. In terms of content, an academic essay has a clear structure
with the heading, subheading, 3 crucial parts are a situation, problem, and
solutions. An academic can express the viewpoint but should use cautious
language to prove our thoughts. Later, it needs to have some statistics to support
points. Notice that we can support points with references from books or articles but
it must be a precise information, which uses in reputable sources. About the format
of an academic writing, we concern how to use suitable words such as the
adjective or should not use "I", "You" or speaking language, we need to create a
distance between writer and reader.

University study is a good chance to look at a problem based on the science side
and improve our critical thinking. So, academic writing is the best way to help us
do that. We also learn how to determine a problem and find information to support
it strongly. Furthermore, learning academic writing also helps us to improve English
writing skills.

Choosing the correct structure for your essay

In this Step you are going to look at essay questions and how
responses to these questions can be structured.

Essays are written for different purposes, and the particular purpose will
often determine the structure of the essay. For example, sometimes an
essay question will ask you to describe something:

“Describe how human activities have caused a worldwide

decline in biodiversity.”

In this situation you will still need to think carefully about the structure
of your essay, how you organise your ideas, and which ideas you give
priority to. The decisions you make will require an element of evaluation.
Another essay structure is that of situation, problem, solution and
evaluation (SPSE). Here is an example question which would suggest a
response following this structure:

“The population of the city of Dublin has grown dramatically in

the past five years, and the number of cars on the road is
causing serious traffic jams. What can the government do to
alleviate this situation?”

You could use the SPSE structure in this case to write about a situation
where a city is growing rapidly (situation), leading to an increased
number of cars on the road (problem). Some solutions need to be
proposed, and then evaluated. The structure of your essay would follow
this order:

Compare and contrast is another essay structure, where you consider

similarities and differences in a particular situation:

“Compare and contrast three measures that have been taken

and used in storing milk in the dairy industry.”

You might start by looking at the similarities (comparing), then at the

differences (contrasting). Or you could alternate, looking at one
similarity, then at a difference.

Cause and effect is probably a structure you are familiar with, a

structure also used in many disciplines. In science, for example, you
might be expected to outline the causes of a particular phenomenon and
then look at its effects, or in history discuss the causes of a war and the
effect on a nation. Consider the following sample title:

“Nowadays people are moving to big cities to look for a better

life. Describe the reasons for this and discuss how this may
impact on cities.”
You could choose to structure your essay either in a block structure, that
is, discussing all the causes first, and then the effects, or use a chain
structure, discussing one cause, then its effect, before moving on to the
next cause.

Analysing the question

It is very important that you directly answer the question in an
academic essay. In this video, Jonathan shows you how to
analyse an essay question and understand what you need to
write about using the following example essay question:

“The population of the world is ageing. Discuss potential

problems arising from this situation, and suggest and evaluate
possible solutions.”

Think about the topic of the essay and what the question is asking you
to do. Can you think of any other questions not listed in the video, that
would help you to establish what you already know and what you need
to find out about the topic? Share your thoughts in the comment area

Your main essay question

On this course you will focus on the different stages in the
process of writing an academic essay in response to the
following question:

“Evaluate the success or failure of the World Bank’s approach to

promoting water privatisation in the global south.”

This is a topic that you may know nothing about at the moment, but as
the course progresses and you read more about this topic, and discuss it
with other learners, your understanding will grow.
You will write some sections of this essay during the course, and if you
choose to follow the two-week Tutor-Marked Assessment, you will write
the complete essay and receive individualised feedback on it.

When you are ready, move to the next Step to analyse this essay
question in a short quiz. Do not forget to mark this one as complete
before you move on.
Generating ideas for the essay
You have seen in Step 1.12 that by asking questions related to
the essay question, you can generate ideas, and check what you
already know about the topic and what you need to find out.

Use this template to generate questions related to this topic. The

‘question words’ below are there to help you do this. You do not have to
use them all, and you may use some of them several times.

When you have done this, post your questions to the discussion. Look at
the questions that at least two other learners have posted. Are they
similar to yours? Are there any useful questions that they have posted
and which would help you to write your essay?

When you have done this look at the next Step, which provides some
examples of the questions you might ask.

Generating ideas for the essay

Look at the essay question again.

“Evaluate the success or failure of the World Bank’s approach to

promoting water privatisation in the global south.”

Here are some questions that you may have thought of:

 What is water privatisation?

 Why is water being privatised?
 What is the World Bank’s role in water privatisation?
 With respect to water privatisation, is the situation in the global
south different to the rest of the world? If so, why?
 What is the World Bank’s approach to promoting water
privatisation in the global south?
 Who are the stakeholders?
 Who have been impacted by the water privatisation?
 How successful has the World Bank’s approach been?
 What has failed?
 What needs to be done?

