10 tips for writing at postgraduate level

Writing at postgraduate level differs in various ways when compared with writing undergraduate essays and dissertations. The most obvious difference is that you are expected to contribute in some way to the existing literature, particularly at PhD level where the onus is on originality. Though, there are other things to be conscious of when working at postgraduate level. Read our tips below for help with what is expected of postgraduate level writing: 

 1. Be original

 As a postgraduate you must be able to demonstrate originality of thought. Descriptive summaries that were expected at undergraduate level will not be sufficient. Though, try not to worry too much – you are not expected to develop groundbreaking research. Rather, identify how your research adds something new to the existing literature, however small your contribution may be. 

 2. Demonstrate knowledge 

At postgraduate level you must be able to demonstrate a good command of the topic and wider issues. In other words, you should become a master of the subject. It is therefore important to show you understand the topic by highlighting key themes, citing important literature, and critically analysing existing research.  


3. Introduce the discussion 

Set a good impression to your examiner by producing a well-written introduction. It can often be helpful to introduce the topic, provide an exegesis of the discussion, and indicate your overall conclusion.  

4. Summarise 

It is also advised to end your dissertation or thesis with a clear summary of your argument. Do not add any new ideas at this stage, and try to keep the conclusion short (<10% of the overall wordcount).  

5. Be realistic  

Although it is important to highlight any elements of originality, remember to be realistic about what you have achieved. Exaggerated claims of originality will be off-putting to an examiner.  

 6. Engage with the literature 

It is useful to reference key themes and traditions and base them in the context of your own argument. Try to avoid making sweeping generalisations about the work of others. Instead, engage critically with their research as this will demonstrate understanding.

7. Use only peer-reviewed sources 


Be cautious of using online sources unless you are certain that they have been peer-reviewed. Using Wikipedia will set a bad impression immediately, and in some cases may lead to a fail. The quality of your argument is often judged by the quality of your sources.  

 8. Reference accurately 

Check you have correctly referenced all your quotes and paraphrasing to avoid any charges of accidental plagiarism. It is also important to check your departmental regulations. For instance, should you be using Harvard referencing, footnotes, or a different referencing style? Should quotations over 3 sentences in length be indented and on a separate paragraph? Should book titles be italicised?  

9. Use a formal register 

As with most pieces of academic work, make sure to avoid slang terminology, colloquialisms, and writing in the first-person (unless expressly indicated by your department).  

10. Professional presentation 

A final proofread can vastly improve the quality of your written work. It is also helpful to check that your formatting looks professional and meets departmental guidelines. For example, double-check font size, line spacing, justification, paragraph spacing, and headings.  


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