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Writing skills

Good academic writing skills are essential for the successful completion of your study programme. Learn about the best ways to write and how you can motivate yourself to write well by taking a look at the tips on this page.

Ten tips for good academic writing



1. Be aware that the writing process has several phases: choosing and defining a topic, formulating a thesis (question), making an outline, doing research, writing, rewriting and adding the finishing touches.

1. Immediately start writing without a plan.

2. Define your topic: first choose the topic, then define it more precisely by coming up with a clear question.

2. Try to read everything and include it in your thesis, or want to research too many different questions.

3. Collect material on your topic that is relevant for answering your question and take clear notes from which you can easily retrieve your sources.

3. Copy everything without looking at whether it’s relevant, or make loose notes you can’t find later. 

4. Get down to the task of writing and work regularly (postponing is not a good idea).

4. Work in bursts when you ‘feel’ like it, or wait until the last minute.

5. Rework the material into an argument: explain things in clear steps and show your reasoning.

5. Write a collection of unrelated facts.

6. Write first, correct later.

6. Expect to write the perfect text straight away: if you write and correct at the same time you will soon get stuck. 

7. Bear in mind that writing a thesis is a learning process and you are a beginner.

7. Set unrealistically high goals and expect to do things perfectly.  

8. A supervisor will help you identify any weak points and improve them.  

8. Try to hand in a faultless product because you think that criticism is awful. 

9. Think how to resolve the problem if the writing isn’t coming along; go back one phase in the writing process, talk to others, ask for advice, etc. 

9. Struggle on with dogged determination and try to solve problems on your own.

10. Build your writing confidence by looking at what is going well.

10. Set impossible targets, ignore progress and compliments and only pay attention to what is NOT good.

Thesis writing workshops

Thesis writing workshops are held several times year at Plexus Student Centre. Check the agenda for upcoming sessions and sign up for a place. 

The online Writing Center: Free help with writing for Humanities students, now online!

The Humanities Writing Center helps students to become better academic writers. Our tutors offer support during any stage of the writing process, whether you’ve only just started and need help with planning, incorporating sources and/or making an outline, or whether you’re already writing a text and want to improve its structure, argumentation and/or style.

Online offer

Because of the measures surrounding the coronavirus, the Writing Center has moved online as of March 2020. We are now offering three different kinds of writing support, all free of charge:

  • Tutoring sessions.
    In a 45-minute, one-to-one appointment, you’ll be discussing how to improve your writing skills with a writing tutor, often (but not necessarily) by means of a text you’re currently working on. Sign up now for a free appointment!
  • Writing Week.
    Are you working on an essay, paper or thesis at home, but struggling to stay focused and motivated? Join one of our Writing Weeks! For an entire week, you’ll be working on your thesis or essay and convene with other students and one of our tutors in an online classroom to boost your motivation and help you along. We’ll start every morning with a motivating mini-workshop and end the day communally in the late afternoon to reflect on the progress we made. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming editions! (dates will be communicated on our website and on the general student website of the Humanities faculty).
  • Workshops.
    Under the supervision of a writing tutor, you’ll be working on one specific aspect of academic writing such as structure, style, or working from home, alongside other students. These workshops are completely interactive: during the workshop, you’ll bring your own experiences and knowledge to the table, and you’ll be doing assignments to learn how to put theory into practice! (Dates and themes will be communicated shortly on our website and on the general student website of the Humanities faculty)

Many international students studying in the Netherlands struggle with written assignments, regardless of their academic abilities. This is no surprise: the implicit norms and expectations concerning written assignments can differ vastly from one country’s educational system to the next. In this workshop, we’ll tell you all about these unwritten rules and help you fully showcase your academic skills in your writing.

This workshop will take place on Friday 9 October, 13:15-15:00. it will be held online through Kaltura. Apply for this workshop by sending an e-mail to schrijfcentrum-eav@hum.leidenuniv.nl and mentioning your name, student number, study programme and year. Make sure to send this e-mail with your uMail account, not with a personal e-mail address!

If you wish to attend but are unable to on the 9th of October, please send us an e-mail. We might be able to find a solution.

About the Writing Center

The Writing Center currently employs two student tutors: Wouter (MA Literary Studies) and Friso (MA History). The tutors have completed special training, aimed at analyzing writing- and text problems and giving (non-directive) feedback and what’s more: they will help you improve your academic writing skills in a way that works for you. Whether you’re feeling stuck because working from home proves difficult, want to brainstorm about your text to improve your argumentation or wish to bump up your grade from a 5 to a 6 or from an 8 to a 9: we’ll make sure to tailor the session to your specific needs.

During an individual session of 45 minutes we’ll zoom in on whatever you want help with. We often help students to improve their research question(s), structure, argumentation and/or writing style, but you can also come to us for help with planning or improving your self-discipline. Do note that our tutors will not be able to judge the content of your text – that is solely reserved for your teachers and supervisors. Nor will they correct your spelling, grammar, or annotations as we’re in the coaching business, not the editing business! 😉 Please read the FAQ below to learn more.


Nothing! All Writing Center activities are completely free of charge.

You can come by as often as you’d like, with a maximum of 5 sessions per assignment (i.e., once you start working on a new assignment, you’re entitled to another 5 sessions). In our experience, a maximum of 5 appointments per assignment will give you ample time to discuss different aspects of your text (e.g. your introduction as well as your conclusion) or discuss your progress during the different stages of the writing process.

Absolutely, no problem at all! The writing tutors are also here to help you with those aspects of the writing process that happen before the actual writing, such as fine-tuning your research question, planning your work or making an outline.

Definitely! The Writing Center is available to all students of the Humanities Faculty, both BA and MA students.

Scheduling an appointment on the same day is not possible. Usually, you’ll be able to see a tutor within a week, but this can take longer depending on the availability of the tutors

No, for questions surrounding language we’d like to refer you to one of the courses at the Academic Language Center. However, we can help you with questions about academic style (e.g. sentence length, sentence structure, tone of voice, word choice etc.)

No, grading your text is reserved for your instructor. Our tutors can and will not comment on the quality of your assignment.

No. Our tutors are in no way involved in grading your assignment and will never tell your instructor about your appointments. It is very important to us that you feel safe with us, meaning that everything you discuss with your tutor will remain between the two of you.

No, unfortunately the Writing Center is available only for students studying a degree at the Humanities Faculty. Are you a student at another faculty? Ask your study advisor about resources available to you.

No. As PhD students are employees of the university, we are unfortunately unable to offer them our services.

No. Because students profit most from a face-to-face session, we do not offer our services through email.

No, currently the Writing Center is not looking for new tutors.

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