You may know the answer to some of these questions, but it is likely that
you will have to do some reading to find the answers to most of these
questions, and this is what you will look at next Week.

Introduction to language in essays

To produce writing that is grammatically accurate, you need an
understanding of:
 the ways in which we use different parts of speech (eg nouns,
pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, preposition, conjunctions)
 how to structure ideas within a sentence, an understanding of
how we use the building blocks of language to construct
grammatically accurate sentences (eg subject, verb, object,
 the ways in which different grammatical structures are used to
express meaning (eg verb tenses to express time, structures to
express cause and effect, structures to make comparisons). This
week you will check your understanding of how we use
different parts of speechand how we structure ideas within a
In the extract below from the essay on food waste a number of words
have been highlighted. Think about what part of speech each word is
and then watch the video in the next Step to check your answers.
Correcting word class errors
In the previous Step you organised each list of words into one of
the following word classes: adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions,
determiners, nouns, prepositions, and pronouns.

In this Step you will need to identify the incorrect word in each
sentence provided below, work out what the correct form should be,
and discuss the reason why you have selected the new word.

For example:

‘One major different between my country and the UK is the climate’.

The incorrect word in this sentence is ‘different’. The correct form is

‘difference’ because a noun is required in the sentence rather than an
adjective. So the correct sentence is:

‘One major difference between my country and the UK is the climate’.

Take a closer look at the following sentences:

1. Modern irrigation techniques are more efficiency than traditional
2. Poor diet can lead to a number of healthy problems.
3. After 3 weeks the average high of the plants increased by 12.6
4. Sells of ice-cream usually increase significantly in the summer.
5. The danger of driving too fastly in urban areas was highlighted in
the report.
6. The government will provide training for young people who have
been unemployment more than 2 years.
Part of speech: Suffixes
There are many endings of words (known as “suffixes”) which
are associated with different parts of speech. Here are some

Part of Speech Suffixes Examples

Nouns -ance appearance, performance, significance

-ence dependence, existence, reference

-tion definition, distribution, organisation

-sion conclusion, dimension, tension

-ment assessment, employment, environment

-ure literature, procedure, structure

-ity clarity, identity, majority

-age advantage, package, percentage

Part of Speech Suffixes Examples

Adjectives -ant important, relevant, significant

-ent consistent, dependent, evident

-ive effective, informative, productive

-cial beneficial, commercial, financial

-tial artificial, influential, residential

-ous ambiguous, obvious, serious

-ic dramatic, economic, specific

Verbs -en strengthen, tighten, widen

-olve involve, revolve, solve

-ide coincide, decide, divide

-ise generalise, organise, revise

It’s important to note that these are general patterns and there are
many words which do not follow them. For example: initiative (noun),
mention (verb), sudden (adjective), statistic (noun), ensure (verb),
wooden (adjective).

Word games
Playing word games is a good way to develop your vocabulary in
English. Here are some puzzles involving suffixes. Try to do them
without using electronic resources, but use the resources to
check. You can check your answers afterwards in
the PDF available at the bottom of the Step.
1. Find four subjects that you can study at university that all end “-

2. Which of these words is not an adjective?

3. Find four words, all ending “-dom”, which are synonyms for these

4. Which word is the “odd one out”? Why?

5. Add the same word to these words to make 4 new words.

And now for some crowdsourcing!

 Create three word puzzles involving suffixes, like the ones above.
Try to use fairly common words.
 Post your puzzles to the discussion.
 Try to solve the puzzles posted by other learners.
Why water privatisation?
You have reached the end of Week 1!

You should now be able to identify the key features of an academic essay
and understand the relationship between the essay question and the
purpose and structure of an essay.

Before you complete the Week, take a look at the following essay

“Evaluate the success or failure of the World Bank’s approach to

promoting water privatisation in the global south.”

And share your thoughts on the following:

 What makes water privatisation a good topic for an academic


 Why do you think we’ve chosen this essay question?

Share your thoughts in the discussion below.

Do not worry if you do not know anything about the subject of water
privatisation at the moment. Next Week you will be looking at how you
can read around a topic and complete the background research for an

You will also find out how to search for and identify relevant information
sources, and learn strategies for reading through these texts and for

In the meantime, you may like to start thinking about how you would
research around the subject of water privatisation for yourself.

 Where would you start to look for appropriate sources to help you
address this question?

 What do you think the main challenges would be?

Make some brief notes and bring these with you to Week 2, when you
will return to the topic of how to search for and identify credible sources
to support your academic writing.