Academic Tips and Tricks

All the help you need for good essay writing

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Learn Your Latin

You might notice in your reading that a lot of old-school (or in some cases just plain pretentious…) academics like to scatter their work with Latin (and French) phrases and acronyms. In some cases the Latin phrase really is the most pithy and exact way to get your point across, and sometimes they’re just unnecessary. However, you will encounter them, and if the text is recommended or compulsory reading you’ll have to get to grips with Latin just as you would any other discipline-specific terminology. You can also use them in your own writing, but never do this just to try to sound more intelligent, trust me, your tutors will see right through that.

So here’s a quick Latin guide for some frequently encountered terms:

  • i.e. and e.g.

These two Latin abbreviations (standing for id est and exempli gratia) are often confused. i.e. means ‘in essence’ or ‘in other words’ and e.g. means ‘for example’. Here are the examples Grammar Girl uses for clarification:

Squiggly loves watching old cartoons (e.g., DuckTales and Tugboat Mickey). The words following e.g. are examples, so you know that these are just some of the old cartoons that Squiggly enjoys.

Squiggly loves watching Donald Duck’s nephews (i.e., Huey, Dewey, and Louie). The words following i.e. provide clarification: they tell you the names of Donald Duck’s three nephews.

  • par exemple – this is not Latin, it’s French, but I include it here because it’s yet another way to say ‘for example’
  • a priori – this one is actually useful as it’s a very succinct was of expressing a tricky concept. it means ‘from what comes first’ – it means something not supported by factual study or personal experience in the physical world. It means that something is a deduction – something that exists in the mind. Here is a quote from Wikipedia describing a priori reasoning:

Galen Strawson has stated that an a priori argument is one in which “you can see that it is true just lying on your couch. You don’t have to get up off your couch and go outside and examine the way things are in the physical world. You don’t have to do any science.”sic – this is a really important one you will need to know and use

  • sic – this is a really important one you will need to know and use. It means ‘so’ or ‘thus’ and is used predominantly in quotes to show where something incorrect or odd-looking appeared in the original quote – this shows you haven’t transcribed or copied something wrongly. It is inserted into quotes in square brackets like so: ‘he signed his name e. e. cummings [sic]’
  • per se – for lovers of South Park, this conjures up an undeniable image of vampire kids. However, it does actually have a meaning and a correct usage. per se means ‘fundamentally’, ‘of itself’, ‘in itself’, ‘inherently’. It’s often used to make mild negatives ‘it’s not illegal per se’ (it’s not fundamentally illegal, but it’s probably not advised) ‘I wouldn’t say that per se’ (I wouldn’t say exactly that, but I might say something similar).
  • vis-a-vis – (pronounced veez-ah-vee) – this is also French. It literally means face to face, but is often used in context to mean something like ‘in relation to’ or ‘compared with’. In this quote from it means ‘when compared to’:
Traveling by sea ferry offers certain benefits regarding personal comfort and transporting luggage vis-a-vis  air travel.
and in this one it literally means ‘opposite’:
They were now vis-à-vis the most famous painting in the Louvre.
  • fait accompli – this means ‘an accomplished fact’ or ‘a thing already done’:

The enemy’s defeat was a fait accompli long before the formal surrender.

  • vice versa – this is a very common phrase meaning ‘and the other way around’ e.g. she dislikes me, and vice versa – meaning ‘she dislikes me and I also dislike her’
  • bona fide – something presented in good faith, something truly authentic: ‘a bona fide example of William Shakespeare’s handwriting’
  • quasi – meaning ‘resembling’ or ‘having some of the features of’ – often used disparagingly almost the opposite of bona fide. For example ‘ she has written a bona fide scientific paper’ vs. ‘she has written a quasi-scientific paper’ (the first paper has all the rigor of proper scientific writing, the second is pretend or pseudo-scientific – perhaps it’s about lay-lines or homeopathy)
  • verbatim – ‘word for word’ a verbatim quote has no alterations or improvisations.
  • et alii – the full form of et al. meaning ‘and others’ used in Academic writing when a list of authors is longer than two, e.g. ‘Smith et al. (2009)’. When using this remember you’re talking about plural authors (not just Mr Smith) and always put the full list of authors in your bibliography. et al. should only be used for in-text references.
  • ad nauseam – literally means ‘until nausea’ and usually used figuratively to mean something that has been going on forever until everyone is sick of it.
  • ergo – is a direct substitute for ‘therefore’ ‘I think ergo I am’.
  • ad hoc – a thing put together quickly to fill a particular need

I hope this is useful and hasn’t gone on ad nauseam. The quotes used from Grammar Girl et al were all verbatim and hopefully have been supported by evidence as opposed to being a priori. I admit this was a fairly ad hoc entry vis-a-vis Latin terms and ergo I may have omitted some. If so let me know. And don’t do what I’ve just done; never use Latin when English will do!


