Ten Tips for Writing Academic Papers

Completing academic writing assignments is one of the most important skills you will need to develop as a student.  This is true regardless of your subject or discipline.

Based on my own experience writing and correcting papers and discussions with students I have compiled these ten tips to help you get going.  I have used these at the Academic Writing Club we set up in National College of Ireland to support students through the challenges of this process.


1 Read the task

Spend time reading and analysing the task you have been assigned.  Look for action words such as ‘discuss’, ‘compare’, ‘critique’ and so on.  Check if you need to provide examples or to analyse or deal with a particular context.   Write the task at the head of your essay and make sure you address every component of the assignment.


2 Get on with it!

Start writing straight away – don’t keep putting it off.  Many students say they need to read first and write later.  It is better to read and write at the same time (see tip 4 below).  

3 Use the opening paragraph as your plan

Start with something like “In this assignment I will….” and then go on to describe what the reader can expect. Write this paragraph first. Then leave it alone – don’t keep reworking it during the writing process – wait until your assignment is near to completion and then (and only then) rewrite the opening.

4 Read and research with purpose

Once you have a plan (based on your opening paragraph) you can then attack the required background reading.  The secret is to be ‘purposeful’ in your approach.  Continuously ask yourself why you are reading the specific text before you and what it will contribute.  Write snippets as you go. Don’t get taken in by mindless reading and avoid ‘nice to know’ sidetracks – if you come across something interesting but not directly helpful to your assignment put it in a folder for future reading.

5 Make three points

I want to make three points about this tip.  First it’s a useful starting point for a new topic – it gives a simple structure and the reader knows what to expect.  Second it stretches your thinking so you can easily compare and contrast the ideas you wish to discuss.  Finally, you can always keep going to add more and more points later.

6 Use paragraphs to provide structure  

One of the most useful and often neglected devices for both writer and reader is the paragraph. It is often possible to write separate paragraphs from different parts of your assignment and to connect these in later drafts.  An advantage of this approach is that your notes and memos will gradually build to become paragraphs.  Each paragraph should have it’s own structure – pay attention to the key sentence that usually carries the main message of the paragraph. Make backward and forward connections with linking sentences throughout your paper.

7 Remember you are the writer 

Many students fail to grasp that a term paper assignment is essentially a learning task that requires their engagement in the process of writing.  It is more important to provide your own thoughts (even if you feel they are inadequate) rather than reproducing the work of others. Keep quotations to a minimum and cite all your sources using one system of referencing such as APA, MLA of Harvard.

8 Keep it clear

Write in a clear straightforward style.  Avoid complex sentences.  Make your argument with precision and elegance and use no more words than necessary.

9 Write a little every day

Writing can be tiring especially if you are not used to it.  It’s a good idea to break the task down and write something each day until the assignment is due.  Even if you are busy with other things or feeling tired try to accomplish some part of the work – such as proof reading or formatting – in every session.

10 Write a summary and conclusion 

A summary captures the main points that you have made such as “here I have provided ten tips on academic writing for students” while a conclusion provides a key message that can be inferred from your paper such as “it’s over to you now good luck with your academic writing“.

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