Common Exceptions to Academic Style Rules

How can I be sure?

You will encounter many exceptions to the seven features you have just encountered when studying at university in the UK.

Remember these features of academic style are only a guide and you should always try to use your assignment brief to guide your writing style.

You should also try to notice how writers in your discipline communicate for different purposes and in different genres.

For example, you learned earlier that we should try to avoid using personal pronouns like ‘I’ in our writing and that we shouldn’t express our opinions or emotions.

Task: Read the piece of reflective writing below and try to highlight as many of the personal pronouns and adjectives related to feelings you can find in 30 seconds. Press ‘check’ when you are finished.

Do you think this writer was breaking the rules of academic style?

Reflective writing, a type of narrative recount often requires students to reflect on how they felt in a given situation. They usually then use these feelings and the results of their actions to engage with the literature in their field and identify actions they can take to improve their practice in the future.

This means that reflective writing often requires students to reflect on their feelings and emotions and therefore use emotive language.

You can see if this is true by checking the BAWE corpus below. You can click the red words to expand the result and see the context the word was used in.

Task: Check the BAWE corpus to see if it is okay to describe feelings in a reflective writing assignment at a UK university.

Were you surprised by the style of the language?

It is important to use your assignment brief to understand the genre you are expected write. You can then use the corpus to check if the language you want to use is similar to other student writers in your field.

To use your assignment brief effectively and understand what genre of writing you are being asked to produce you should consider the purpose of each genre.

Task: Match the genres to the purpose for writing below. Try to match all of the cards in as few turns as possible.

Definitions taken from

Task: Now read about the other genres of writing below. Which genre do you think you will be asked to write on your destination course?

(Taken from

Demonstrating Knowledge and Understanding

Exercise genres give you the opportunities to demonstrate your understanding, usually of basic skills and concepts. They are typically short numbered responses to questions. Exercises can be given as a writing task in any discipline, and are common in disciplines where students are required to perform mathematical calculations.

In Explanations, you are required to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding and to answer questions. They are generally longer than exercises and additionally expect you to explain how something works or functions. Explanations can be given as a writing task in any discipline, but are particularly common in the sciences.

Developing Powers of Independent Reasoning

In Critiques, you will be expected to evaluate something such as a theory, a book or a piece of equipment. This will enable you to answer the question, “What is the value of x?” Critiques are common across the disciplines, to evaluate the writer’s own work, and the work of others.

In Essays, you are expected to develop ideas, make connections between arguments and evidence and develop an individualised thesis. You will usually write these in response to a question given by your lecturer. Essays can be given as a writing task in any discipline.

Building Research Skills

For a Literature Survey, you have to read what other people have written on a given topic and present evidence of your reading. This could be in the form of an annotated bibliography, an anthology or a literature review chapter. Literature Surveys can be given as a writing task in any discipline.

A Methodology Recount will expect you to present an account of the procedures you followed and your findings from an experimental study. A typical example is a laboratory report. Methodology Recounts are particularly common in disciplines where experimental work is undertaken, such as biological science, engineering, food science, physics and psychology.

Research Reports are generally the longest assignments you will write and are designed to demonstrate your ability to conduct a complete piece of research. An example is a final-year project or dissertation. Research Reports can be given as a writing task in any discipline, particularly in the later stages of a programme of study.

Preparing for Professional Practice

In a Case Study, you focus on a particular organisation, industry or person (such as a patient) in order to describe it from a range of perspectives. You will conclude with recommendations for future action. Case Studies are particularly common in medicine and health disciplines, and in disciplines which involve business studies (for example agriculture, business, engineering, and hospitality, leisure and tourism).

In Design Specifications, you are expected to demonstrate your ability to develop a design for a product or procedure that could be manufactured or implemented. Design Specifications are particularly common in computer science and engineering.

In Problem Questions, a situation is described and you will have to analyse it from a professional perspective and reach a conclusion. Problem Questions are particularly common in law and in disciplines where legal issues are discussed.

The purpose of a Proposal is for you to demonstrate your ability to make a plan for future action. This must be detailed and realistic. Proposals can be given as a writing task in any discipline, to plan for research or professional practice.

Writing for Oneself and Others

In Public Engagement, you will communicate your specialist disciplinary knowledge in forms such as newspaper articles or information leaflets. You will be expected to write in registers suitable for general rather than academic audiences. Public Engagement is particularly common in the sciences, but can be given as a writing task in any discipline.

Event Recounts include personal accounts of your learning, such as a literature search or team work, and chronological reports on events such as accidents or disease outbreaks. You may be expected to assume a personal and reflective angle. Event Recounts are particularly common in creative disciplines where students write about the behaviour of others or their own creative process, and in the applied disciplines such as business, education and health where students reflect on their professional practice.

Task: Use your knowledge about the purpose of each genre to identify which one you are being asked to complete in the example assignment briefs below:

Now you have identified the genre of writing you have to produce you can find examples to help you identify what type of language you should use.

Task: Imagine you are studying computing and you have been given an assignment brief asking you to complete a design specification.
– Should you use the word ‘I’?

In Sketch Engine you can check whether the language you are using is appropriate by specifying the level of study, the text genre and the discipline as in the picture below:

Task: Type the word ‘I’ in the search bar below to see how it can be used in this genre of writing and if it is good academic style.

Task: Go back to the previous task and try to change the Text Genre and Discipline to match an assignment you completed recently.

Search for a word you were unsure about when you used it and see if other writers have used it in a similar way.

Share your findings with your peers on the Future Learn discussion forum (you can copy and paste lines of text from SketchEngine into the discussion forum if you like).