Other Writing Tasks
Studying at university generally requires you to submit a variety of written texts. In addition to research essays, you may be asked to submit:
- reports (e.g. lab, technical, design reports),
- reflective writing pieces (e.g. reflective essays, journals, and blogs),
- annotated bibliographies.
At the post-graduate level, you may be required to additionally write:
- literature reviews,
- abstracts, and
- a thesis.
If you are studying Breadth subjects, be aware that the writing requirements of faculties and disciplines can differ significantly. Always check with your lecturer/ tutor and consult the faculty style guide.
There are different types of reports such as laboratory, progress, site, feasibility, and proposal reports. Reports tend to be divided into three main parts:
- Preliminary information (e.g. title page, abstract, table of contents, list of illustrations)
- The body of the report
- Supplementary information (e.g. references, appendices)
The body is the most important part. It usually contains the following sections:
- Conclusion (which may include recommendations for action).
Source: Swales, J and C. Feak (2000) English in Today’s Research World: a Writing Guide, Michigan: Ann Arbor
When writing a report, it is important you use a style which is clear, objective, accurate, and brief. (Please see the Language section of the Academic Skills website for more information).
Since reports can vary in length, detail, and content, check with your lecturer/ tutor/ department on the standard sections and style required before submitting your work.
A literature review is an examination of the scholarly work that has been carried out on a particular topic. This is an essential part of writing research texts (e.g. a thesis) since a literature review contextualises your research by:
- examining the nature of the research topic/question under investigation,
- comprehensively identifying and evaluating previous work dealing with the topic,
- determining and assessing the various methodologies used for investigating the topic, and
- identifying 'the gap' in the literature that your research is aiming to 'fill'.
As such, an effective literature review
- describes, analyses, and synthesises material from a range of sources rather than merely cataloguing information,
- has a clear focus and direction, and
- should be presented in a logical, clear and well-organised manner; and in an academic writing style.
Where you place a literature review within your thesis depends on your aims and the overall structure of your document. A literature review may appear:
- as a distinct section in your document,
- divided across sections or chapters, or
- as an integrated part of an introduction/ analysis/ discussion section.
How you organise a literature review is similarly dependent on your aims and the type of material or topic(s) researched. You may structure your literature review in a number of ways including:
- in chronological order,
- by order of relevance,
- by themes or topics,
- using a funnel structure (i.e. moving from general to specific issues), or
- comparing and contrasting.
As your literature review is based both on your research and on your interpretation of this information, it is important to acknowledge which ideas are yours and which were found in your research. It is equally important to cite sources appropriately. See Documenting your References.
A thesis is an extended document which reports on research conducted in a particular field of enquiry.
- address a research question which defines the general aim(s) of the thesis, and which has not been previously investigated.
- contextualise the research question by reviewing the scholarly literature written on the topic. (See Literature Reviews above).
- describe the procedures that were carried out to address the research question. Depending on the nature of the research you are conducting, this could be your methodology, methods, or theoretical framework.
- describe the findings obtained. In empirical theses, this section is usually referred to as the Results. In theoretical theses, this is usually the analysis by the author.
- discuss how these findings advance previous knowledge on the topic.
- acknowledge limitations of the research and suggest areas for further progress in the field.
According to Melroy (1994), there are four main types of thesis structures, as detailed in the table below.
|The Traditional: Simple thesis follows the IMRAD (Introduction Methods Results And Discussion) structure typical of traditional empirical research:
||The Topic-based thesis is especially common in theoretical research (e.g. inthe humanities) and is usually composed of:
TheTraditional: Complex thesis usually observes the following structure:
The Compilation of Research Articles thesis is similar to the traditional complex thesis but uses research articles as studies.
Adapted from Melroy, J.M. (1994). Writing the Qualitative Dissertation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum: 96-99.
You need to identify the structure that best suits the purpose of your thesis and familiarise yourself with recent discipline-specific theses. University of Melbourne theses:
- are held in the University (PhD) and departmental libraries, and
- may also be available via the University of Melbourne ePrints Repository (UMER) on the library website or the Australian Digital Thesis Project.
Relevant Academic Skills Resources
Managing Graduate Study (3782KB | PDF)
Developing Originality (75KB | PDF)
Working with a Supervisor (70KB | PDF)
Beating Writers' Block (850KB | PDF)
The University of Melbourne ePrints Repository (UMER) has a large online selection of published PhDs.
The University of Melbourne Graduate Student Association (GSA) provides a thesis writing guide.
Monash University provides online learning support for research higher degree students.
Reflective writing is usually presented in a more informal or personal style than traditional academic writing but still often requires reference to academic texts.
Requirements for reflective writing tasks will vary across subjects and faculties and may take the form of regular journal entries, blogs, or class notebooks. Reflective writing may sometimes form part of a larger essay or report.A reflective writing task may require you to do any of the following:
- link the material with your own personal views or experiences,
- ask questions, raise doubts and pose problems,
- consider alternative viewpoints,
- interpret events,
- offer solutions.
The reflective thinking process will therefore need to be demonstrated in your writing.
Some subjects ask you to maintain a weblog or blog. When you write a blog, you should use a range of online functions like internal links between different blogs, external links to other web content, and embedded audio and visual content. Furthermore, you are usually required to blog regularly – perhaps once a week – and blogs are frequently updated and invite comment from other readers. Blogging is a communal activity so you must always be respectful towards fellow bloggers.
An annotated bibliography is a bibliographic list of sources on a certain topic which contains a brief summary of the source content. Similar to a 'bibliography', 'works cited', or 'reference list', it provides the bibliographic details of the sources in alphabetical order.
In addition, each source has an annotation, i.e. a brief summary of the content and often a critical evaluation. The purpose of an annotated bibliography can be to:
- review the literature on a certain topic,
- demonstrate how widely, thoroughly and critically you have read,
- point out relevant sources on the topic,
- demonstrate a gap in the literature on the topic, and/or
- form a starting point for a research project.
When asked to write an annotated bibliography:
- be clear about the topic,
- search for relevant sources,
- read critically, and take notes,
- cite the sources according to the required referencing style,
- know whether you are expected to write just descriptive or analytical/ evaluative annotations, and
- write a brief annotation (usually not more than 150 words) for each source.
For some types of academic writing such as theses, journal articles, conference papers, and reports, you are required to include an abstract (sometimes also called an 'executive summary').
An abstract is a concise, self-contained summary of a longer piece of writing. If it is included in the text, it appears at the beginning, before the introduction and main body.
- often consist of just one paragraph,
- state the purpose and findings of the main paper,
- contain the keywords and information found in the text, and
- usually don’t contain references.
Depending on the academic discipline, abstracts contain different information. Check with your lecturer/ tutor/ department to find out the length and the type of information you need to include.
Abstracts are usually written once the main paper is completed. They help you reflect on your work and how the different parts of your text fit together.