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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

Do

Don’t

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. 

Need help with your writing assignment? Do you need help with an academic written assignment (i.e. a thesis, a paper or an essay)? If so, you can make use of the help offered by the Writing Centre. The Centre is meant to aid all BA students of the Faculty of Humanities who would like to improve their writing skills. The main emphasis is on helping you to improve your own thesis or other writing assignment. The Writing Centre is part of the Expertise Centre for Academic Skills of the Faculty of Humanities. Make an appointment. Read also our Writing Tips below!

Individual tuition

Each session with one of our tutors takes approximately 45 minutes. Appointments can be made for a single session, or for several sessions, to discuss one specific assignment. The services provided by the Writing Centre are free of charge for students.

What can we do for you?

The writing tutors are specially selected (Res)MA students, who have been trained to focus on the analysis of problems that occur during the writing process and of issues related to text writing. They have also been trained how to give feedback. For example, they advise you how to structure your topic by means of a clear chapter outline. They can also give you advice with regard to academic style and clarity of language.

The  tutors do not discuss the content of your assignments: that is up to you and your supervisor. Nor will the tutors evaluate your text  (“Is my assignment fine as it is now?”). Furthermore, the tutors will not correct the spelling or the grammar for you; their role is to advise you on how you can improve your written work yourself.

Who are we?

The tutors of the Writing Centre are:

Make an appointment

Should you want to make use of the Writing Centre’s services, you can contact us through filling out the ‘Sign-up form’.

Make sure that you e-mail any relevant documents you wish to discuss during your session 24 hours in advance. If you have no text yet to discuss, but do need help with formulating a hypothesis or writing a research proposal, you can also make an appointment with a tutor. The sessions take place in the Van Eyckhof 4, 001A.

Opening hours

The Writing Centre is open from Monday till Thursday from 09:00 am till 05:00 pm. You can contact our team by sending an e-mail to Schrijfcentrum-EAV@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Writing Tips

Are you starting research for a new paper? First discuss your ideas with your lecturer or with a tutor of the Writing Centre EAV!

Someone with a fresh look can often easily identify potential bottlenecks. Eliminating those beforehand can save you some unnecessary research and prevent you from (re)writing large portions of texts. In brief: it can save a lot of frustration.

Is there something wrong with a paragraph in your text, but you don’t know what exactly?

Try to point out the topic sentence. This is the sentence which describes the essence of the paragraph as a whole the best. All the other sentences should refer to the topic sentence and should substantiate it. 

Can you find no topic sentence, or do you find more than one? Do you see sentences that are not related to the topic sentence at all? Perhaps you are trying to discuss several ideas in one paragraph. Don’t do that.

The right formulation of your research question is the key to success.

 

If your research question is too broad, you will never be able to answer it thoroughly, and you will be heading in for a disappointment. On the other hand, a too narrowly formulated question leads to a superficial and uninteresting piece.

Pay attention to the type of question you ask. Purely descriptive questions ("What / How is X?") are the least catchy and it may be unclear if the answer is sufficient. Try, for example, a comparison ("What are the differences and similarities between X and Y?"), an evaluation ("What are the advantages or disadvantages of X?"), or an explanation ("Why has X happened?").

An academic paper is like a reversed detective story. It must be clear for the reader from the beginning who has done what, how and why.

You need to explain in the introduction of your paper what your research question is, why you have studied it, what method you have applied, and what the result is. It makes it perhaps less exciting than a detective story, but the academic readership wants to see at a glance if your paper contains information that is relevant for them.

Are you trying to write a perfect paper on your first attempt? That appears to be efficient, but in the end it usually is a waste of time. Writing and revision are separate processes; the first makes more use of the creative right brain hemisphere, while the latter appeals primarily to the critical left brain hemisphere.

Let writing of your first draft be free and creative, and don’t pay attention to details such as the correct wording, spelling or grammar (without losing sight of your research question and your text plan). You will make progress more quickly and you will enjoy it more as well. Let your ‘inner critic’ wait until the revision round. Then revise your text in stages: first improve the content and the argumentation, then the structure, and only then the style and the grammar. 

When writing an academic paper, you need to convince your reader of the outcome of your research. This can be achieved by fulfilling certain academic criteria such as adding a literature review and a proper use of sources. But the argumentation in your paper is of essential importance as well.

Good arguments

You will need good arguments in order to convince your reader. To check whether your arguments are convincing enough, underline statements you make in your paper. Then, check the argumentation you use to support these statements. Is this argumentation strong enough to convince the reader of your statement?

When writing an academic paper, it is always important to have a clear structure. This does not only help the reader to understand your arguments, it also helps you to create a more convincing paper.

To improve the structure of your paper, you have to be aware of the objective of every chapter and paragraph in your text. What do you intend to say? Which statements do you want to make? How does this relate to the general research question? 

Read your paper and write in the margins what every chapter is about. This gives you a good overview of how your paper is structured and helps you to identify laws in the structure.

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