Academic Tips and Tricks

All the help you need for good essay writing

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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 🙂


Tips and Tricks 8: Paragraph Structure

For those of you who were educated in the UK, and paid attention in your GCSE English classes, this may sound obvious, however, I’m sure many of you had more important things on your minds at the age of fifteen and could use a refresher. This technique has never failed me, obviously you can elaborate on the basic structure to make more detailed and elegant arguments, but the standard three steps will work fine if you’re not very confident with essay writing.

The structure I’m referring to is known as PQC or PEE (Point, Quote, Comment / Point, Evidence, Explanation) – these are two acronyms for the same thing. First, the Point:
A statement about something such as:
(this is taken from an A-Level essay of mine on Phillip Larkin’s poetry)

Larkin’s Persona in many of his poems plays the part of a silent observer who is somewhat elitist in his views.

Next, the Quote or Evidence:
A statement from the text itself, or another legitimate source’s opinion of the text or theory in question:

Often the common people are portrayed as a uniform ‘crowd’ who have petty ‘desires’ such as ‘cheap suits, red kitchen ware’ they are a ‘cut-price crowd’, every wife is ‘grim’ and ‘head-scarfed’, and every mother ‘loud and fat’ in ‘nylon gloves and jewellery substitutes’.

Finally, the Comment or Explanation:

an expansion on the point and the quote saying how the two relate to one another and, crucially, the reason the point is relevant to the essay as a whole.

This gives the people other than Larkin’s persona a total uniformity, they are ‘crowds, colourless and careworn’ they have no distinguishing features. A few simple adjectives sums up entire cities of people, this gives Larkin’s persona an elevated stance and makes him seem arrogant and disapproving of his fellow man, which makes him seem elitist.

In a University level academic essay, it is likely that examples from the text will not be enough on their own (as they are in my A Level example), so you will have to seek out secondary sources, or conduct primary research such as interviews to find opinions and analyses which support your own. The example above is also very simple in that it presents and solves a statement in just one paragraph, in a University-level essay lecturers look for more developed arguments, presenting further points which support the first one and building up the evidence, finally summing up at the end.

This can lead to extremely extensive sequences where the point, evidence and explanation are not even easily distinguishable, such as in this section from one of my third year essays about ideologies present in adverts for toiletries:

The slogan in each advert is where the most obvious ideologies can be found. The L’Oreal™ adverts both use the well-known slogan ‘because you’re worth it’. This slogan is very well constructed as it implies a variety of qualities about the product and the people who buy it. The double meaning of ‘worth’ implying both personal and financial value, states that the consumer as a person is valuable and that they deserve to use L’Oreal products. ‘Because you’re worth it’ contains a subordinating conjunction, making this an incomplete sentence. This slogan flouts the Gricean maxim of quantity by not giving enough information, generating the implicature ‘because you’re worth what?’, the listener is invited to fill in the second part of the clause, perhaps leading to a sentence such as “because you’re worth it, you should buy our products”. The ambiguous ‘it’ is also not assigned a proper referent, meaning that it can be applied to a variety of L’Oreal’s products. A valid inference one could make from the L’Oreal slogan, is that you, the consumer is only ‘worth’ as much as their product, which is the image L’Oreal wants to create as they market their products as being exclusive and expensive, exemplified by Pierce Brosnan and Jane Fonda who star in their advertisements. As Williamson states, ‘the product, which initially has no ‘meaning’, must be given value by a person or object which already has value to us’ (Williamson 1978:31), in other words, by having Brosnan and Fonda talking about L’Oreal products, the qualities of these people are associated with the products themselves, for example qualities such as success and attractiveness.

This kind of expanded evidence section is what will make your argument really persuasive, it uses multiple examples from the text, which are backed up by a reliable source (Williamson), which is correctly referenced using the Harvard system. This is by no means a perfect paragraph, it makes a few statements which do not seem to add to the discussion such as ‘‘Because you’re worth it’ contains a subordinating conjunction, making this an incomplete sentence’ – to which my response as a marker would be ‘so what?’ – (it’s easy to see flaws in your own writing in retrospect but it can be hard to see them at the time) try to make sure all your points actively contribute to the discussion, it isn’t enough to just reel off a set of facts about the data!

I hope this helps, any questions, just tweet me on @Lizmarsden_AS or use the comment space below. Let me know of any tips you’d find especially useful and I’ll do my best to provide.

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Tips and Tricks 7: Common problems and how to solve them

This entry gives tips on twelve mistakes I see again and again in students’ work. They are all easily avoidable, and if these are observed in conjunction with my other tips and tricks you should be well on your way to having a very readable and nicely laid-out essay. The content of course, is up to you.


