Writing an academic text

Academic writing is a process in which you learn as you write. This means that your text evolves and changes as you gain new knowledge, thoughts, and ideas. To maintain focus during the writing process, find out what is expected of you and your text.

Assignment instructions

Before you start writing an assignment, it is important that you understand what the task is asking of you, and what is required of your submitted work. Here are some tips about how you can approach your assignments:

  • Carefully read the assignment instructions and the questions that are asked.
  • If the assignment is a home exam, identify which course literature is relevant to the assignment.
  • Write down any thoughts and ideas that you have in a mind map.
  • Make sure you include what is requested.
  • Write an outline of your assignment with the main headings.
  • Write a draft based on your outline.
  • Schedule the work you need to do on your assignment until the submission date.
  • Set aside time to revise and edit your text.
  • Make sure you include everything specified in the assignment.

Important verbs

Task instructions often include verbs that tell you what you are expected to do. Understanding the meaning of these verbs is crucial as they indicate the requirements that need to be fulfilled in your text. Sometimes a verb can have a specific meaning in a particular subject. Ask your teacher to clarify the instructions if you feel they are unclear in any way.

Here is a list of verbs that usually appear in university assignments:

Analyse means to examine something carefully, distinguish the individual parts and properties, and examine them one at a time to try to understand the whole based on the analysis of the individual parts.

Argue means to make arguments for or against something, such as a certain theory or position, and support these arguments by relevant academic literature.

Characterise means to describe the characteristics of, for example, a fact, a person, a text, or a piece of work.

Compare means to examine something in relation to something else and describe similarities and differences between, for example, different concepts, theories, or texts.

Describe means to give a detailed account of something by, for example, describing its properties and giving an overall picture of it.

Discuss means to compare something from different perspectives and juxtapose different points of view.

Draw conclusions means to present the consequences of certain facts or results and to clarify what can be understood based on analysis, discussion, argumentation, or reasoning.

Explain means to give a detailed description or explanation of something. 

Problematise means to show the complexity of something, such as a position, phenomenon, or concept, by discussing what could make it a problem that requires a solution.

Reason means to present a line of thought and explain that way of thinking.

Reflect means to think about a phenomenon from a particular perspective and explain your thoughts and understanding. 

‘Thinking writing’

‘Thinking writing’ is for yourself so that you can get started with writing. It is about putting your thoughts into words so that in the next step, you can develop them further.

‘Thinking writing’ can take the form of incomplete sentences, abbreviations, or quotations from the course literature that you want to use. You can use various sources for ‘thinking writing’, including assignment instructions, and your notes from lectures and the course literature.

It can be difficult to get started with writing if you are too focused on the finished text too early in the writing process. While writing your thoughts down, try to be as uncritical as possible about your writing. ‘Thinking writing’ helps you come up with what you want to say, and not how to say it. 

Make a mind map

You can use a mind map no matter where you are in the writing process. Making a mind map means creating an overview of something. It can be about finding out points that are included in assignment instructions. It can also be about focusing on a specific topic and coming up with ideas about it without overthinking.

The structure of an academic text

Academic texts are characterised by having a clear structure. On general level, this means texts have an introduction, body, and conclusion. Sometimes the shape of an hourglass is used to illustrate this structure.


In the introduction, you present what the text is about. You can do this with phrases such as "The purpose is to discuss ...", or "In the text, I will argue for ...".  Such formulations prepare the reader for what the text will be about and makes it easier to read.


In the body of the text, you follow through on the statements you made in the introduction. For example, you can present your arguments and develop your reasoning around them. A text's body consists of paragraphs describing and developing the topic introduced in the introduction. Here you weave in references to your course literature and other relevant sources that support your statements as well as any discussion you may have.


In the conclusion, summarise what you have done in the text. Remind the reader what the purpose of the text was by using phrases such as "The purpose was to ... ", or "In this text, I have described and discussed ...".

Paragraphing, topic sentences, and conjunctions

Academic texts are also structured with the help of well-thought-out paragraph organisation, topic sentences and conjunctions which connect the text together.

Theses and reports

Before completing your degree, you will probably write a comprehensive piece of work in the form of a thesis or report. Since there are different writing traditions, the structure of a thesis or report may differ slightly depending on the subject in which it is written and the type of research that needs to be done. However, most theses and reports have a common overall structure called IMRaD. IMRaD stands for Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results and Discussion. Some disciplines also include headings such as Background, Literature Review, and Theory. 

References and reading tips

Bailey, S. (2015). Academic Writing: A Handbook for International Students (4.th ed.). Routledge.

Björk, L. & Räisänen, C. (1997). Academic writing: A university writing course (2.nd ed.). Studentlitteratur. 

Blomström, V. & Wennerberg, J. (2021). Akademiskt läsande och skrivande (Andra upplagan ed.). Studentlitteratur.

Dysthe, O., Hertzberg, F. & Løkensgard Hoel, T. (2011). Skriva för att lära: Skrivande i högre utbildning (2., [rev.] uppl. ed.). Studentlitteratur.

Graff, G. & Birkenstein, C. (2014). They say / I say: The moves that matter in academic writing (3.rd ed.). Norton.

Redman, P. & Maples, W. (2017). Good Essay Writing: A Social Sciences Guide (Fifth ed., Sage study skills).

Strömquist, S. (2019). Uppsatshandboken: Råd och regler för utformningen av examensarbeten och vetenskapliga uppsatser (Sjunde upplagan ed.). Studentlitteratur.

Swales, J. & Feak, C. (2012). Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills (3., [rev. and expanded] ed., Michigan series in English for academic & professional purposes).