Types of Academic Writing
COMMON TYPES of ACADEMIC WRITING :
Most types of academic writing at undergraduate level share the following
Average length: 1500-3000 words
Time allowed: 4-14 weeks
Academic Requirements: extensive reading and critical analysis
References: 8-10 authors
Four broad types of academic writing can be identified: Essay, Report,
Literature Review, Journal.
These types differ from each other in a number of key areas: Purpose and
Task; Format; Language and Style
- Analytic or Critical Essay
- Seminar Paper
- Case Study
RESEARCH PAPER: Definition of the Task
The research paper is one of the most common tasks. Typically, students are
asked to either respond to a set of questions (for examples see below) or
explore an area of their own choice. It is usually between 2,000 and 3,000
words in length and will involve some original research and thought.
Detail one example of how the development of information
technologies has affected our lives. Discuss the nature of the
technology and the changes it has affected. (800 words; ITB101
There is an argument that in most societies a powerful,
prestigious or wealthy minority shape the major decisions of
governments. Examine this view with reference to Australia and
one other nation (2000 words; EPB124 Government).
Discuss the following statement: "Managers are not leaders."
(2000 words; BSB102 Management and Organisation).
To what extent is the current account deficit a constraint on fiscal and
monetary policy? (1500 words; EPB140 Macroeconomics).
Foreign Investment is essential to Australia's future. Discuss.
(1500 words; EPB132 International Trade and Finance).
Critically assess the following statement: "Analytical chemistry
may be regarded as a separate discipline." (1500 words; School
of Chemistry- CHB513 Instrumental Analysis 5).
Gives the title of the essay and the author’s name
Table of Contents:
Only required for longer essays, not usually used in short essays at
Not usually required for short essays but may be specifically requested.
In different contexts it may be called a `synopsis’, an `abstract’ or an
executive summary’. It is a short summary of the whole paper to give
the reader an overview of everything that it contains.
Introduce the topic, define major areas and concepts, provide an
overview of the main ideas that will be developed in the body of the
Explore the topics introduced. Use the literature to support the ideas.
Remember to introduce “both sides” of the debate or issue.
Summarise the arguments introduced, present any suggestions for
The research paper is written in a neutral academic style. There will
usually be extensive references to research literature including direct
quotes and paraphrases. The essay will be objective in tone. The
writer’s main role is that of organising and presenting relevant material.
SEMINAR PAPER: Definition of the Task
Many subject areas set seminar papers to their students. The tasks vary
between faculties. Sometimes students are allowed to write a research paper
and then simply read it out. In others, they write a research paper and then
present it as an oral presentation. They may be required to give a summary
of the paper to their audience. Though it may appear that these tasks are
very different, the planning process will be the same in each case.
Only necessary if you are also submitting the paper as a piece of
Introduce the topic, provide an overview of the main ideas.
Explore the topic. Remember, for a talk or presentation it is better to
cover one or two areas in detail rather than trying to do too much.
Brings your presentation to a close.
Language and Style Tips:
Generally speaking, your criteria sheet should guide you here.
However the most important thing to bear in mind is the fact that in
many seminar papers you are trying to do two things. The first is to
produce a research paper. The second is usually to reduce this paper
in size for the purposes of presenting the main issues orally to an
audience. For the written paper you should follow the same process as
that for a research paper. For the seminar presentation itself the
issues to be considered are those of time, clarity and aids (visual).
Spoken papers are usually restricted to the main issues and do not
contain as many quotes or references to literature as written papers.
Unless the criteria sheet particularly allows for you to simply read your
research paper alone, then the seminar paper needs to be written in a
less formal/spoken style.
CASE STUDY: Definition of the Task
Again, this task varies through the different faculties. Generally though the
student is required to discuss a situation that is presented. It may be an
account of a personal situation or a business one. There will usually be a
question or a series of questions that the writer responds to. These questions
will focus the analysis, discussion or recommendations that the writer is
required to produce.
Introduce the topic or parts of the topic, give an overview of the
Explore the questions with reference to relevant literature if required to
illustrate your points. Pay close attention to all the parts of the
question. And relate your answer closely to each part of the case study
Summarise the main points made and any conclusions drawn.
