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The challenges of academic writing for students at level 1

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 4 Feb 2016, 12:33

I have been having interesting discussions with some students through email and OU Live about academic writing.  These relate to issues of avoiding being too informal and personal while also being evaluative and developing a point of view.

Part of the issue is that academic writing tends to value concision and personal markers tend to use words that would be better used for other things. 

However, it is important for students to show stance.  They can do this by using a variety of evaluative words such as "major/partial").  Epistemic modality ie modal verbs for likelihood (eg "might/will") or deontic modality ie modal verbs used to express desirability ("should/must") are ways that students can show their stance without being too personal in style.

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Thanks for your comment, Sharon.

Writing skills and knowing what is expected are very important for academic success and it is good that you are discussing this with your tutor.  Tutors are interested in students' point of view as this shows that they can transform knowledge into their own arguments so it is important to be evaluative.  However, it is important to avoid being too personal in style as this tends to suggest less well developed thoughts - it might only be an impression but the impression counts.

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Hi Sharon

There are various ways that a writer can be evaluative.  For example, they can discuss how important something is through the use of adjectives like "major/significant/partial.  They can give an attitude towards the desirability of something through markers like "Fortunately/unfortunately" or the use of models "like Should/must".

The following article gives an in-depth exploration of the issues:


It is quite complex if you are not a specialist in language but perhaps page 178 is quite clear and gives plenty of examples.

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It is good that you have been able to discuss this with your tutor, Sharon.  Academic writing skills are so important in being successful academically.  If you can write in a way that makes your attitude clear and leads your reader logically through your argument, you are likely to do well.

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I gave some advice for students on one course in this podcast http://patrickdavidandrews.podbean.com/e/advice-for-lb160-tma3-part-1/

Do you think this kind of resouce is useful?


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Hi Sharon

I like the style of the extract you give except for the last sentence.  I should say, though, that I do not know the context or content of what you are writing.