• How-To: Introduction to Academic Writing

    by Alan Batt. Last modified: 25/01/14

    Whether pre or post registration, being able to write an academic essay has become a key skill required of paramedics and students worlwide. This guide aims to provide you with a comprehensive explanation of the approach to writing an effective essay. If you are an experienced essay writer this guide may seem simplistic – however, those not experienced should find it an invaluable resource.

    So what do you need to start?

    Almost all universities and institutes now require that assignments be typed or printed as opposed to handwritten. So firstly, a computer is necessary. Computer access may be available in your institute. Microsoft Word is a great word processor – but if you can’t afford it, there are some great free alternatives such as OpenOffice and LibreOffice (check our resources page for links and details). You will also need a highlighter, and patience!

    Read the question!

    This is undoubtedly the most important element when writing an essay – make sure you answer the question that has been asked! A large number of essays receiving low grades or fails do so because the question has not been answered. Highlight key words such as ‘discuss’, ‘evaluate’ ‘describe’ etc., and the main topic of the question. For instance:

    eg 1. “Discuss the prehospital management of the septic patient.”

    eg 2. “Discuss the factors which ensure accurate urinalysis.”

    Discuss here would indicate that you should present alternative viewpoints on the topic, and use literature to support your argument. Read the question a number of times, and make sure you have understood what it is asking. Once you are satisfied that you understand the question, you are ready to research your essay.

    Research

    Research is what will set your essay apart from other student’s essays. Whilst this entire site is dedicated to research, here’s a quick overview for the purposes of this article.

    For the average 1000-2000 word essay, you should try to get between 8 and 15 pieces of research as references. However, this is just a guideline – if you have 25 quality pieces of research that support your argument then by all means use them. Don’t write an essay full of quotes however! Research varies depending on the subject matter.

    Don’t forget to research the core texts for the subject matter. A question on paediatric care could include paediatric specific texts . Talk to a lecturer, a Paramedic Tutor or a healthcare professional who specialises in the topic area to get an idea of the core texts for different subjects

    Journal articles are very useful for writing essays, and you should aim to include articles in your reference list. Try online resources such as PubMed, CINAHL and Up-To-Date. Full details of these resources are on the resources page. Search for relevant journal articles using different keywords and search criteria – details are available on the website of each database on effective searching.

    Make sure you read all of your research, and go through each piece with a highlighter. Highlight any sentences that explain a point well.  It is important that you understand all of your selected research…do not write about something you don’t understand.

    Structuring your essay

    Essay layout and format is an important consideration when writing an essay. The easiest structure to follow when writing an essay is Introduction, Main Body and Conclusion.

    As a general rule: “Tell the reader what you are going to tell them [introduction], tell them [main body], and then tell them what you have told them [conclusion]”. It is important to remember that when writing an essay you should always make sure what you are writing is relevant to the question (e.g. answer the question!).

    It is important to keep in mind that you will need to write two or more drafts for each assignment in order to achieve the best results – drafts allow you to spot spelling mistakes, layout errors and most importantly, the ‘reader factor’ of your essay – how it feels to read it.

    Introduction

    This should ideally be 1-2 paragraphs long, and should introduce the reader to the topic, and the discussion that you will present. Defining a term or element of the assignment can also be included here (e.g. definition of congestive heart failure, septic shock, stress etc.) Use your introduction as an attention grabber – providing statistics, or interesting information may be useful here, as long as it is justifiable and can be supported by relevant literature.

    Main body/Discussion

    Present your ideas/arguments in a logical fashion, ensuring that there is smooth transition between ideas. Using paragraphs can make the presentation of arguments/discussion more logical, and will make it easier for the reader to follow. Any statements that you make (especially strong or contentious statements) should be supported using references, which will then be available in your reference list. It is important to aim to link your assignment with clinical practice and current evidence-based practice – however don’t make the mistake of telling a story to support your argument. Try to maintain a logical flow of thoughts from your introduction to your main body and finally through to your conclusion.

    Conclusion/Summary

    Your conclusion should tie up all the points you have presented in your essay, provide the reader with the ‘for’ and ‘against’ of each (if applicable), and summarise your argument in a short yet coherent manner. Be careful not to just regurgitate sentences from your main body, but instead summarise your discussion in different words.

    Check out IT Issues & Academic Writing for a discussion on common IT problems in academic writing.

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    Alan Batt

    Alan Batt

    Paramedic, educator, researcher
    Alan is a critical care paramedic, paramedic educator and prehospital researcher, currently working around the world as an educator and researcher. He has previously worked and studied across Europe, North America and the Middle East. He holds a Graduate Certificate in Intensive Care Paramedic Studies, and an MSc in Critical Care. His main interests are in care of the elderly, end-of-life care, patient safety, professionalism (including role and identity), and paramedic education.

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