1)         Tabs and page breaks are easy to use in Microsoft Word, yet so many students resort to using the space bar or enter key to create breaks in the text. This is not a good method as creating a large space using the enter key may mean a heading is at the top of the page initially, but if you change some text higher up, the entire document will move up to fill the gap, leaving your headings in funny places. A much better way to keep headings at the top of pages is to use page breaks. These can be inserted via the insert menu, under the ‘break’ option, just place the cursor where you want the break to occur. These break the text meaning the next line appears at the top of the next page. Inserting these breaks before headings will keep your text well ordered no matter what else you change. (You can remove breaks by clicking the ‘show formatting’ key, clicking the break and clicking the delete key).

Tabs are a way of creating even gaps in text, though the tab key is most often used to create indents at the start of a new paragraph. Tabs are useful for making text on separate rows line up, for example:

A list

can be drawn

so each item lines up with the one above

more accurately than just pressing the space key multiple times!

2)         Make sure all text is either justified, or left aligned throughout your document – not a mixture of both. Using formatting creatively, for example having certain key quotes centred within the rest of the text, can look really nice, but having inconsistent formatting such as random variations in text size, line spacing and alignment just looks unprofessional.

3)         On a similar note, keep formatting for headings consistent. You may wish to adopt a system which shows heading hierarchy such as main headings in bold, sub-headings in italics and sub sub-headings in plain text.

4)         Make sure bulleted/numbered lists are not out of line with the rest of the text (unless they are intentionally so, and if this is the case, follow this convention for all lists in the document).


1)         Make sure paragraphs flow logically, there should be no abrupt subject changes. This is obviously easier said than done, and like many problems, is often hard to spot in your own work, as you understand the logic behind the order, even though someone else might not. This is easiest corrected by either (if you have time) setting the work aside for a week and coming back to it – this makes problems easier to spot, or by having a friend look over it and tell you if any parts don’t make sense. To avoid abrupt subject changes stick to one topic per section, so that all paragraphs in that section have a logical link. Use words such as ‘likewise’, ‘alternatively’ or ‘similarly’ to show that sentences have a relationship to the ones before.

2)         Make sure all writing is in the past tense, not present or future. This is an often-made mistake because writing often starts before all the research is complete, so at the time of writing sentences like ‘questionnaires will be distributed’ make sense. However, always try to imagine how this will sound from the perspective of the reader who is reading your essay when everything is complete.

3)         Always tell the reader where to find things – don’t just say ‘in the appendices’ or ‘discussed later’ give them page reference. This is especially important in dissertation length essays or documents with very long appendices, as it is very frustrating as a reader to not be immediately able to find what you’re looking for.

4)         Abbreviations cause a whole host of problems. First, make sure that you define your abbreviations! Check through the document to make sure it is the very first use of the abbreviation that has the definition – don’t leave it to a later sentence when the reader may already be confused. Also make sure your abbreviations are consistent and properly capitalised (many abbreviations such as PhD contain both upper and lower case characters). If you have created an abbreviation yourself make sure you use it to mean only one thing, e.g. one student used ‘VM’ to mean both Visual MerchandisING and Visual MerchandisER, – as one was a job title and the other the description of a process, the abbreviation ‘VM’ should have been used for one or the other, not both.


1)         Harvard references should always have page numbers as well as dates (Smith 1988:12). The exception to this is if you are referring to the entire subject of a book or article, rather than a specific section of the text, in this case, only the date is used, e.g. ‘there have been multiple texts on the evolution of the species (Dawkins 2009, Ridley 2006)’ – as you can see from this example, this is a good way to reference multiple texts which have a common theme.

2)         For both Oxford and Harvard references make sure you have the place of publishing, as well as the name of the publishing house, e.g. Oxford: Blackwell

3)         For Oxford references, if you have a footnote for a reference and the one immediately after it would be an identical reference, it is ok to write the word ‘ibid’ after the reference number. This is Latin for ‘as above’ and means you can avoid unnecessary repetition.

4)         It is a common academic practice to put a web address between these symbols <> like this: <> this distinguishes the web address from the rest of the reference and makes it easier to see.

Please keep following this blog for more useful hints – or even better comment on my entries – I am always willing to help and am happy to elaborate on anything you don’t feel is clearly explained. I am also very happy to answer individual questions, or to create entries based on questions asked.

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Tips and Tricks 3: Note Taking

I cannot stress how important it is to take copious and accurate notes. If a lecturer sets you reading, do it! It will save you so much time when it comes to writing essays, not just this year, but in the following years of study as well. Having a good body of well-ordered notes is extremely helpful.

