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a. The big picture. The overall structure of academic writing is formal and logical, unlike fiction or journal writing. Your writing must be cohesive, which means that the various parts are connected to form a unified whole. The reader should be able to follow your argument and the logical flow of ideas because there are links between sentences and paragraphs.
b. The language. Clear use of language is essential in academic writing. Well-structured paragraphs and clear topic sentences enable a reader to follow your line of thought without difficulty. Your language should be concise, formal and express exactly what you want it to mean. Avoid abbreviations such as 'i.e.' and 'e.g.' or contractions such as 'don't','isn't'. These should be spelt out in full. Because you will be dealing with the concepts, research and data of your subject, you will need to use the technical language appropriate to the discipline.
c. Academic conventions. Citing sources in the body of your paper and providing a list of sources are very important aspects of writing at university. It is essential to always acknowledge the source of any ideas, research findings or data that you have used in your paper.
Written assignments are one of the most common forms of assessment at university. This doesn't mean that assignment topics are only set to give students a mark or a grade. Writing is an important way of learning.
When you are doing an assignment, your research and reading helps you to acquire the language of the discipline you're studying. You are also being asked to analyse different ideas and concepts and draw conclusions of your own about the question being asked. In fact, when they are designing units of study, academics often have lengthy discussions about which particular questions to set in order to best help students learn. Often when you have completed writing an assignment you'll feel that the 'gain' far outweighed the 'pain'.
This will happen naturally as you progress through your course of study. Clearly when you start in a discipline there will be many terms that you will not be familiar with. But over time, as you read, discuss and listen, your exposure to the language of the discipline will increase and your academic vocabulary will develop.
Useful strategies include: using a subject specific dictionary, using the glossaries which many chapters and books have, and creating your own glossary as you come across new subject specific words.
The word limit gives you some idea about how widely and deeply you are expected to deal with the assignment topic. However, remember that sometimes it is harder to write 1000 words that are focused on the topic and free of 'waffle' than 2000 words of rambling unfocused prose!
Writing is both product and process. It is an outcome of learning as well as a tool for learning. The finished piece (product) displays your learning. The process of writing, involving drafting and redrafting, is a thinking and learning process. It forces the writer to clarify thoughts. Drafting deals with ideas - their organisation, their relationship to other ideas and the writer's argument or thesis. It does not refer to proofreading, which relates to the surface features of writing, like spelling, grammar and punctuation.
So, how many drafts should you do? Obviously, it can't be only one, as this does not allow for the thinking and rethinking process that contributes to the depth of a piece of writing. You will probably need to work through at least several drafts till you have clarified your thoughts and organised their presentation in a structure appropriate to your assignment. Proofreading should be the last step in the process.