Use this glossary to help understand the sometimes confusing language of feedback.

'Your Referencing is incomplete, inaccurate or in an inappropriate style.'

Academic work, whether produced by a research professor or first year student, depends on a principle that new ideas incorporate, respond to and build on knowledge that already exists. If you do use published work in any way, whether by specifically quoting from it, drawing on its evidence more generally, or referring to it in any way you must give your reader the information needed for them to find the source you have used. This is how you avoid plagiarism: it's a fundamental law of all academic work. The name for this process of providing information is referencing or citation.

Each department has its own regulations for referencing, so it's very important that you follow your own department's advice on this (usually available in department handbooks). The most common approaches are in-text citation (e.g. Harvard or Chicago) or footnotes (e.g. MHRA) Be aware that styles of referencing will vary from discipline to discipline and different tutors may prefer different approaches. And remember, the most important rule of referencing is to adopt a consistent and thorough approach throughout your assignment.

Taken from TASH: Referencing and Citation

What action to take?

'Your bibliography is incomplete, insufficient or poorly organised.'

In many subjects it is compulsory that you include a bibliography with work that you produce. You will find that to produce a bibliography in the standard format for your subject requires you to follow a number of detailed rules and regulations about the information to include and how to present it, and these differ from subject to subject. At first you may well find this very tricky and time consuming to do, however, with practice you should be able to compile an accurate bibliography relatively quickly. Your department might have its own rules, so you must consult your course handbook in the first instance. Consistency is all important when compiling a bibliography.

Taken from TASH: Compiling a Bibliography

What action to take?

'You make excessive/insufficient use of quotations in your work.'

When you are producing a piece of writing at university, you will often want to talk about what someone else has written about the topic. Quoting and paraphrasing are two distinct ways of doing this. Quoting means directly including in your work the published words or other data you have found in a source. Paraphrasing means expressing in your own words the ideas, arguments, words or other material you have found published elsewhere.

There are many reasons for quoting or paraphrasing in your own work, but essentially these techniques allow you to show your understanding of current knowledge about the topic you are studying, and respond to that knowledge in your work. Remember that you will need to cite and reference all of the sources that have informed your work.

Taken from TASH: Quoting and Paraphrasing

What action to take?

'You use unreliable or otherwise inappropriate sources'

When you produce academic work, you want to develop your own knowledge and understanding in response to the most useful, most relevant, and most informative material you can find. All of us know how frustrating it is when we desperately want to know about something and yet find the information we are being given unhelpful or incomplete. We can overcome this if we learn how and where to research the best sources of knowledge. Even more important is learning how to sort the best sources from the rest. We call this evaluating sources.

In addition to academics and other students, at university you are likely to draw on a wide range of different information sources: individual webpages; encyclopaedias; major web-based resource sites; datasets; reference books; newspapers; scholarly books and journals; textbooks. There are also many different tools available to help you search the content of these different resources, for examples indexes (or databases) of academic journal contents.

Taken from TASH: Finding and Evaluating Sources

What action to take?

'Your work is poorly structured', 'your work would benefit from a clearer introduction and/or conclusion.'

In any piece of writing, you take the reader on a journey. Where you start, where you take them to, and the things you see along the way are all very important. And the order in which you see them can fundamentally affect how they're understood.

The way you structure your writing is like the journey you take your reader on. Do you want to begin with what they already know, and lead them by the hand into unfamiliar territory? Or do you want to begin somewhere entirely new, then explain why it's not as new as it looks? In terms of endings, how much do you want to summarise where you've been on this particular journey, or indicate how far there is still to go? And so on.

There aren't any right or wrong structures for writing; just better and worse ones for the context in which you're working. Structuring your writing involves making choices, and no choice is perfect: you will always end up rushing through some parts of your journey, or leaving out others altogether.

Taken from TASH: Structure

What action to take?

'Your work would benefit from a more critical/analytical approach', 'you need to critically analyse the material more closely.'

Whatever you're studying, it's likely that you'll be asked to use critical thinking. This term covers a range of things across different subjects; but in essence, it means a willingness to ask questions. Why has this experiment turned out the way it has? How might the design of this product be improved? What influenced this author's opinion?

When you think critically:

  • you don't just accept information or situations that are given to you
  • you try to understand why they are the way they are
  • you ask what other possibilities exist, and what you might be able to do about them

Thinking critically is the pumping heart of academic work, keeping the whole business alive; if we aren't prepared to think critically about the world around us, who will? Like many core skills, thinking critically in an academic environment will build on our existing capabilities but it should also stretch them. Like exercise, there's an element of necessary discomfort in this but the outcome will ultimately be positive, and you should leave university with a wider range of tools for thinking, and acting, critically.

Taken from TASH: Critical Thinking

What action to take?

