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Transkills: supporting transition to University


Writing with authority is about acquiring the ability to carry the reader with you as you present your argument and make them willing to accept what you say. However, it is important to note that 'authority' is not synonymous with 'dogmatism'. You are not bashing the reader into submission (which is counterproductive) but persuading them that in this matter your views can be trusted.

It follows that is is acceptable to register uncertainty where appropriate - viz where there is something we don't or can't know. But don't be tentative about your own interpretation; there are lots of possible interpretations out there, none of which is going to be final, so you don't need to emphasise that yours might be wrong. Leave it to the reader to decide.

Speak with your own voice

The essay is a place for you to take a stand and state your views. Stand up and argue for your viewpoint backed up with carefully chosen examples and evidence.

A supervision essay should be more than a collation of other people's ideas. Avoid producing an essay made up of regurgitated chunks from your reading and/or sections pasted from online text. Lots of people do it through lack of confidence, bad note-taking or lack of time. They note the 'useful bits' more or less verbatim. Beware of highlighting text and noting as you read because you are then more likely to use the author's expression and ideas than your own.

  • The authors aren't saying quite what you need for your argument, and the resulting essay is jerky to read
  • The authors are saying different things and you end up with unnoticed contradictions
  • It skirts dangerously close to plagiarism unless every source is acknowledged

Ideally annotate as far as you can in your own words - read through a chapter or article and then summarise the important parts in your own words. That may sound like a lot of extra work, but it really pays off both in supervision essays and exams because you will have understood and absorbed the ideas of the author and can then use them more flexibly in your own words.

An essay cobbled together from bits and pieces never carries conviction; its jerky language, patchy style and disjointed argument signals to a reader that perhaps the author hasn't thought about the topic fully.

Quotation and referencing

Borrowing other peoples' words is often indirect or unadmitted. So what about direct quotation? There are two types of source to quote from and both need careful handling:

Secondary material:

  • quotations from secondary sources must be kept to a minimum, perhaps a sentence or less
  • use secondary quotes only when you want to engage directly with the author's views and need to put them in front of the reader
  • never quote to save you the trouble of rephrasing in your own voice

Primary material:

  • quotations taken from primary sources can be longer, but only if useful for furthering your argument and not used just for their own sake


Plagiarism is not good academic practice. It is defined as passing off other people's work as though it were your own. In a published work, the sort of unadmitted borrowing described above would be termed intellectually dishonest. In a student weekly essay, with no intent to deceive, it is still intellectually lazy and sloppy.

ALL direct quotations should be acknowledged, whether in footnotes (which are essential in longer pieces of writing) or informally within the text of the essay.

Ensure that you are familiar with the University’s Statement on plagiarism and the Faculty's guidance.