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Academic Writing


What to write as an MA student?


What to write as an MA student?

  • Essay
  • Term Paper
  • Literature review: Critique on a reasearch article or books focusing on a topic
  • Report
  • Case study
  • Research project: Presentation of findings from original research


How to complete an MA assignment? 

1. General construction of a paper


( # elective item)

The content of an introduction is normally in the following sequence: the purpose and the nature of the current research, the research questions and the research value.



Body( in different structures)

  • Problem-solution

  • Chronology
  • Comparison and contrast
  • Pros and cons
  • Research methods/ findings/ discussion

Conclude the findings. Do not add anything that is not discussed.

(Evans, 2010)

2. Tips on good writing


  • Understanding the audience
  • Formulating a temporary argument in essay writing
  • Reading around the subject
  • Following the writing objective
  • Outlining your paper
  • Having plenty of time to write
  • Revising at least twice

       (Silber, 2011)

Language features

  • Use more technical or academic words:

Academic word list from Victoria University of Wellington

Academic words check from Web VP 1.5

  • Tailor your sentences.

The more efficient a sentence is the more content words it contains.

  • Adopt hedging techniques:
    • Hedging expressions: seem, appear, suggest, indicate estimate, assume, according to, on the basis of, on the evidence of…
    • Modal verbs: may, might, could, can…
    • Adverbs: probably, possibly, perhaps, seemingly…
    • Nouns: probability, possibility, assumption, evidence…
    • Generalization:

    tend/ have a tendency to; generally, largely, primarily, for the most part; apart from, except for…

(Evans, 2010)

Other tips on writing:

    • Making a rough plan and following it
    • Writing up sessions orderly
    • Completing the paper in the order comfortable to you (The method is often a good start.)
    • Finding a quiet place to write and stay at the same place

]Philips & Pugh, 1996)



What to read about the subject?

1. Books:

  • Make use of resources in and
  • Find specific books on.


2. Journals:

  • Photocopy articles from hardcopy journals on 5th floor in the library.
  • Search e-resources with PolyU library databases:

  • Google on Google scholar:

    (Google scholar via library do not require a password.)

  • Search on


3. Internet resources

  •   provides abundant sources but its reliability may be low.
  • Scholars' personal website



How to read critically?

1. Understand the framework

  • Abstract
  • Body: IntroductionMethods/ MaterialsResultsnDiscussion
  • Conclusion

2. Get the most of what you read quickly

  • Books: PrefaceTablesContents and index other content around your topic
  • Journals: Abstract Thesis statement (statement of your position) and conclusion

3. Critical Reading Read looking for the way of thinking

  • Understanding the text
  • Evaluating it with your knowledge
  • Considering the way to use the portion of the text in the argument of your writing
4. Note-taking:
  • Taking notes on separate cards or files
  • Categorizing them after reading
  • Recording your pop-up thoughts
  • Putting relative bibliographic information of your source in a computer file

(Knott, 2011)



How to compile a literature review?

1. Introduction

  • Defining the topic and objectives of the review
  • Conveying to your audience SOME previous studies on a subject
  • Classifying different studies in the area
  • Indicating the gap of the previous studies

2. Preparation

Read and notice:
  • the main issues or problems under discussion;
  • general attitudes towards the issue across the collected literature;
  • writers' ground for disagreement (difference in research questions, theories or approach); and
  • any changes of issues chronologically. Keep notes on the links between articles while reading.

(Taylor, 2011)

3. Writing strategies

Generic structure of a literature review:









(Simpson, 2011)

Structure of a literature review

Integrate views from sources:

  • Use leading expressions:

state, maintain, remark, propose, observe, suggest, declare, define, emphasize, comment, report, assert…
…’s study shows that, from…’s results, it may follow that…

  • Use a variety of connectives:

furthermore, therefore, consequently, hence, in other words, that is…, thus, in contrast, unlike…, whereas, on the contrary, as a matter of fact, in fact...,

(Criollo, 2003)    

4. Literature review samples


Other online resources

1. Writing devices

2. Literature review

3. Research proposal writing

4. Editing and proofreading.