Language & Learning


Academic phrases for writing

Find writing a challenge? Can’t think of another way to express yourself?

The Academic Phrasebank is a fantastic resource if you want to improve your academic writing or need assistance writing up your research. The main menu is arranged according to the sections of a typical research paper but it also includes the following general communicative functions of academic writing:

  • Being Cautious
  • Being Critical
  • Classifying and Listing
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Defining Terms
  • Describing Trends
  • Describing Quantities
  • Explaining Causality
  • Giving Examples
  • Signalling Transition
  • Writing about the Past
  • The phrases can be used to assist you in thinking about the content and organisation of your written work, or you can incorporate them into your writing where appropriate. Just make sure you know what they mean!

    There is also a Kindle or PDF download version available.

    Academic Phrasebank website

    Plan your writing

    It may be tempting to start writing as soon as you get your assessment task but creating a really good plan can help you achieve a higher grade. The planning process begins from the moment you analyse your essay question and start brainstorming. An effective plan can help organise your ideas and identify where you need to do more research.

    Having a really detailed plan for any writing task can ensure that:

  • you have fully understood the task and topic.
  • your ideas are clear and organised in a logical way.
  • you have relevant arguments supported by evidence.
  • you don’t go ‘off-topic’.
  • you can see areas for improvement.
  • Reading a journal article

    Reading for university courses is often challenging and time-consuming. Many students find that the skills they previously needed and used at school or work are not as effective for university study. Understanding and using effective active reading strategies can make your reading more meaningful, purposeful, and successful.

    As a starting point, it is important to understand the unique features of journal articles so that you can better understand the content.

    This short video from the University of British Colombia iSchool contains tips to help you read journal articles efficiently and effectively. The video is available here.

    For further information and very useful tips, work through this Reading and note taking module from Monash University.

    Writing reflections in Education

    During your course you’ll be expected to complete a range of written assessments. Most people are familiar with essays and reports but writing a reflection for the first time can be a challenge. Reflective writing requires you to draw connections between theory and experience or learning in order to create new understanding.

    This sequence of activities from Monash University provides useful explanations of the characteristics of reflective writing for students in the Education discipline.

    Using phrasal verbs

    A phrasal verb is a verb that is made up of a main verb combined with an adverb or a preposition, or both. Sometimes the meaning is really obvious but more often than not the meaning cannot be guessed by looking at the individual words. For example, look up can mean ‘look in an upward direction’ whereas give up means to ‘stop trying to do something’.

    Check out English Grammar Online to learn about phrasal verbs containing up, on, turn, out, down, off, look, come, get and go. The site includes short quizzes to test understanding.

    Having better conversations

    It seems obvious but the ability to start conversations and talk confidently is something that will help you in all aspects of life. Celeste Headlee is an award-winning journalist who has years’ of experience interviewing people from all over the world. Here are her tips for having a good conversation:

    • Stop what you are doing. Give the other person your full attention.
    • Assume you have something to learn.
    • Use open-ended questions.
    • Go with the flow.
    • Don’t pretend to know if you don’t know.
    • Don’t repeat yourself.
    • Don’t give too many details.
    • Listen actively.

    Check out her entertaining TED Talk on 10 ways to have a better conversation.

    Using news articles to improve reading

    University study requires a lot of reading and, like most things, good reading comes with practice. Improving comprehension skills involves reading a wide range of texts and news articles can be an excellence source of material.

    An excellent site for current news stories from Australia and around the world is the ABC. For students who use English as an Additional Language Breaking News English has a large range (and back catalogue) of news items with comprehension questions. Articles are available for differing levels of reading ability and there are many different activities provided. There are also lots of discussion and writing tasks to take the activities further.

    The process of reflection

    During your course you’ll be expected to complete a range of written assessments. Most people are familiar with essays and reports but writing a reflection for the first time can be a challenge. Reflective writing requires you to draw connections between theory and experience or learning in order to create new understanding.

    This short video from the University of Hull explains the differences between descriptive and reflective writing, and points out the benefits of hindsight in improving future experiences.


    Putting wordy writing on a diet

    One common piece of feedback from lecturers and tutors is that student writing can often be very wordy!
    That is, the writer uses more words than necessary to present describe, explain, illustrate and argue the main points in a paper. This wordiness is obviously a problem when you need to keep to the word limit for an assessment but it also affects the overall quality of your writing. Wordy sentences can be difficult to navigate which means that the reader has to work harder to understand your point.

    Have a look at these resources from The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help make your writing more concise.

    Using apostrophes

    Many students are unsure when to use an apostrophe which often leads to overuse or avoiding it completely.
    Basically, an apostrophe should be used to indicate the following:

  • Possession or ownership. For example – Peter’s car | my brother’s friend | in QUT’s best interest.
  • Leaving out letters or numbers. For example – I think she’s here | it started in July ’18 | they’re friends.
  • Have a look at this simple guide from Monash University which tells you everything you need to know about the correct use of apostrophes in just a few minutes.

    If you’d like to delve a little deeper check out this resource from which features all sorts of helpful rules, real-world examples, and quizzes.