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Step it up: academic skills for 3rd and 4th years

By Newcastle University

In your final year you will be expected to have a deeper understanding of your subject.  

You’ll also need to have a clear overview of what academic writing is, be able to think and write critically and express this in your work. At this stage you will be expected to engage in lots of independent study, so time and project management skills are essential, particularly since you’ll be completing your dissertation – which for many students is the largest piece of work they’ve had to undertake to date on their course.  


Academic Writing  

academic writing

Your final year is a great time to refine and finesse your academic writing. It is worth reminding yourself of the key features of academic writing:  

  • Clear aims and structure,  
  • An identifiable argument or “take” on the subject being discussed 
  • ideas and conclusions are supported by appropriate references  
  • Writing is clear and precise and avoids abbreviations, slang, jargon and waffle  


Critical thinking and writing  

academic writing (2)

Critical thinking and writing are vital components of academic writing. In your final year your markers will be expecting more critical engagement as well as deeper subject knowledge.   

Firstly, it is important that you show that you have situated your work amid existing research. The ability to do this shows off your analytical skills as well as highlighting your contribution to the field. When you are reading it is worth getting into the habit of asking three key questions, your responses to these can form the basis of your analysis of the texts and can help you identify similarities and differences between texts. The key questions to ask yourself are:  

  • What does the author want you to believe and why? Identify the author’s main argument and key points 
  • Is the evidence they present convincing? Have they provided what they’re arguing? Are you convinced?  
  • What could have been done better? You should still be critical even if you agree with everything and find the source convincing.  

You can also use the PMI strategy developed by Edward de Bono in 1988 as a tool to help you with the development of your critical thinking and writing. De Bono encourages critical writing and thinking by getting you to consider three aspects when reading 

  1. a plus – something positive about the source
  2. a minus- something negative about the source 
  3. and finally interesting - something interesting about the source 

Using a range of verbs when you incorporate sources into your work as evidence is also very important and is another method in which you can display critical analysis. Some examples are verbs such as explore, validate and advocate, which can really enhance your critical writing.  


Project and time management  

academic writing (1)

Finally, time and project management skills will become very important as assessments become not only academic challenges, but also logistical and practical ones. To ensure you do the best you can in your assignments consider the practical aspects required. This begins with becoming familiar with the requirements of the brief, organising, planning, finding credible academic sources, coordinating aspects of your work, writing drafts, meeting the deadlines and finally the submission.  

In terms of time management, procrastination is often an issue which students struggle with. Some simple strategies to overcome procrastination are using small, frequent rewards to reinforce your efforts, “piggyback” unappealing tasks onto those you enjoy and reappraise the task to increase appeal and reappraise sources of distraction to reduce their appeal. Find out more about procrastination about why you procrastinate and discover what type of procrastinator you are.   

View slides and materials from the Your Skills programme on the Your Skills resource pages 

Academic Skills Kit