Jennifer Zhao

Liaison librarian, Schulich Library of Science and Engineering

Q: What advice do you have for students about developing their academic writing skills?

A: I would like to emphasize the importance of researching literature while we are talking about developing academic writing skills. Academic writing builds on a concrete understanding of a research topic which can only be acquired via a comprehensive review of literature on that topic. Reading journal articles not only helps me with the knowledge on a topic, but also helps me become familiar with the structure of and logical moves in academic writing. After collecting a pile of relevant articles, I usually take the following steps to ensure that my understanding of a topic is thorough and makes sense before I start to write:

1. Draw the main idea of each article by scanning the abstract and headings. 

2. Map the ideas gathered to my topic and determine if I need to refine my topic or search for more literature on certain aspects. 

3. Build my outline by creating an argument for each section and filling in the relevant articles.

4. Read into the articles that I have planned to use and note details that can back up my arguments. 

5. Place my notes to the outline and edit the structure if needed.

I would like to recommend below the book which I often turn to when I am stuck with my literature review:

Machi, L. A., & McEvoy, B. T. (2009). The literature review: Six steps to success. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.

Photo credit: Chunming Zhou