Communicating with the reader

Clarity and style

As well as giving evidence of your research, your essay needs to communicate your ideas and arguments as clearly as possible to the reader. Pay attention to the spelling, grammar and style of writing.

Spelling and grammar

Essays for assessment need to be well written in good English. Alert your tutor if English is your second language and use the English Language support available at the University where necessary. Alert your tutor too if you are dyslexic and help will be provided. With these and any other circumstances which affect your work, it is important that you tell your tutor as soon as possible.

There are several strategies you can use to help you to achieve good English:

  • Remember that ‘its’ means ‘belonging to it’, and ‘it’s’ is a short form for ‘it is’
  • Plurals should not have apostrophes — trees, paintings, photographs. Only use apostrophes to indicate ‘belonging to’ — the tree’s leaves [the leaves belonging to the tree] or the trees’ leaves [the leaves belonging to the trees]
  • Use the spelling and grammar checker applications in your word-processor
  • Proof-read your essay for mistakes and correct them in your next draft
  • Read your work out aloud to see if it makes sense. This is a good technique for spotting grammatical mistakes
  • Ask a friend to read your work
  • At the tutor’s discretion, he or she may read a sample of your writing


Good written English means more than good grammar and spelling, however. You need to show understanding and use expressions that are natural for you BUT slang is not acceptable.

Also, avoid abbreviations such as &, don’t, didn’t and etc. Remember that writing for assessment needs to be more considered than everyday speech. You should choose your words carefully to avoid colloquial expressions, exaggeration and contradictions.

Academic essays are typically written in the third person (for example ’it will be argued’, ‘it can be suggested’) to avoid writing in too personal or too subjective a style, but, for people unused to writing like this it can result in awkward writing. So, it is often better to use ‘I’ [for example, ‘I will argue’, ‘I suggest’] to help you make clear distinctions between your arguments and those of the authors you have read. Your module tutor will provide guidance.

Try to imagine that your reader is a fellow student who is generally familiar with the issues and language of art, design and media but may not have a level of expertise in your chosen topic. You are addressing fellow professionals rather than a lay audience but your main task is to explain. Clarity and understanding are crucial. Even complex ideas are best expressed in simple language. Look at the writing style of academic authors you admire. What devices do they use to structure their work and what can you apply to your own research?

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