Academic Writing for Busy People


Writing reports for major assignments can be a real grind, this is a list of the ways I've found to minimise the drama and score well consistently.
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This list is notably different to the academic writing guides you'll find on your university's website. I wrote this up for my own reference and thought I may as well publish it in case it helps someone else. These strategies have really helped me as I've gone through tertiary studies and (I think) built up some writing skills over time. That said, your mileage may vary, everyone's approach is personal and varied.

Get Your Structure Right

Every guide I've ever seen says that the first step is planning, and you should write up your structure & headings first. IMO that's nonsense. I don't think I've ever written a report where I had the structure right before I got started writing. In fact in many cases it's only after 90% of the writing is done that the ideal structure coalesces. Sure, start with some headings, but be aware that the best structure is something that will develop as you move along.

Citation Management

Use an app to manage your citations. I genuinely prefer libreoffice for writing and spreadsheets, so Zotero is my best option, but there's loads of others. It's basically a database where you record all your references, then it inserts correctly formatted citations and generates a bibliography for you. Most academic articles have a "cite this" function, where you can copy the articles meta data (author, date, url, et cetera), and paste it into zotero or whatever you're using. Admittedly, there is a bit of a learning curve, but I suspect it would take less time to learn than to write a bibliography for a major assignment. Frankly, I don't know where I'd be without this.

Grammar Checkers

There's loads of online grammar checkers. Personally they're not my thing, but it's probably worth while trying at least once to see whether there's room for improvement. Try grammarly, but there's loads of them.

Sandwich Style is for Suckers

I've read this a few times, apparently sandwich style paragraphs improve your writing style. The idea is that each sentence should be a smaller version of your report, with a sentence to introduce, a few sentences to support, and a sentence with a conclusion. IMO this is complete nonsense. Looking back at most of my reports trying to write like this would maybe double the word count, unnecessarily.

Say it Simpler

I see this in professional communication all the time, people trying to impress readers with their stunning vocabulary. If you can say something more briefly, in simpler language, then you should. Of course in any report there's going to be some technical terminology which you use a lot, and that's fine. Basically, try to use the "best" word, and the best sentence structure for each circumstance, it's rarely the most unusual or complex. Short punchy simple sentences score marks.

One Sentence Can be a Paragraph

Forget what you learned in school. It's perfectly fine for a single sentence to be a paragraph.

Get Started Early

Yeah I know, there's a numpty in every unit that seems to have nothing better to do than write & submit reports a month before they're due... it makes me sick, frankly.. but that's not what I'm talking about. You don't have to finish your assignment early, in fact it's probably better to do it closer to the deadline so you can see what issues your classmates run into. That said, you can still get started early, you just need to break your inertia. This really helps to dial down the anxiety that inevitably surrounds major assignments, once your ship is in motion it's easier to spend an hour here or there developing it over time.

Figure Out Where to Find References

For finance studies, my go-to resources are:

  • proquest (you probably have access via your library, usually provides full articles)
  • scholar.google.com
  • company annual reports (easy to find, freely available, easy to reference)
  • if you're looking for full articles you'd be surprised what googling it will turn up if you add "pdf" to your search.

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