Misconceptions about academic writing

By Dr Linda Glassop



Writing a paper for a university assignment can be a daunting task. It often appears that University Professors are asking for rather strange things and appear to allocate marks randomly. However, writing for University is not something ‘special’ to catch undergraduates out. Writing at University is first-and-foremost about good communication and involves:

  • creating a logical argument (Does your line of discussion make sense?)
  • ensuring you have conducted research and that it is up-to-date (Does your argument consider what is already known?)
  • setting your argument out in a coherent and readable form (Can I read it?)
  • providing citations to the sources of your research (Are your sources legitimate?)

Common misconceptions include:

  1. If I add colour to my headings, borders, background, and the like, it will ‘look’ awesome
  2. Content is what matters; I have the required wordcount
  3. Citations are something the Professor tries to catch me out on

These misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Color can muddy the appearance and make your paper look jazzy, but it is a distraction from actually reading what you have found out. This is a simpler response that requires minimal effort for students:

  1. Professors want students to develop their writing skills, not their graphic design skills (unless of course you are studying graphic design). Black and White looks crisp, clean and often more professional than color.
  2. Content is important, but it is the logic of the argument that counts. Quality of discussion, not quantity. Cutting and pasting the words of others means you have nothing to say for yourself. Professors are interested in what ideas students can develop, not what others have already written. Also, plagiarism is easy for Professors to detect, so avoid the problem in the first place and develop your own ideas and thoughts.
  3. Referencing is about acknowledging whose ideas you have relied on in order to develop your own ideas. This informs your Professor about the depth of your ideas and whether they are informed (by literature) or naive (assertions).

The formatting for citations and bibliographies can be quite complex and is different for each ‘discipline’ (field of study). This is why Professors use tools like ComWriter to do the reference formatting for them. Professors don’t waste time trying to remember how to do references, they use available tools.

Here is a marking guide that I used to use for first-year Management students undertaking a simple review of the literature. It provides an excellent guide for what University Professors are looking for.


Learning objective
Performance Indicator
(0 point)
Needs Improvement
(1 points)
(2 points)
Well Done
(3 points)
(4 points)
Find information appropriate to the task
(max. 4 points)
·  No journal articles selected or the articles selected are of poor quality (not on listing)
·  Articles are out-of-date.
·  An inadequate range of journal articles (C) selected
·  Some articles are out-of-date (pre 1980)
·  A reasonable range of journal articles ( B, C) selected
·  Articles are up-to-date (2000 and onwards).
·  A good range of quality (A, B) journal articles selected
· Articles are up-to-date.
· A good range of high-quality journal articles (A) selected
·  Articles are up-to-date.
Evaluate and organise information in a logical and coherent way
(max. 4 points)
· Poor Introduction, no background, objectives or conclusions
· Headings not provided and/or inappropriate.
· Information provided does not relate to the task.
· Discussion is disjointed and fragmented.
· Introduction provides  little  information
· Some headings not provided and/or inappropriate.
· Some information provided relates to the task, but is incomplete.
·  Discussion lacks flow and is somewhat disjointed and fragmented.
· Introduction provides  some  information
· Headings and sub-headings are appropriate.
· Information provided relates to the task but is cursory.
·  Discussion flows well, but is disjointed or fragmented in some places.
· A good introduction with background, objectives or conclusions
· Headings and sub-headings are appropriate.
· Information covers the breadth of the task, and shows some depth.
· Discussion has a logical flow, but is a little fragmented.
·  Excellent Introduction, clear background, objectives or conclusions
· Headings and sub-headings are appropriate.
· Information clearly covers the breadth and depth of the task.
· Discussion has a logical flow and coherent line of argument.
Critically analyse and synthesise the  information gathered
(max. 4 points)
· The essay is mostly descriptive.
· No constructive analysis of the information.
· No conclusions draw.
· No recommendations made.
· Some attempt to provide a balanced discussion has been provided.
·  No constructive analysis of the information.
· A summary rather than conclusions is provided.
· No recommendations provided.
· A balanced discussion has been provided.
· The constructive analysis is cursory.
· The conclusions drawn have a relationship with the information presented.
· Some recommendations made but they are inadequate.
· A balanced discussion has been provided.
· A constructive analysis is present but lacks depth.
· The conclusions drawn have a clear relationship with the information presented.
· Recommendations are adequate and show some knowledge about the subject matter.
· A balanced discussion has been provided.
· The constructive analysis shows depth of knowledge and insight.
· The conclusions have a clear relationship with the information presented.
· Recommendations show depth of knowledge about the subject matter.
Communicate information accurately
(max. 4 points)
· Extensive spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· References do not use the Harvard method correctly.
· In-text citations not utilised or inaccurate.
· Paraphrasing closely resembles a quote.
· Too much quoted material provided and presented incorrectly.
· Some spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· An attempt to use the Harvard method has been made, but not entirely correct.
· In-text citations are mostly inaccurate.
· Paraphrasing uses too much of the authors own words.
· Too much quoted material provided, and some presented incorrectly.
· Few spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· References provided under the Harvard method are accurate in most cases.
· In-text citations are accurate in most cases.
· Paraphrasing correctly portrays another’s ideas in student’s own words.
· Too much quoted material used, but presented correctly.
· No spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· References provided under the Harvard method are accurate.
· In-text citations are accurate.
· Paraphrasing correctly portrays another’s ideas in student’s own words.
· Fewer quotations could be used, but presented correctly.
· No spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· References provided under the Harvard method are accurate.
· In-text citations are accurate.
· Paraphrasing correctly portrays another’s ideas in student’s own words.
· Quotations used sparingly and presented correctly.


