Academic Literacy

Academic literacy standards create a huge learning curve for many school leavers who often struggle to master the necessary text types, specifically essays and reports that will help to propel them through their first tertiary years of study. The immense gap students need to cover within such a limited timeframe is often overwhelming and significantly responsible for the fact that at least 20% of students will abandon their tertiary studies within their first year of study. Ironically, even if a student performed very well in English during their HSC, they still often struggle to understand the new form of essay writing that is required of them. It is understanding the exact requirements of the different essay standards that can present students with a challenge, as the new skills that need to be mastered and are central to tertiary study success are very alien to most students. As Australia’s future workforce will result in increasingly more jobs requiring tertiary study for access, the need to improve school leavers’ academic literacy skills becomes more paramount.

Unfortunately, most students are unaware that by simply mastering a few simple skills, they can greatly increase their chances of succeeding in their tertiary studies whether at college or university. These few skills include paraphrasing, referencing and ‘mapping’ which is really just planning out your essays or reports before you begin writing. The importance of these skills will be discussed below. Please refer to the FREE resources below on these three vital skills. 

Skill 1: Essay Mapping

The goal of essay mapping is to introduce students to using graphic organisers, simple concept maps or spider diagrams to help them thoroughly ‘map out’ or plan their essays. It is preferable for students to use graphic organisers to help them to do this and considering the vast array of graphic organisers available, this is a much underutilised tool that is very valuable. It is only through ‘mapping’ out your ideas clearly, that it will become apparent if you are conflating your ideas or not. For example, through mapping out your ideas, you can determine if your counter-arguments and refutations are conflated, incoherent or contradictory. It is essential for students to also clarify their topic sentences and relate them back to the main question by using keywords from the question including synonyms to avoid over repetition. There are many essay types, however the more common essay type to be found in university studies is the persuasive analytical essay. Please click below for a scaffold that shows the structure of persuasive analytical essays, then look at the example of essay mapping to understand how such essays can be mapped or planned out effectively using graphic organisers. 

Skill 2: Paraphrasing Properly  

Students need constant practice in paraphrasing especially as poor paraphrasing can be mistaken for plagiarism and lead to significant consequences such as being accused of academic misconduct and even being banned from your course. Mastering paraphrasing can seem tricky- especially if your institution utilises tools such as Turn-it-in which can even pick up how well or how poorly you have paraphrased by as little as 1%, even linking the words back to their original source! Turn-it-in is being increasingly used by tertiary institutions, especially universities who claim that it helps students to write better. This is of course true-providing that you can interpret the reports that Turn-it-in generates, a skill that is often taught by university libraries or tutors. From your angle, the best method of ensuring that you don’t get accused of plagiarism is to be familiar with an effective and comprehensive paraphrasing strategy that is easy to remember and practice. Learning such a simple strategy can significantly help you to improve paraphrasing faster and comprehend what good paraphrasing is all about.


Skill 3: Referencing Accurately

Many students find referencing daunting, mainly due to its pedantic nature. It is unfortunate that students can get their referencing so wrong that they often give up- which is the equivalent to throwing away easy marks or they end up failing their subject by accidentally plagiarising other people’s work through inadequate referencing. However, referencing need not be about searching frantically through hefty referencing guides nor is it worth panicking over as through getting used to a few simple steps, you can effortlessly increase your grade average and academic performance!

Whether your university offers an interactive referencing guide such as I-CITE or just provides a simple PDF file for the referencing style that you need to use, there are some simple techniques that you can learn to ensure that you don’t lose several marks from every single assignment after all of your hard work, affecting your grade average! Marks do add up- even across subjects!


 Boost  your assignment marks up to 20% before you begin writing! 

Click below for FREE academic literacy resources!

3 Step Strategy for Referencing Accurately pdf (pdf)


Essay mapping example (pdf)


Planning for assignments pdf (pdf)




3 Step Paraphrasing Strategy - pdf (pdf)