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Researcher Development

Researcher Development


Grammar forms the building blocks of language. Without it, you simply could not comprehend the words on this page; nor could you speak/be understood. Learning grammar, however late in life, is not just for foreign speakers, I believe: it can be of benefit for first language speakers too.


If I, after reading your work, identified some issues with how you were framing your arguments and said:

  • Use the ‘first person’, not the ‘third’, in your writing to show your writerly voice.
  • Try to use the ‘passive voice’ at times to help show a more balanced perspective.”

How would you interpret the above advice? Would you be able to work toward the given targets?

My point is, that we need a certain level of grammatical knowledge and understanding to improve our writing.

No doubt, it is important to use grammar accurately – some, especially those who are using English as a Second or Foreign Language might need to invest more time in this.

If you would like to learn more about the technical aspects of language there are a number of sources on this website.

For specialist advice on ‘Grammar in EAP’ (i.e. English for Academic Purposes), go to this website.

This is a good quality website that I have been using for a number of years and have recommended my students to do so too.

Often the focus is on the forms of ‘good academic writing’: e.g. the use of sentence adverbials; which pronouns to use; topic sentences etc. but it is more important for writers to understand how these forms create a relationship with the reader in conveying the information or ideas they are trying to convey.

Professor of Education, University of Exeter

Once we have the ability to write, we need to stretch ourselves by being a little creative with language. Recall that we said that your job as a researcher is to persuade/communicate an idea, so the best way of doing this is by choosing appropriate and even intriguing (I nearly wrote “interesting”!) language.

Think about your linguistic choices while writing – what word/phrase do you want to use – a noun, verb, adjective, adverb/adverbial, conjunction/connective and so on? For example, would you prefer to write:

  1. Henderson (2012) argues for a new framework to help disadvantaged children


  1. Henderson (2012) suggests a new framework to help disadvantaged children

Which reporting verb would you use? Why?


How often do you consciously think about language in this manner?


Try and write a short five-minute proposal on why your research is important. Write as quickly as you can, but try and use convincing language.

Summarising/making texts shorter is a key research skill, though it requires you to have a large bank of words and to have mastered grammar.


Text analysis for an activity on text analysis. You can also download a text version.

Nuts and Bolts

These resources will help you with some of the technical aspects of writing – including sentence structure, and key techniques such as signposting and metadiscourse.

Choosing Your Words  – Patter

This blog post from Pat Thomson discusses the usefulness – and limitations – of academic phrasebanks.

Explain Your Terms – Patter

This blog post from Pat Thomson gives examples of how to use and define your terms more clearly.

Beware of Nominalizations (AKA Zombie Nouns) – Helen Sword for TED-Ed

This TED-Ed lesson from researcher Helen Sword is about a key mistakes academics make in their writing – using so called ‘zombie nouns’ to transform simple and straightforward prose into verbose, and often confusing writing.

An Academic’s Guide to Writing Well – Joe Moran for THE

This blog post outlines some key ‘nuts and bolts’ to think about to improve your writing, including things like noun, verb and preposition use.

Sentence Structure – Begin As You Mean to Go On – Patter

Another blog post from Pat Thomson that is part of the #wakeupreader series, and begins to pick apart sentence structure with a focus on how a sentence begins.

Academic Sentences – Patter

Another in the #wakeupreader series, this blog post talks about sentence length, and the importance of varying your sentence length and structure to keep your reader engaged.

Sins Against the Comma – Janene Carey for The Thesis Whisperer

This blog post unpacks the ways we use comma when we should be using other forms of punctuation.

Getting to Grips with ‘The Paragraph’ – Patter

This post contains a helpful explanation and outline of paragraph structure in academic writing.

The Uneven U – The Thesis Whisperer

In this post The Thesis Whisper outlines Eric Hayout’s method for structuring your paragraphs – the uneven U.

Signposting and Metadiscourse – Explorations of Style

This blog post from Rachel Cayley explains two key writing techniques – signposting and metadiscourse – and how they can add clarity and content for your reader.

More on Metadiscourse – Explorations of Style

This is a more in depth look at metadiscourse, and how you can use it in your writing

What is meta-text?

A blog post from Pot Thomson splitting meta-text or metadiscourse in to 3 types – preview, review and overview.

Your MC for This Paper Is – Patter

This blog post by Pat Thomson using the metaphor of the emcee to explain metacommentary and meta discourse in academic writing, with some useful examples.

Scaffolding Phrases – Explorations of Style

Another post from Rachel Cayley, this looks at some of the habitual phrases we use in our writing, and the importance of identifying your writing ‘tics’ as part of the drafting process.

Citation: What You Might Cite For and How You Might Show Critical Analysis – Alistair Kwan for Doctoral Writing SIG

This blog post outlines different citation practices, and contains some advice on what not to do.


Achieving Writing Precision: Applying Simple Activities to Complex Thesis Writing – Doctoral Writing SIG

This blog post by Susan Carter for Doctoral Writing SIG deals with defining complex ideas, and suggests some exercises to get your started.

Decongesting Writing Through Revision – Doctoral Writing SIG

Another post by Susan Carter, which talks about ‘decongesting’ the wordy and verbose nature of academic writing to achieve clarity.

