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Making your essays clearer

Improve your work and make your assignments easier to understand with clear writing

Writing clearly and structuring your assignments can help make your work clearer and improve your grades.  

Writing clearly involves using good sentence structure and using connectives to link your ideas. Using connectives properly makes your work easy to read and understand, but using them unnecessarily can confuse readers. 

Language choices 

Different assignments in your degree may need different styles and encourage different word choices. Your university assignments will usually use an academic and formal style. You should choose your words carefully to demonstrate your point clearly and succinctly. 

Tips to improve word choices in your writing:  

  • learn your subject’s technical and theoretical terms – this won't happen overnight and will continue throughout your degree
  • don't use fancy words and phrases just to sound more academic – make sure you understand a word or phrase and how to use it first
  • avoid using a thesaurus – there are very few exact synonyms in English and some terms have very specific meanings in particular fields (particularly for technical and theoretical terms)

Connectives and transition signals

Connectives link sentences, phrases and ideas in your writing to guide your reader through your work. Transition terms are a type of connective that specifically indicates some kind of change or development.

Connectives can demonstrate your analysis and criticality, the flow of your work, the development of your material, or a different angle or change in direction.

Connective examples: 

  • The first claim, [topic] can be explained by…..
  • For example...
  • However; in contrast; on the other hand...
  • Nonetheless; despite this; although...
  • In addition; furthermore...
  • Therefore; consequently; as a result...
  • Similarly...

Appropriate assertion

Avoid stating that something is 'definite' in your work because you probably can't explore all potential outcomes of the statement in your essay. Use academic caution to suggest conclusions in your writing, and avoid terms like 'obviously', 'undeniably', 'certainly' and 'definitely' (unless you're quoting someone else).

Instead of using casual terms like 'surely' or 'everybody knows', you should use phrases like 'It is common knowledge' or 'It is generally accepted...'.

You could use these phrases:

  • This shows...
  • It is evident that...
  • It is therefore possible to conclude that...
  • The argument strongly suggests that...
  • This is supported by...
  • This demonstrates...

Cautious language

Academic caution is about not making absolute statements of fact. 

Example of cautious language:

  • Seems to; tends to; looks like; appears to show; indicates; could be seen as...
  • Thinks; assumes; believes; suggests...
  • May; might; could; perhaps...
  • Probably; possibly; perhaps; conceivably...

Challenging arguments 

You can express doubt about or challenge your evidence, an argument, or a claim in your resources. You can also express doubt about something you've said. 

Five examples of phrases to express doubt:

  • It is possible that this means...
  • This could indicate that...
  • The argument is plausible because...
  • This claim is debatable because...
  • Therefore, it is an implausible argument...

Using evidence

Evidence can come from a range of sources. Your field will have specific requirements and reputable sources. Your evidence could come from data, results, findings, newspapers, databases, documentaries, or sound logical thinking and argument.

Examples of phrases to introduce evidence:

  • The evidence shows...
  • Table 1 demonstrates...
  • Figure 2 indicates...
  • According to the results...
  • The argument suggests...
  • The author implies that...

Remember that writer implies something, and the reader infers something, when making your word choices. 

Expressing what comes first or is most important

When you need to highlight a key point in your word you could use phrases like: 

  • The primary issue...
  • The key point...
  • The principal argument...
  • The main point...
  • First, this essay will...

Expressing sequence

Your reader should be ware of where they are in your work. It's easy to lose your place when reading extended writing so you should include some guidance in your assignment. Expressing sequence also demonstrates that you're thinking logically and systematically to present your points or argument, and keeping in touch with how elements relate to each other.

Examples of terms to express sequence: 

  • Previously...
  • Next...
  • Secondly...
  • Furthermore...
  • Subsequently...
  • In addition...
  • Moreover...

Expressing finality

Your conclusion will usually summarise the information in your essay. You can use terms like: 

  • Lastly...
  • Finally...
  • Overall...
  • Ultimately...
  • In conclusion...

Download our writing flow and coherence revision sheet

Download this page as a PDF for your essay writing notes.

Do you want help with writing clear sentences?

We can help. Book your Academic Skills Unit (ASK) tutorial now at academicskills@port.ac.uk

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