'You are let down by your use of an inappropriate register/language'

Using the right words in the right context is the basis of effective writing. As you proceed through your studies, you will find yourself in many different contexts, and you will write for many different audiences.

You'll definitely be writing for academics, who expect certain things – clarity, argument, objectivity, critical thought and so on. Yet it can sometimes be easy to think that all academics want the same thing from your writing – which isn't necessarily so. Monday morning's lecturer might want you to heavily emphasise the background context of your ideas; Tuesday afternoon's might want you to get straight to your own thoughts. One of the skills you're developing at university is to recognise different expectations, and to respond directly to them.

Taken from TASH: Know Your Audience

What action to take?

'You are let down by poor grammar/punctuation/spelling'/sentence or paragraph structure', 'your work would benefit from a close proof read'

Proof-reading is the process of checking text for errors and mistakes. It commonly concentrates on aspects of writing such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation; but more in-depth proof-reading might also pick out questions of tone, genre, and structure. In much academic work, you will also need to check the presentation of citations.

For something that's apparently straight-forward, proof-reading can be deceptively tricky. It's a real challenge to find grammatical or spelling errors in text, especially in writing with which you're very familiar – your eye and your brain know what they expect to find, so they don't pay close attention to what is actually there. This is why it can help to leave written work for a day or two before proof-reading it; some even suggest reading pages from the bottom up to keep your concentration sharp.

Proof-reading is important in all writing because it's frequently the small details that matter. You don't want your reader, whether that's a lecturer, a potential employer, or anyone else, to be distracted by errors on the surface of your text. You want them to engage with all the good things you have to say.

What action to take?

'You stray too far from the assignment question', 'you need to address the assignment question more closely'

Every module that you study at university, of course, aims to teach you a range of things. These are summarised in statements about the module, usually called its aims and outcomes that are available to any student on the module. The assessments that you work on at university are essentially designed to do two things: to help you learn the kinds of things summarised in the aims and outcomes and, at the same time, to test to what extent you have learned them.

For this testing to be rigorous and reliable there needs to be a set of standards by which your work is judged. We usually call these standards 'assessment criteria' or ' marking criteria'. These are available as well as the aims and outcomes and are absolutely vital in helping you understand how your work will be assessed and graded.

Of course, it is very difficult to capture in relatively brief statements what a semester-long module wants to teach you, or the range of learning you can do when you study on it. Therefore, your reading of aims, objectives and assessment criteria will benefit from discussions with your tutors and fellow students about what you're learning and how it will be assessed. But it is certainly a very good idea to spend time ensuring you understand the meaning of the criteria by which your work will be judged.

Taken from TASH: Understanding Assessment Criteria

What action to take?

'You make unreliable/confusing use of statistical evidence'

Some people love numbers – and study them full-time. Others would rather avoid them altogether. Most of us come somewhere in between. But regardless of the specific degree you are doing, you may well find yourself working with numbers, equations or statistics.

The important thing to remember is that maths and statistics are simply a particular way of describing aspects of the world that help us to share and expand knowledge more effectively. Once you start to see numbers as a form of communication, rather than as a problem to be solved, you may find they aren't the little monsters you thought they were. You will probably have heard the saying “a picture paints a thousand words”; well, statistics, formulae and equations often do the same.

Whether you are using numbers as part of a research project, or just to create a meaningful summary table for a poster, there are resources available in the right-hand menu to help you get started.

What action to take?

'You need to work on your presentation skills'

Because University courses focus on communication through the written word, it is easy to overlook the importance of other ways to get your message across clearly and concisely. Yet there are many ways to express your ideas, and many choices for you to make. Indeed, issues of visual presentation cross-cut almost every form of communication.

When writing and presenting an essay, for example, it is important to consider the font you use and how you lay out text on the page. This is equally important when putting together a poster or PowerPoint presentation. Images and illustrations can be used in many forms of written work and oral communication, and add another level of information for the audience.

It is equally important, though, to choose the best way of presenting or relaying numerical information and arguments to your particular audience. In many situations this may mean using graphs, tables or charts instead of writing long textual descriptions of your data and ideas.

Used well, visual information can greatly enhance the impact of your communication. Used poorly, it can confuse and mislead your audience, and muddle your message.

Taken from TASH: Visual Communication

What action to take?

'Your own interpretation of the facts/original contribution is lacking'

A creative and original approach to interpretation of evidence is an important skill of academic thinking and writing. It is an important part of the transition to self-regulated learning that may allow you to make an original contribution to knowledge and attain higher grades.

Creativity doesn't have to mean writing poems or choreographing dances (although if that helps you reach a solution, great!). It simply means being able to come at a problem from different angles to suggest a range of possible solutions. Lecturers and employers alike really value these skills, and university study is an excellent opportunity for you to develop them.

Taken from TASH: Creativity

What action to take: