Have you ever been told your ‘writing is too descriptive‘ or ‘you need more critical analysis‘? This is common feedback on written assessment and a source of frustration for many students. While some description is necessary most uni assessment tasks require you to produce more analytical and critical writing. This shows that you are engaging in current academic debates and have evaluated the research relevant to your discipline.
So, what does it mean to be critical?
In order to be a more critical writer you need to be critical throughout the whole writing process.
questioning what you read and not necessarily agreeing with it.
looking for reasons why you shouldn’t accept something as being correct or true.
identifying problems with arguments or methods, or referring to criticisms of these.
suggesting ways in which something could be improved (if required).
sometimes reflecting on your own behaviour/attitudes/performance.
Demonstrate your understanding
Your writing needs to show how you have interpreted the unit content and readings, how you have used that information to demonstrate your understanding, and what your position is on the topic. This doesn’t mean that you are including you opinion (unless asked to) but you are building an academic argument based on what you know and the evidence you have.
The way you structure your argument and the quality of the evidence you use to support your claims illustrate your thought process and how well you have understood the issue or topic.
Support your argument with quality evidence
Make sure you always use evidence to help you strengthen your position. Synthesise sources to ensure you answer the reader’s potential questions and counter any opposing arguments.
For most assignments you don’t need to provide a lot of background or historical information so you should keep descriptive statements to a minimum. Focus on providing more analysis and evaluation to demonstrate your interpretation of the facts, and support your arguments by explaining the significance, outlining consequences and/or implications and making recommendations.
Tips for being more critical
Don’t just describe something. Make sure your writing also identifies the significance of the issue/evidence.
Rather than simply explaining what the theory says go further and show why that theory is relevant.
It’s also not enough to outline the method/intervention/treatment. You need to demonstrate how appropriate it is.
Make sure your writing always answers the question so what?
For useful phrases to use in your writing check out Manchester Phrasebank’s section on Being Critical.
And if you really want to learn more try this free online course from Future Learn
Write Up is a wonderful support service for students and I feel so lucky to be one of the facilitators for the team.
We get students to work together, give feedback and provide support for understanding, responding and structuring assignment tasks, checking and integrating research, and help with language.
So far, we’ve had students from a wide array of faculties, and I thought I would share the most common issues that students have asked us for help with.
Here are my top three writing tips
1. Before you even set pen to paper, get organised! Gather all your resources together from your tutes and lectures (especially your assignment task sheet with the criteria!). Now you’re all set to begin. Your task sheet is your treasure map. It is your guide to what you need to cover in your assignment.
2. Keep your sentences short for clarity—if you see any sentences that are running over 3 or 4 lines, it’s time to break them up with full stops!
3. Always be specific about the ‘subject’ of your sentence and who you are referring to. For example, if you are currently referring to your theorists as ‘they’, it’s time to use their name, or be more specific about their role. Make your writing as clear for the reader as you can. If you only use words like ‘they’ or ‘she/he’ the reader won’t know if you’re talking about the ‘nurses’ or the ‘patients’. Don’t make them guess!
We look forward to seeing you in one of our Write Up sessions.
They’re fun and helpful and we can’t wait to meet you all.
Write Up facilitator
When writing university assignments you have to acknowledge quotations, information and ideas taken from other authors. At QUT the four commonly used styles for citing and referencing are APA, Harvard, AGLC and Vancouver. APA Style is used in many disciplines but it is most commonly required in Health and Education.
This online tutorial has been adapted from APA’s tool for teaching and learning effective writing. It takes you through the basics of seventh edition APA Style, including format, and organisation; academic writing style; grammar and usage; tables and figures; in-text citations, paraphrasing, and quotations; and reference list format and order.
You can also find more information on seventh edition APA Style in the official Publication Manual (7th ed.) and the Style and Grammar Guidelines section of the APA Style website.
These days there are also heaps of tools that can help you manage your readings and referencing. While they might seem to make things quicker and easier, it’s important to know that they are not 100% reliable. Make sure you fully understand the elements and construction of citing and referencing.
Detailed examples can be found on QUT cite|write which has been designed to help you create references that meet the requirements of the university and your specific units. For EVERY assessment task you do make sure you check the task instructions carefully and ask your lecturer/tutor if you are not sure which style you need to use.