Writing Skills

Writing is one of the most important skills needed for success in university and college. Whether you’re tasked with writing an academic research paper, a lab report, or a response to an exam question, how clearly and concisely you communicate your ideas significantly affects your grades. 

While there are some consistent principles and practises for quality writing, specific expectations can vary by institution, by faculty or program, and even by individual instructors or professors. Despite the amount of writing advice available online and in print, the primary authority on matters related to academic writing is your instructor. 

Although the course materials (lectures, textbooks, and assignment instructions) are meant to facilitate the writing process, online resources can also complement the stages of essay writing. We have made an effort, wherever possible, to include websites known for quality and comprehensive information.

  • Writing skills centres in Manitoba

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  • Using online resources for writing

    Post-secondary institutions develop online writing resources to assist students at any stage in the writing process. They provide tips on everything from how to find an essay topic to how to write a bibliography and cite according to an academic documentation guide.

    These resources are only beneficial if you read them with purpose. You should consider whether your course's expectations match with each guide's specific practices. 

    Although many websites have useful and accessible information on writing, the resources developed by post-secondary institutions are the most relevant to writing in an academic context.

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  • Online resources for academic writing

    Although many websites exist for tips on essay-writing, these online writing centers, many of which were developed through university funding and by qualified staff, are among the highest quality. They include handouts and video demonstrations for the many skills needed to write effective essays in university. You can rely on them as resources for how to begin thinking about your essay, how to create outlines, how to use sources, how to edit, and how to cite correctly. Students looking for detailed instruction on specific topics should search the following websites for that subject. When in doubt about the validity of certain information, check with your instructor.  

    • Writing Skills, an online course from Brandon University that covers the basics of writing academic essays. It includes slides accompanied by narration for visual and audio learners. Like most universities, BU's library also had a number of LibGuides that are valuable for citing and documentation, including how to cite government documents and other citation guides.
    • Handouts from the University of Manitoba's Academic Learning Centre, organized by topic. The list includes handouts on grammar, structure, referencing, style, and more.
    • Handout on writing skills from the University of Winnipeg, covering all aspects of the writing process. 
    • Online Writing Lab from Purdue University, which "houses writing resources and instructional material" and is organized by topic and stages of the writing process. Knowledgeable contributors submit handouts for grammar, structure, style, content, and documentation. 
    • Handouts by the University of North Carolina's Writing Center focus on the fundamentals of academic writing that can be used across the disciplines. Their handouts are useful for questions about essay content -- depth, argumentation, analysis, and more. They also house advice for writing within specific disciplines. 
    • Writing Resources from Harvard College Writing Center include "Strategies for Essay Writing," which include the steps involved from beginning to end. They also offer brief guides on writing for specific disciplines. 
    • Advice on Academic Writing, a database of articles written by University of Toronto instructors who are familiar with U of T expectations. 
    • Writer’s Web from the University of Richmond's Writing Center, a handbook maintained by qualified staff and students that can be consulted at any stage of the writing process.

    • The Institute for Writing & Rhetoric at Dartmouth University is home to a number of thorough articles that help students of all capabilities, but especially first-year writers who are new to the academic writing process. The articles include clear instructions, questions, and guidelines on how to think and write in a university context. 

    •  Grammar & Composition resources from address common language problems in a blog format written for the broader public. 

    • SPARK from York University (Student Papers and Academic Research Kit).
    • The University of Guelph Learning Commons has resources for writing assistance on improving grammar & style. In particular, their guide to improving your style presents basic tips on how to communicate as an educated, conscientious writer. 
    • Questia's 9-Step Writing Guide for research essays is short and accurate. Although it doesn't offer many specifics, the guide is useful as a quick reference for students who are new to essays and want a general direction. 
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  • Books on academic and general writing

    Books on writing advice vary according to author, audience, level, and purpose. Some of them are designed to assist beginning writers who are looking for basic information and strategies on writing well. Others are more focused on how to strengthen analytical, stylistic, research, and argumentative skills. Interested students should read each book’s description and reviews closely for more detailed information. Find any of these titles at your preferred retailer or library. 

    • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
    • Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword
    • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
    • They Say/I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Berkenstein
    • How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul Silvia
    • Clear and Simple as the Truth by Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner
    • Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing by Claire Kerwhald Cook
    • The Sense of Style by Stephen Pinker
    • Strategies for Successful Writing by James Reinking et al.
    • How to Not Write Bad by Ben Yagoda
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  • Academic writing textbooks

    Find any of these titles at your preferred retailer or library. 
    • Writing Analytically by David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen
    • Essay Do’s and Don’t’s by Lucia and Garry Engkent
    • The Little, Brown Handbook (13th ed.) by H. Ramsey Fowler et al.
    • The Concise Canadian Writer’s Handbook by William Messenger et al.
    • A Canadian Writer's Reference by Diane Hacker and Nancy Sommers
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  • Academic writing open textbooks