De-stuffing Your Writing: or The Bumper List of Words and Phrases You Could Delete to Make Your Writing More Concise – Katherine Firth for The Thesis Whisperer

This blog post compiles filler phrases and words that we all use in our writing – that we could easily remove to make it more concise.

Don’t Let Those ‘Sticky Words’ Confuse Your Thesis Examiner – The Thesis Whisperer

Particularly useful for ESL researchers, this post talks about ‘academic grammar’ and dialects with disciplines, and includes an exercise to help identify the academic grammar in your discipline.

Precision With Word Choice in Doctoral Writing – Susan Carter

This blog post lists various words doctoral writers should use with caution, and why.

Academic Writing is Like a Painful, Upper Middle Class Dinner Party – The Thesis Whisperer

This blog post contains ideas being developing by The Thesis Whisperer for an new book on academic writing, Writing Trouble. It discusses the ways in which we use verbs to describe other people’s research, and how this indicates our opinion about it.

Verb Cheat Sheet – The Thesis Whisperer

This cheat sheet was shared by The Thesis Whisperer as part of her blog post, and gives examples of verbs that we use to indicate our opinion about research.

Introductions and Conclusions

Introductions – Explorations of Style

This blog post outlines the key purpose of an introduction to help you start writing.

Introductions: Establishing Significance – Patter

Here Pat Thomson outlines two different approaches to introductions, and how to clearly establish the significance of your research.

Writing Introductions: First or Last?

In this blog post Rachael Cayley explains why you should write your introduction first…and last.

Boostering Your Introduction and Conclusion – Patter

This blog post talks about our tendency to use ‘hedges’ in academic writing – words such as may, suggest, indicate and could – and how we might use boosters – words such as will, show, find, determine and confirm – to make our writing more authoritative.

How to Make a Great Conclusion – Doctoral Writing SIG

A really useful post on what makes a good conclusion, and how to get started writing one!

Leave a good lasting impression: the thesis conclusion – Patter

This blog post from Pat Thomson outlines some of the key issues people experience with thesis conclusions, and what you need to do to leave the right lasting impression of your research and your thesis with your examiners.


Being ‘Critical’ – Patter

This blog post introduces the notion of critical in discussing research and scholarship.

From Description to Analysis – Patter

This post gives helpful examples of the difference between description and analysis in doctoral writing – and lists some questions to ask yourself to make sure you are being analytical!

Argument and Message

Better than Donald – How to Argue Like a Pro – The Thesis Whisperer

This blog post introduces the Beardsley-Freeman method argument mapping, as a way to make your arguments better and move convincing that ‘the Donald’ approach.

Message tactics – Patter

This blog post gives some practical ‘tactics’ to help you strengthen and support your argument and key messages for your reader.

Know the Difference Recount, Summary, Argument – Patter

This blog post outlines the three major genres of academic writing – recount, summary and argument. It talks about the difference between them, and how and where they are used in academic writing.

The Difficult Discussion Chapter – The Thesis Whisperer

This blog post deals specifically with the discussion chapter of your thesis and introduces a 5 step strategy to help you develop it.

Writing the Thesis: Work, Moves and Structure – Patter

This blog post from Pat Thomson breaks down the different ‘moves’ – or components – of your thesis argument.

Improving Your Writing

These resources introduce techniques to make your writing more engaging for your reader, including key techniques such as authorial voice.

Authorial Voice or Putting on the Ritz – Doctoral Writing SIG

Authorial voice is key in academic writing, and this post unpicks what we mean by having a ‘voice’ in your writing.

Voice in Doctoral Writing: What is it? and can it be taught? – Susan Carter for Doctoral Writing SIG

In this blog post Susan Carter reports on a workshop with a list of linguistic features and moves that contribute to the creation of authorial voice.

Use a Vignette Wake Up Reader – Patter

This blog post introduces the idea of using stories and examples in your writing, to help explain complex ideas and keep your reader engaged.

Reverse Engineering of Writing: Reading to See How ‘good, interesting writing’ Works – Susan Carter for Doctoral Writing SIG

This post on Doctoral Writing SIG contains an exercise to analyse the writing of articles in your field.

Leading By Exemplar: The benefits of asking good questions about other people’s writing – Doctoral Writing SIG

This blog post talks about how to look at other people’s writing, both for critique and to help you develop your own.

Writing Doctoral Research: Learning Through Peer Critique and Feedback – Doctoral Writing SIG

This blog post by Pia Lappalainen on Doctoral Writing SIG outlines the benefits of giving peer critique and feedback to develop your writing, and includes a checklist for doing so that you could use to look at a peer’s work – or your own.

Doctoral Writing: Exercises for Stylish Writing – Doctoral Writing SIG

This post by Susan Carter for Doctoral Writing SIG introduces 3 exercises from Helen Sword’s research to help you develop more ‘stylish’ academic writing.

5 Myths About Doctoral Writing – Cally Guerin for Doctoral Writing SIG

This important post explains some common and damaging myths about doctoral writing.

Academia and Storytelling – Cheryl Brumley for LSE

This blog post applies narrative structures to academic writing, and how you can use storytelling to improve the narrative of your writing.

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