The case study is written in the same study as a general research
Formal Report: Definition of the Task
Formal reports are important, particularly for science and engineering
students, and are also common in Business. Structure, style and presentation
can be very important. Reports usually follow a fixed format, but this varies
from discipline to discipline. You should refer closely to your criteria sheet for
detailed advice about what is expected. Some of the most common report
types are presented below.
Gives the title of the report and the author’s name
Abstract (sometimes described in business contexts as an
A summary (synopsis) of the whole report. This summary should not
include any details but give only the broad outline and any conclusions
that you may have come to. There is not usually a fixed length for an
abstract. It is a good idea to look through some journal articles in your
area for examples.
Table of Contents:
A table of contents is not usually required in short assignments. In
longer assignments (over 2500 words) it should include all headings
and sub-headings and give the corresponding page numbers for them.
List of Figures:
Any diagrams, graphs or pictures should be numbered and listed here
in order (ie. Fig.1, Fig 2 etc.)
Definitions of any key terms in the paper that the reader might not
Introduce the topic, define major areas and concepts that are going to
be covered in the body of the report.
Report on the issues in a logical and well-organised way.
Restate any important findings and conclusions that can be drawn from
Based on the findings, make recommendations on possible courses of
action that may improve the situation or process that is being reported
A list in alphabetical order of all the sources referred to in the report.
This is where you include any information that could not be included in
the body of the report because of lack of space.
Here are the suggested formats for a science report and an engineering
management report. Remember, however, to always refer directly to the
criteria sheet for your specific subject as your lecturers may require something
As with all the other kinds of writing detailed here, the most important starting
point is your criteria sheet. Different subject areas produce reports in different
ways. These can range from reports that follow a very strict format to those
that look very much like research articles. Below is the format for a standard
Science (Research Lab) Report.
Abstract: check criteria sheet
Generally, this section describes the reason for this particular study
and the design of the study itself. It includes a reference to the main
literature on the subject and relates this to particular study you are
describing. The purpose of your study should be made very clear.
Methods and Materials:
This section includes details of the sample, the research design and
the instruments used in your study.
The results section is usually presented in the form of tables or graphs
with a summary of the important findings under each one.
Discussion: In this section the significance of the findings of your
study are related directly to your initial aim or problem. Your results
are related to the findings of the studies that you included in your
literature review. You could suggest areas for future research in this
Literature Review (or Survey):
Purpose and task
A literature review involves reading widely and critically on a specific topic.
The broad aim is to encourage you to explore the available literature and,
through this process, build your knowledge and understanding of the central
issues. It is not a list of summaries or a description. The main task is to:
analyse, compare and contrast the research (also
theories, ideas, views and opinions) of different
authors on a specific topic or area of interest.
An example of a survey question:
Conduct a survey of articles published recently in analytical chemistry
journals. Use your findings to critically discuss the kinds of chemometric
methods that have been applied to analytical chemistry problems.’
A literature review is similar in format to a research paper. It is the survey of
the literature published in a certain area and often forms the first part of a
research paper, report or thesis.
Introduce the area under consideration and any major contrasts or
controversies that may exist. Outline how you are going to present the
Present themes and trends in the literature in a logical way relating
them closely to your question.
Suggest areas that have not been explored and draw general
conclusions about the specific question based on your discussion in
Writer’s Note: Choosing your own title/topic
At times, you may be required to develop your own title/topic to write about
within the framework of the content of the unit. While this allows you to
explore areas that you find particularly interesting, it can be “tricky” and needs
to be approached with care. Some points to keep in mind:
• choose a realistic and “doable” topic
• check recommended reading list to make sure there are sufficient texts that
are readily available
• don’t make the topic too general or too narrow
• identify your purpose clearly (i.e., to explain, describe, compare, discuss,
• Identify the subject area clearly, e.g.
(1) Strategic Management in small business operations (BUSINESS)
(2) Pain in cancer patients (NURSING)
• start with broad questions and then gradually narrow your search, e.g.
(1) What is strategic management?
Is it different to other forms of management? How?
What role does strategic management play in small business operations?
Is there a difference between strategic management in small and large
(2) What is pain?
What pain is specific to cancer patients?
What treatments are available?
How effective are these treatments?
Are there any major side effects?
• rephrase these questions as topic statements that include directive words:
(1) Define strategic management and examine its role in small business
(2) Examine the nature of pain specific to cancer patients. Discuss the
treatments available and compare their relative effectiveness.
• stay focused on your purpose
• keep within the framework of your topic.
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