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Supervisor comment: 'Adequate degree of emphasis for points of varying importance' 

Effective academic writing should remain focused on the question/topic in hand. Before you launch into writing, take a moment to ensure that your content will relate to the question throughout. You should also give careful thought to the degree of emphasis you place on each topic.

Resist the temptation to throw everything about a topic into your essay. Remember that the purpose of a first year supervision essay is not to dazzle your supervisor with new facts; they just need to assess your subject knowledge and ability to put forward and justify an argument.

Supervisor comment: 'with practice, you can show in your writing that you know more than you are actually committing to paper'

Supervisor feedback indicates that students may find it challenging to filter information obtained from lectures, supervisions, books and the internet, selecting only what is relevant to the question. You won't gain any extra credit for including fascinating material which does not develop each point of your argument. Avoid waffling!


Practice relevant writing

Read this essay (.pdf) which is a response to the question: Describe the selective pressures which contributed to the radiation of the angiosperms, providing examples of natural selection acting on angiosperm 
traits today.

Highlight any parts that you feel are not relevant to the question.

Now click here to access the supervisor's feedback on this piece of work (.pdf)

Practice editing

There are occasions where content is relevant to the question but not as concise as it should be. This not only loses the attention of the reader but gives the impression of repetition and excessive emphasis on one aspect of your argument. Editing your own work is not easy, especially when you are pressed for time. Ideally, it is useful to take a break between your first draft and final edit. Try reading your essay aloud to yourself if you are prone to rambling; it is surprising how much easier it is to pick out repetition. If the pace of your writing is laboured and you find it difficult to retain focus whilst reading, then it is likely your supervisor will experience the same difficulty!


Read aloud this extract (.pdf) from How are proton gradients established and used by cells and highlight any sections you would edit.

The following may help you decide which parts need editing:

  • Are any phrases repeated within a sentence where a pronoun could be used? ('it'; 'those'; 'these' 'they')
  • Can you think of ways to 'contract' phrases? ie. saying the same, but with fewer words
  • How long are the sentences?
  • Would you change any punctuation to quicken the pace?
  • Could a diagram have been used?

Now click here to access an edited version of this extract.