Posted: January 28, 2016

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The Inadequacy of Word Processors for Academic Writing

There are more than 130 million students and faculty in Higher Education worldwide. Every one of these individuals needs to write academic papers and articles. However, the tools we have for academic writing are extremely limited (see Table 1):

  • Microsoft Word is, primarily, desktop with a wide range of features making it difficult to learn and demands too much time to manage the formatting, and also causes version control issues
  • Google docs is a cloud-based product with excellent collaboration features, but is limited for most academic work
  • Scrivener is a Mac product that has some nice note features, but has a very confusing user interface
  • Authorea is a relatively new cloud-based word processor, but it is a latex product that requires knowledge of this technical language

The top 5 limitations are:

1. Reference data must be interfaced with a third-party tool (e.g., Mendeley, Endnote, Zotero)

Integrating third party tools to manage reference data often causes issues, and the limitations of these tools is also problematic. Google docs enables footnote citing with Google Scholar and web searches, but its inability to produce in-text citations renders it useless for most undergraduate writing.

2. Formatting often takes up more time than writing (i.e., it is difficult to get consistency)

What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors are great for visualizing the end product and generally offer a wide range of tools to achieve most things. The disadvantage, however, is that it becomes difficult to get consistency, and more time is often spent on formatting  rather than on content development. Frustration with formatting is generally the end result.

3. Functionality is missing (e.g., a list of images, image captions, equation editing)

When writing academic reports there is the need for a list of figures and tables. Google docs is inadequate in this regard, and MS Word requires that you update image numbers before the list is generated, making it a tedious time-waster if you have a lot of images.

4. Notes and comment need to be deleted before printing

In line comments and notes are very useful for keeping track of what is required to be done or for recording feedback. However, all these tools require inline comments to be deleted before output can be created, thereby losing valuable information.

5. Collaboration requires control over different versions

While Google docs has excellent collaboration features, it becomes ineffective due to its other limitations for academic writing. MS Word has no history functionality, so the only way to manage collaboration is to share files with your collaborations. Sharing files has been made easier with products like DropBox, but this generally causes the need to maintain different versions of the same document, which can be a nightmare.

Compare Writing Products

Table 1: Comparison of Word Processing tools


ComWriter is a cloud-based writing tool dedicated to the needs of students and faculty. Here are five reasons to make the switch:

1. Formatting (headings, text, captions) is contained in pre-defined styles ensuring everything is formatted consistently and quickly based on academic standards (or customize your own style)

2. Numbering is done as you export allowing you to make as many changes as you like without the need to re-format (image numbers, page numbers, heading numbers)

3. Cut-and-paste is replaced with drop-n-drag making it easier to restructure writing

4. History is saved allowing you to go back in time to see changes

5. Templates are structural rather than design-based providing a head start on writing that next paper

Future functions include notes & comments that do not need to be deleted, collaboration, automated glossary, history slider, and more.


About the author: Dr Linda Glassop is a published author and the founder of ComWriter, a cloud-based writing application for students and researchers. Linda has made it her mission to make writing to academic standards easy.




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The Limitations of Mendeley for Academic Writing

Mendeley is a reference manager and academic social network. While this platform has been extremely successful for research collaboration, it is woefully inadequate as a referencing tool. One of the first activities undertaken in the peer review process is to check article submissions for accurate referencing. If references are not cited correctly, the article is rejected without any content being examined. Thus, accurate referencing is a pre-cursor to having publications accepted.

Here are the top five reasons why it is time to find a new reference manager:

1. Reference types do not relate to today’s resources

Mendeley has 16 reference types (see image below) which are inadequate for accurate referencing. For example, many authors cite articles forthcoming, but there is no template provided.

2. CSL Style library is inadequate

Mendeley uses the CSL style library to format. There are around 7,000 CSL styles for various journal titles. While this sounds impressive, most styles have only 4-5 templates available, therefore, the 16 reference types, in reality, turn into 4-5! Also, these templates treat reference data as the same for every kind of resource and often led to inaccuracies. For example, a journal article is assumed to have a volume and issue number. There are many instances when issue numbers are not used, and volume numbers get replaced with a season (e.g., Spring). The format for these different kinds of journal numbering causes errors.

