Skip to Main Content
Logo for the Skills Centre

Getting Started at University

If you're new to university or returning to study after a break, this guide includes our top tips and guidance on finding your feet and information on how to develop your core academic skills.

Browse the glossary

Academic Writing Glossary

Have you encountered a term in your module guide or assessment criteria that you're not familiar with? This glossary includes definitions on the words and phrases associated with academic writing and studying at university:



If you already know the term you're looking for, just press Ctrl + F to find it in this page.



A short summary (usually around 250 words) of a research paper, journal article or dissertation, that includes an overview of the research aims, methods, participants, key findings and conclusions. The abstract should give a concise and accurate description of the key features of a research project, while aiming to capture the reader's attention.


There are two key parts of any analysis in academic writing:

1. Break a complex idea/process/ concept /method into its component parts, in order to focus on the detail of the whole.

2. Consider how these parts then fit back together - which is more important, are there two or more aspects that form an interesting relationship or connection.

For more on this, read our definitions of common terms used in essay questions and assessment criteria.

Annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography combines short paragraphs summarising the key points from a journal article or research papers with a formatted APA reference. Think of this as a reading list - the summary paragraph gives the reader a clear idea of what to expect from each study, while the APA reference gives all the information they would need to find the source. To see an example of an annotated bibliography, read our guide on literature reviews.


APA (American Psychological Association) is an author/date style of referencing that has two parts:

a. In-text citation - Sources are acknowledged in the body of your writing.

b. Bibliography - A list of the full details of each academic sources used in your writing will be included at the end of the assignment.




A list of all of the evidence and materials used in your writing, included at the end of the essay. Visit the Hallam Library referencing pages to learn how to format your bibliography.


Blackboard is the online home for all of the materials and information for your modules and academic course. You can log in to view all of the resources related to teaching and assessment on your course from the MyHallam homepage. You will find a link to Turnitin, where you will upload your assignments for marking.


Case study

A case study is a systematic form of research that investigates a phenomenon, group, person or situation from a clearly-defined context or timeframe. For an introduction to case study research, or to read examples from a range of subject areas, explore the SAGE Research Methods database from Hallam Library.


A citation is the information you give the reader in your writing to let them know that your material came from another source. In APA referencing, it is the information in brackets that you inserts after a paraphrase or quotation.

Critical review

A critical review, also known as a critique, is a piece of writing that deconstructs a research paper or journal article, identifying key elements of the work and highlighting key strengths or weaknesses. A critical review will generally focus on a single article or source, but you may need to refer to other sources to offer an interpretation of the theories or methodologies used in the text. For more detail on how to write a critical review, visit our guide to literature reviews.


For a definition of this assignment type, see critical review.

Critiquing a journal article or report involves focusing o the details/each part of the document, looking for strengths and weaknesses. Start by focusing on the key components of any article: research design, methodology, sample size, criteria for selecting participants, and findings. You may also wish to discuss how a particular piece of research is limited in terms of its relevance and applicability for your subject/topic of interest.

Remember, a critique is not just negative - you are offering an objective view on strengths as well as weaknesses.




To evaluate something, you should aim to give an objective view on the relative strengths and weaknesses of your given topic. To do this, decide on your criteria - the way we measure or assess a journal article will be different from how you evaluate your performance in professional practice. For ideas on how to evaluate sources in your academic writing, see our guide on critical writing, or attend our Advanced Critical Writing: Analysis and Evaluation workshop.
















Academic journals are publications that bring together research papers and articles written by researchers from a particular field, subject or discipline. Think of these as magazines for academic researchers - each publication has a theme or title that helps researchers to identify where their research would fit best, with each issue focusing on a different sub-topic within this area.

Journal article The individual papers, written by researchers, that report on the findings on research projects. 




Lab report

Lab reports are written to summarise and analyse a scientific experiment or process carried out by a student or researcher. Lab reports follow a set format and include a standard set of headings, designed to ensure that someone could perform the experiment for themselves using the lab report as an instruction guide. Visit our guides for information on scientific writing and how to structure your lab reports.


Lectures are the largest classes you will attend at university. They are oral presentations, designed to introduce students to new topics that will be explored in more detail in seminar discussions, tutorials and written assignments, and as such do not tend to involve discussion between the lecturer and the students. Notetaking in lectures is one of the key skills you will develop at university - The Skills Centre offer workshops and online templates that focus on effective notetaking and memory techniques.

Literature review

A literature review is a structured search and evaluation of the published research in a particular subject area.

When writing a literature review, you should aim to demonstrate that you can:
a. find themes and trends in existing research

b. identify points of agreement and disagreement between existing studies, and link these to your own work or research (also known as synthesis).

A literature review is not a list of sources - it is a piece of writing that should show the links and relationships



An umbrella term used to refer to the general research strategy that underpins the methods and practices that form your research project. Often confused with research methods, which refers to the process of collecting data or information.

Mixed methods

A research approach that combines collecting data using both qualitative and quantitative methods, for example using focus groups and surveys in the same project.



Narrative review

Another term for a literature review, where the focus is to give a broad overview of a chosen topic or research question, identifying significant trends, discussions and debate in existing research. The aim is to construct a narrative or story of the literature, touching on contextual information, theoretical perspectives and key research themes.











Quantitative research


Qualitative research  




In academic writing, a reference gives the information you need to trace a publication, such as the name of the author, the date of publication and the relevant page numbers. In UK English, this term can refer to information you include in-text and in the bibliography.

Reflective writing

Reflective writing involves looking back on a previous experience, whether in your professional, personal or academic life, and considering how it might have impact or meaning for your future development. Reflective writing is a very personal process, as it involves questioning your reaction to different situations, and understanding why you may have felt a certain way. Unlike most other forms of academic writing, you are encouraged to use the first person ('I') in reflective writing. Read our online guide to reflection for more information on how you might structure reflective writing, or book a place on one of our face-to-face workshops.

Research design

The collective term for the set of methods you will use to collect your research data. This generally splits into three categories: quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods.

Research method

How you will collect the data or information that will generate your research findings. Some examples include data mining, case-study research, sequential design and semi-structured interviews.



Search strategy  

Seminars are small group sessions, led by a tutor or lecturer, structured around discussing topics from lectures and reading in more detail. These are an ideal scenario for asking questions and building your understanding through conversation with other students. Visit our guide to effective reading for tips on preparing for seminars.


In academic writing, synthesis is the process of joining together information from multiple sources or articles, to show that there is a relationship in the existing literature. By creating this link or relationship, you can then decide where your ideas fit, and give an interpretation or conclusion that does not over-rely on a single piece of evidence.

Systematic review

A systematic review applies a set of inclusion or eligibility criteria to identify papers that answer a clearly-defined and specific research question. The process of searching for and refining results must be clearly explained in the review, so that the same search could be reproduced by a reader. You should assess the validity of your search process, highlighting any potential bias or limitations.





Turnitin is an online plagiarism checker that compares your work to other essays and existing publications to check for similarities. Results can identify where your work is similar to existing sources, and pick up on errors in your APA referencing.


Tutorials may be held in very small groups or on a 1-1 basis. While seminars are guided discussion on a theme or piece of reading, tutorials are used as trouble-shooting sessions. They will differ across different departments, but generally speaking tutorials will offer a chance to ask your tutor specific questions and to get feedback on aspects of your work and academic writing.





The Virtual Learning Environment, also known as Blackboard. A web-based platform where the materials and resources for your modules and academic course can be accessed.