English for University: How to write well

So, once you’ve prepared for your topic by doing plenty of reading and listening (in and out of class) you should be ready to write your essay. Below is some advice concerning grammar, plagiarism and critical thinking.


Students often worry about their grammar and structure – don’t be surprised if there is not a big focus on this on our EFU courses.  In fact, the most important thing when it comes to academic communication is clarity, so trying to write overly complex sentences will not always result in a good academic essay!  Having said that, you should ensure that your grammar is accurate as this lends your writing academic credibility.  Your trainers will help you develop the skills you need to check your work for grammatical mistakes.


Students very often commit plagiarism in their writing, either intentionally or unintentionally.  Plagiarism is when you use someone's words or ideas without crediting that person:

'In Western universities, if you borrow someone’s words OR their ideas, this must be credited to the person who they belong to.  Even if you think your ideas are original, at undergraduate and even Masters’ level, you are EXPECTED to base your ideas on the knowledge and literature that exists in the field already.

(Lucy Tollman, 2012) 

In fact, if you do enough reading around your subject you will often find that someone else has come up with your ideas before!  Your job is then to organise these ideas in a logical order to reach a conclusion.

Critical thinking

You should demonstrate that you have thought critically about the subject/essay question.  This means that you should say WHY you think something; and give evidence or examples for their ideas that are NOT anecdotal i.e. just something that you or your friends have experienced yourself.

You should aim to persuade your reader to believe what you’re saying.  Here’s a small test – which of the following is more convincing?

a)  All British people love football.

b)  Many British people like football.

 It’s a), right, because ‘all’ and ‘love’ are stronger than 'many and 'like'?  WRONG!  Actually, in academic writing b) is more persuasive because it’s more difficult to disprove.  The most convincing way of writing is hedging (using words like some, sometimes to avoid making absolute statements) with evidence (from your writing) and explanations of why the evidence supports your statement (in your own words!)

So, here’s an example. The topic is not very academic, but it should give you the idea.  See if you can find the statistics needed to complete it - and don't forget to reference your source!

Many British people like football.  For example, last year, over …. attended matches in person and ….  watched games on TV.  This shows that they enjoy football enough to spend both time and money on it.

By Laura


clarity (n.) - clearness

credibility (n.) - believability

come up with (phr.v.) - think of

convincing (adj.) - believable

statistics (n.) - numerical data

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