Research Skills Central

Course materials for teachers of information literacy

Academic reading and writing

This session aims to give students strategies for staying on top of their reading and to make explicit the role of structure in academic writing. It also offers opportunities to discuss and reflect on the essay planning and writing process, including ways of getting started and breaking through writer’s block.

In addition to its practical content, the session gives students the chance to develop an understanding of academic literacies practices, including “the requirement to switch their writing styles and genres between one setting and another [and] to deploy a repertoire of literacy practices appropriate to each setting” (Lea & Street, 2006, p.368).


The session was originally designed for beginning students on a part-time Masters course at Cambridge University, many of whom are returning to study after establishing careers. While the session is very practical, its overal aim is also to make explicit some of the fundamental conventions of the academic environment – which are often left to the student to develop by accident or osmosis.

The section on writing, in particular the free writing exercise, was inspired by attending an academic writing group set up by students – these sessions are a superb way of getting into the habit of writing and reflecting.

Although this type of content is often seen as more ‘academic’ and outside the remit of library teaching, it’s worth remembering that students’ information needs are not limited to ‘Find’. We also need to be helping them understand how to use the information they encounter, in a way that’s relevant and appropriate for the academic environment. Feedback from these sessions was overwhelmingly positive:

“A really rich use of two hours where both theory and practice were mixed; it’s led in a beautifully encouraging and practical way, going through the basics in a way that let’s you see immediately the application for the biggest project!”

“Thank you very much! I think this was one of the best workshops I have had here!”

“Something like this should be compulsory for 1st year PhDs who can pretty much drown in the endless reading/no written output phase.”


Lesson plan (April 2012)

Slides (March 2013)

‘How to read 10 books in an hour’ handout: provides skimming and scanning strategies plus futureproofing tips

‘Academic writing survival guide’ handout: offers an overview of structure in academic writing, paragraphing, using evidence and counter-argument, and strategies for getting started and avoiding writer’s block

I also highly recommend the University of Manchester Academic Phrasebank, not only for translating work into “academese” but – more subtly – for help in joining up pieces of an argument and moving it on.

Creative Commons Licence
Academic Reading and Writing by Emma Coonan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


2 comments on “Academic reading and writing

  1. Pingback: Writing from Attleborough to Wymondham: #AcWriMo in train journeys | The mongoose librarian

  2. Pingback: How to read 20 books in an hour! | Business & Law Librarians

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This entry was posted on April 23, 2012 by and tagged , , .




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