But many people struggle to note-take effectively, and it took me most of my undergraduate degree to develop my technique, which I’m going to share with you now.

The first question to ask yourself is: typed notes, or handwritten? I started in my first and second year as a handwritten note-taker and gradually converted to typed, the main reason being that with typed notes you can search quickly and easily through many pages using the computer without having to do the job manually, like so:

Above you can see that a search for the word “Jefferson” (a linguist specialising in the analysis of conversation) has brought up a number of hits in my “Uni Stuff” folder, I could filter these further by adding more search terms, e.g. if I had a memory of Jefferson talking about transcription techniques, I could add in the appropriate keywords to find it. The benefits of this approach, as well as the speed, is the fact that you can search through multiple folders, so rather than searching through my handwritten note folders from six subjects individually, I am capable of searching every piece of note-taking from every discipline simultaneously.

However, handwriting notes has the following benefits:

  • It encourages you to really write your notes, not just copy and paste (if copying from a searchable digital document). This can also help you remember the content of the notes better.
  • Some people remember which note page they want to find by the colour pen they were using that day, or the paper etc. and find it harder to remember from uniform documents, which you would get from typing.
  • Some people just don’t like reading from computer screens

So if your typing or handwriting, here are some important tips:

  1. Put the full Harvard or Oxford reference as it would appear in a bibliography as the document title – this way quoting into an essay is easy and no details are missing which could potentially waste time or be difficult to find.
  2. Always note the page number the quote came from. This is imperative for both accurate referencing, and in case you need to re-visit that part of the text at a later date.
  3. Make every effort to ensure the text keeps its original format, e.g. make sure italics, bold font, capitalisation etc is preserved. On a sheet of typed notes it is relatively easy to format correctly, but in handwritten notes you will have to develop a code, as you may find it hard to write in bold or italic, mine was: single underline = italic font, double underline = bold font.

A handwritten note page should look something like this:

As you can see above, I have used my underline code to indicate bold text, I have noted page numbers in the margin, I have used a blue biro for the title so it would stand out more when I was scanning through pages of notes and I have used quote marks to differentiate between direct quotes and my own paraphrasing of the text. I have also spaced things out to make the document easier to scan – you can also make scan reading easier by using a highlighter to highlight key words or phrases. I have also formatted quotes as I would want them to appear in an essay, using square brackets [ ] to change the form of a word or add words where appropriate, and ellipses … to shorten the quote where needed.

My typed notes look much the same:

Again, page numbers are listed, the title is a correctly formatted Harvard reference, and direct quotes are distinguished from paraphrasing. There is one more useful technique shown here, I have used ^^ to show the beginning and end of a personal comment (here something I remembered from a lecture which illustrated the point made in the book), it is useful to differentiate personal comments from the main text as you would not wish to accidentally quote yourself and attribute it to someone else!

I hope this has been helpful, and not too involved.

Look out for new tips and tricks next week!

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Tips and Tricks 1: Quotations

This is the first entry in a Blog designed to give you tips and tricks for academic writing. Each Tip will be published in brief on Twitter: @LizMarsden_AS, and expanded on here. They will be a mixture of grammatical tips, ideas on construction/structure and help on note taking and referencing. I will aim to publish every fortnight.

Tip No. 1:

When quoting from another author never quote more than 100 words. Quotes of a sentence or less should be integrated in the text:

Gail Jefferson, Harvey Sacks and Emanuel Schegloff (1977, 1987) established laughter as a viable research option within CA, before this, laughter was regarded as ‘out-of-control activity and not… a phenomenon which is strongly structured in [its] occurrence, organisation and tasks’ (Warwick 1989:30)

As shown above, quotes can be shortened with the use of ellipses (…) and the structure can be changed using square brackets [ ] (keep reading the tips and tricks for more on brackets and ellipses).

Longer quotes should be separate from the main text, indented on either side and single-spaced (though the formatting options on this Blog do not allow me to show all the formatting):

Holt states in her paper about laughter in complaints:

In each [sequence] there appears to be nothing about prior turns that explicitly invites laughter. Rather, complainants are engaged in a multi-turn complaint that is escalated just prior to the laugh-response. By producing a laugh response, complaint recipients transform the trajectory by disengaging from the telling and move towards topic termination.
Holt 2011:3

If quoting as above, quote marks are not needed, it is enough that the text is set apart from the main body of the writing and is indented. The text should look something like this:

All passages are taken from my Masters Dissertation. They are in the Harvard referencing style. Keep watching the tips and tricks for future discussions on referencing