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Common Problems and How to Solve Them: 2

If you haven’t already, please read my first ‘Common Problems and How to Solve Them’ entry, which covers issues such as formatting, referencing and writing style.

This entry covers a few things I’m seeing repeatedly in essays right from Undergraduate to PhD level.

1. Check your Footnotes

Footnotes seem to be a place that people don’t frequently proofread in their own work. Don’t think that just because your footnotes are short that they are perfectly written, and don’t think that your tutor might ignore them – they won’t, and I am increasingly seeing footnotes of a much lower quality of writing than the main essay they are part of. This is even worse with endnotes (like footnotes, but they appear all together at the end of a document, rather than individually at the bottom of each page) which sometimes don’t seem to have been double-checked at all! Not a problem if you’re using a professional proofreader, but a big problem if you’re proofreading your own work (for tips on how to do this, look here)

2. Be Careful when Pasting

I see pasting problems all the time – text pasted in in the wrong font, size, colour or style to the rest of the text. Now, pasting may well be legitimate – for example pasting a quote from a pdf journal article or a legitimate website source, in which case your work just looks a little untidy if the quote doesn’t match, but this is ten times worse for plagiaristic pasting (do NOT do this, the checking software is very sophisticated and you WILL get found out) where it just makes it blatantly obvious that a certain sentence or paragraph was not written by you.

3. Check your Quotes

Tutors are inclined to be kind when it comes to small writing errors, perhaps English isn’t your first language, or maybe your dyslexic, whatever the case, unimportant errors in your own writing  are excusable. Incorrectly copied quotes aren’t, it just looks lazy. So make sure any quotes are grammatically accurate to the original, contain the original emphasis (unless you specifically state you have added/removed emphasis after you’ve quoted) and have the exact same wording. If you find a mistake in the original e.g. a typo, then leave it in, but place the word ‘sic’ directly after the word in square brackets, like this: “the King owned more casstles [sic] than any other person”.

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Tips and Tricks 14: Different ways to quote and reference texts

So, you’ve done all your reading and now you’re ready to write your essay. But what many people who are writing essays for the first time don’t realise is that there are several different ways to get quotes/references into your essay.

Direct Quoting

The most often used way of quoting is direct quoting, where you take a word, sentence or paragraph and insert it verbatim (word-for-word) into your essay. My previous blog entry on altering quotes shows how you can chop and change quotes in such a way that they fit perfectly into your text. A good rule for when to use this type of quotation is when you think that the author concerned has made the point you are trying to make/support better and more succinctly than you could do it yourself. If a quote seems to cumbersome, or you’re just using it to prove you’ve actually read the text concerned, don’t use a direct quote, chose to quote indirectly or simply reference the quote.

Indirect Quoting

The second method you can use is to indirectly quote another author. By this I mean you take what the other author has written and rephrase it in your own words.
For example, in this excerpt from my BA dissertation I sum up an entire study, rather than using a set of quotes which would have been cumbersome:

In Trudgill’s 1972 study of a close-knit community in Norwich, he found that middle class men aimed for a more streetwise, ‘macho’ standard because they wanted to identify with the lower class norm (Trudgill 1972 In: Stockwell 2002:16)

Single and Multiple Summaries

Everyone’s been there, you’ve done a load of reading around the subject but several of the books you’ve read haven’t got quotes which are entirely relevant to your essay, but they do support the general theme of your writing. In this instance, and in instances where you have several works by different authors who all say the same thing, you can simply reference the text or texts after saying something about the broad theme of what you will be talking about, e.g.:

We laugh to ease tension in awkward situations such as during doctor-patient interaction (Haakana 1999, Ragan 1990), or during sequences of conflict (Osvaldsson 2004). As a response to teases (where we are not the recipient) (Glenn 1989:142), where telling of our troubles (Holt 2010a, 2010b, 2011, Jefferson 1984), when telling stories (Glenn 2003, Liddicoat 2007), to indicate laughter as an appropriate response to what we have just said (Jefferson 1979, Glenn 1989, 2003) and to indicate agreement and affiliation with the speaker (Jefferson et al. 1987, Schenkein 1972). Also, as Vettin and Todt state; ‘laughter is contagious and can be elicited just by the sound of people laughing’ (2004:94).

This paragraph has a stunning 13 references and is followed by a direct quote. Obviously, I have gone through my previous work and found the most ridiculous example of this possible, for anything other than a dissertation length piece of work at undergraduate level, this volume of reading around the subject is not expected.

Summaries like this are a great way of bulking out your bibliography, saying a lot without using up much of your word count, and generally diversifying your writing style.


I should also mention here that this site: has a really great section telling you how to quote and what type of detailed reference is needed for each quote type. It’s very detailed, but well worth a look.


Any questions, as always, please just comment below.

Happy writing 🙂