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Academic writing

Structure your work

Once you have a plan for your writing, you can use this plan to create the structure of your writing. Structured writing has a beginning, middle and an end, and uses focussed paragraphs to develop the argument.

Create the overall structure

Some academic writing, such as lab or business reports, will have a fairly rigid structure, with headings and content for each section. For more details see our Report writing pages.

In other formats, writing usually follows the same overall structure: introduction, main body and conclusion.

The introduction outlines the main direction the writing will take, and gives any necessary background information and context.

In the main body each point is presented, explored and developed. These points must be set out in a logical order, to make it easier for the reader to follow and understand.

The conclusion brings together the main points, and will highlight the key message or argument you want the reader to take away. It may also identify any gaps or weaknesses in the arguments or ideas presented, and recommend further research or investigation where appropriate.

Arrange your points in a logical order

When you start writing you should have a clear idea of what you want to say. Create a list of your main points and think about what the reader needs to know and in what order they will need to know it. To select the main points you want to include, ask yourself whether each point you have considered really contributes to answering the question. Is the point relevant to your overall argument?

Select appropriate evidence that you will use to support each main point. Think carefully about which evidence to use, you must evaluate that information as not everything you find will be of high quality.

See our searching for information page for advice on how to find high quality, academic information.

Grouping your points may help you create a logical order. These groups will broadly fit into an overall pattern, such as for and against, thematic, chronological or by different schools of thought or approach.

You can then put these groups into a sequence that the reader can follow and use to make sense of the topic or argument. It may be helpful to talk through your argument with someone.

It may be helpful to arrange ideas initially in the form of a mind-map, which allows you to develop key points with supporting information branching off.

MindView software (available on most university computers) allows you to create an essay structure where you can add in pictures, files and attachments – perfect for organising evidence to support your point.

Write in structured paragraphs

Use paragraphs to build and structure your argument, and separate each of your points into a different paragraph.

Make your point clear in the first or second sentence of the paragraph to help the reader to follow the line of reasoning.

The rest of the paragraph should explain the point in greater detail, and provide relevant evidence and examples where necessary or useful. Your interpretation of this evidence will help to substantiate your thinking and can lend weight to your argument.

At the end of the paragraph you should show how the point you have made is significant to the overall argument or link to the next paragraph.

See constructing focused paragraphs for an example.

Use signalling words when writing

Using signalling words will help the reader to understand the structure of your work and where you might be taking your argument.

Use signalling words to:

  • add more information eg furthermore, moreover, additionally
  • compare two similar points eg similarly, in comparison
  • show contrasting viewpoints eg however, in contrast, yet
  • show effect or conclusion eg therefore, consequently, as a result
  • emphasise eg significantly, particularly
  • reflect sequence eg first, second, finally.

(Adapted from Signal words from Clark College, Vancouver)

The Manchester Academic Phrasebank at has more examples of signalling words to use in your work.

Words like these help make the structure of your writing more effective and can clarify the flow and logic of your argument.

Here are some examples in practice:

“Using a laboratory method was beneficial as a causal relationship could be established between cognitive load and generating attributes. However, this method creates an artificial setting which reduces the study's ecological validity.”

In this example the use of the word however at the beginning of the second sentence indicates that a contrasting point of view is about to be made. It also suggests that the writer may have more sympathy with the second opinion.

“Firstly, the concepts and person centred care will be defined.... Next, communication will be discussed... Finally, the relationship between loss and communication will be examined.” [Taken from a Healthcare essay]

In this example the writer has used signalling words to demonstrate the sequence of their argument by using Firstly, next, finally making the structure of the essay very clear.

“Employee satisfaction is justifiable to employees because it causes an improvement on their well being (Grandley, 2003). Moreover, employees that are in a good mood at work are less likely to act because their true feelings are in accordance with the needed display of emotions (Grandley, 2003).” [Taken from a Business School essay]

The use of the word moreover tells the reader that the next sentence will provide further evidence or information to support the statement made in the first sentence. It also suggest that the writer strongly agrees with the first statement.

Revise, edit and proofread your work

Most writing will require several drafts and revisions in order to improve the clarity and structure. It is rare that a writer will make the very best decisions in the first draft. See our editing and proofreading pages for more details.