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Writing an Essay
Structure and Vocabulary
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Academic Writing tasks aim to find out how
well you can research a topic, argue a point of view, evaluate evidence,
and organize your thinking. In this series on Academic Writing I would
like to provide general advice about different aspects of academic writing
and what resources you can use for more specific advice.
an Academic Essay
Structuring an Academic Essay
Linking Parts of Your
What Words Should
You Learn to Prepare for Academic Study?
Next in the Series
Any academic essay should contain an introduction,
a body of several paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each of
these parts has a specific function. Let us look
at each of these in turn:
The introduction usually begins generally and then moves
to more specific details. It should contain your thesis statement
or claim, an expression of intent or promise to the reader that
states your main idea and sets up an expectation of what the reader will
find in the essay. You should state clearly what your position is on the
topic of the essay.
The introduction may also outline the key points of each
of the paragraphs that follow in the body of the essay.
The body is a series of paragraphs that build your argument.
Each new idea should have its own paragraph. Paragraphs often begin with
a topic sentence that states the main idea of the paragraph. It
needs to be supported by evidence and explanation, and followed by a comment
or a link to the next paragraph. For example:
||Recent research has suggested that extensive reading
has significant effect on vocabulary development.
||Some economists argue that the introduction of
a joint currency between New Zealand and Australia would have few
benefits for Australia.
The conclusion should summarize your main ideas and restate
the thesis statement. It should not contain new ideas as this is not the
place to develop your argument further. Some people find it easier to
write the body of the essay first and then go back to write the introduction
and conclusion last to ensure that the thesis statement and conclusion
accurately reflect the content of the essay.
Parts of Your Essay Together
Linking devices, or discourse markers, are
used to ensure that your essay is coherent and cohesive. For example:
||Wellington is the city of government and diplomatic
activity in New Zealand, while Auckland is a center of business.
||Wellington is in a high-risk earthquake zone and
therefore has a strict building code.
In these examples, while links two contrasting
ideas, and therefore links a cause and a result. Below
is a list of common linking devices that have been grouped under their
first, second, ...
first of all
|Adding Further Support
as a result
in order to
so as not to
to sum up
Which category do each of the following linking devices belong to? When
you have finished, look at the answers.
in the same way
on the other hand*
* Be careful with on the other hand.
It should always be preceded by a statement that begins with on the
Linking devices vary according to their position in a
sentence, frequency, and punctuation. Supplement this list by noting new
linking devices when you are reading academic texts. Learn their meanings
and how to use them well before you try them in your own work.
Words Should You Learn to Prepare for Academic Study?
When thinking about academic writing, we can divide vocabulary
into three general categories:
||general vocabulary: this means the very common
words that we find in all types of written and spoken English. The
entries in the Macmillan English Dictionary are marked with
three stars if they are very frequent and the explanations of words
are written using these general English words. Examples of these words
include before, go, read, write, and you.
||general academic vocabulary: this means words
used in common across a wide range of academic subject areas. This
includes words such as analyze, function, identify,
||subject-specific words: this means words which
relate to an academic subject area such as economics, for example
words and phrases such as current cost accounting, sustainable
management, and business cycles.
Look at the words below, and put them in groups according to whether they
are general vocabulary, general academic vocabulary, or subject-specific
vocabulary. When you have finished, look at the answers.
Some words have a general meaning in everyday life but
also have a very specific meaning in a particular subject area. For example,
market, margin, capital, and demand are used
in the area of economics with very specific meanings.
Outside the most frequent words of English and academic
vocabulary there are many words that you may not ever need to know and
use, for example ameliorate, fountainhead, and harrowing.
These words are called low-frequency vocabulary and the usefulness
of these words depends on your needs. In the Macmillan English Dictionary,
these words have no stars because they do not occur often in written and
spoken English. Some words are so rare that they are not included in this
dictionary. You can often guess the meaning, or part of the meaning, of
such words by looking carefully at the context in which they occur.
consequently stating results
in the same way expressing similarities
on the other hand expressing contrasts
for instance giving examples
because providing reasons
otherwise expressing conditions
in conclusion concluding statements
in addition adding further support
accident general vocabulary
alternative general academic vocabulary
clever general vocabulary
fundamental general academic vocabulary
inflation subject-specific vocabulary (accounting)
microorganisms subject-specific vocabulary (biology)
need general vocabulary
ongoing general academic vocabulary
phonetics subject-specific vocabulary (linguistics)
specific general academic vocabulary
Here is a selection of websites and books that will tell
you more about academic writing and vocabulary.
Allen and Unwin eStudy Pages
Day, S.X., McMahan, E., and Funk, R. (1997) The
Practical Writer's Guide. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
||Leki, I. (1995). Academic Writing
(second edition). New York: St Martin's Press.
||Rodrigues, D. and Tuman, M. (1996)
Writing Essentials. New York: W. W. Norton.
||Wilhoit, S. (1997). A Brief Guide
to Writing from Readings. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
You can find Usage Notes on Academic Writing at the following entries
in the Macmillan English Dictionary:
in the Series
Writing: Sentence Structure and Grammar
Spelling and Punctuation