3. First, Consecutive and Subsequent not catered for

All CSL styles have the first template and a ‘Short’ template. This shortened template is used for both consecutive and subsequent formatting. This creates errors for many styles where consecutive citations differ to subsequent citations.

4. Multi-volume titles and abbreviations are missing

A range of styles require the need to include multi-volume titles and abbreviations. There is no field to capture this data, rendering such references inaccurate.

5.  All independent reference managers must interface with MS Word

Interfacing any two solutions is always problematic. Recent posts on Mendeley’s facebook page suggest that their support for integration is lacking. Researchers waste extensive amounts of time formatting, reformatting and correcting reference data. Technology advances have been fantastic over the past 10 years, yet the solutions fail to deliver modern tools to researchers.

Compare reference types


ComWriter has pledged ‘to eliminate referencing hurdles‘. Here are five resons to make the switch:

1. A broad range of reference types including articles forthcoming and books with mult-volume titles (see image)

2. Reference data is examined and alternate outputs provided; especially for journal articles

3. Footnote references provided for first, consecutive and subsequent

4. Write-and-cite in the one platform

5. The entire article (text & citations) is formatted automatically (using a pre-defined style guide), leaving authors more time to concentrate on content and argument


About the author: Dr Linda Glassop is a published author and the founder of ComWriter, a cloud-based writing application for students and researchers. Linda has made it her mission to make writing to academic standards easy.


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ComWriter delivers a Grammarly sandwich!

Grammarly sandwich

  • Write content: ComWriter enables you to focus on writing content without worrying about formatting
  • Grammarly: the world’s leading grammar checker (available FREE online) is compatible with ComWriter to check your work
  • Auto format: all your writing is automatically formatted using our pre-defined style guides (or customize your own)

You can then export your writing to Word, Pdf or HTML with just one click

export tp Pdf, Word or HTMLGet writing now

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ComWriter has more theology journal styles than Endnote or Zotero

Theology journal style guides

Australia, 5 June, 2015

Today ComWriter released 21 theology journal style guides to their bank of styles, making it a more robust site for theology writing than either Endnote or Zotero. Of special interest is the ability of ComWriter to style references and footnotes to biblical literary standards.

Dr Glassop, founder & CEO of ComWriter said “Theology writing is complex given its historic origins”, “nonetheless, biblical literature deserves the support of modern technology”.

Other features unique to ComWriter include the use of biblical fonts (Greek, Hebrew and Lit), enabling Old Testament researchers, and other specialty fields, to compile accurate text online.

Dr Glassop said there were ten other journal style guides under development that would be released shortly. Currently, ComWriter supports:

  • AJS Review (Association for Jewish Studies)
  • Australian Biblical Review
  • Australian Ejournal of Theology
  • Church History
  • Communio: International Catholic Review
  • Harvard Theological Review
  • Heythrop Journal
  • History of Religions
  • International Journal of Practical Theology
  • International Journal of Systematic Theology
  • Irish Theological Quarterly
  • Journal of Beliefs and Values: Studies in religion and education
  • Journal of Biblical Literature
  • Journal of Early Christian Studies
  • Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
  • Journal of Ecclesiastical History
  • Pacifica: Australasian theological studies
  • Review of Biblical Literature
  • Semeia Studies
  • TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism
  • Theological Studies

These styles are primarily based on Chicago footnotes or the style developed by the Society for Biblical Literature (USA).

ComWriter is a cloud-based writing application for Faculty and students: write, reference, manage your library online, search more than 2 billion records for ready-made referencing. ComWriter is re-writing the way we write in Higher Education.

For more information visit: comwriter.com  or theology.comwriter.com


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Write Biblical Literature Accurately, Online

Do you feel that your current writing tools are letting you down when it comes to preparing biblical literature?search for biblical books

Well we do, so we’ve done something about it.

ComWriter is a new cloud-based writing application specifically designed for writing biblical literature:

  • Easily insert SBL fonts into your text or footnotes: Greek, Hebrew, LitInsert hebrew script online
  • Accurately cite Multi-volume titles AND Series titles, with abbreviations
  • Cite a wide range of biblical literature: COS, Inscriptions, Loeb Classic Library, Ancient Texts, Ancient Epistles & Homilies, Bible Commentaries. All compliant with SBL Handbook of Style or other style guides (e.g., Chicago)
  • Search for biblical books or journal articles online to cite in your writing (over 2 billion records to select from)

What are you waiting for?


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Writing Proficiency Threatens the Success of Every Student

By Dr Linda Glassop, Composeright Pty Ltd

Academic writing is a critical success factor for University because it relates to assignment work. While many assignments might include other activities (e.g., presentations, demonstrations, or the development of physical items), writing is the predominant mode of communication for assignment work. To lack proficiency in academic writing threatens the success of every student.

Stressed student

Most Australian universities provide little support to students for academic writing. It would appear that Universities assume students have the skills when they arrive, or will figure it out on their own. Typically, University support is provided thus:

  • The library: Librarians are an excellent resource for helping students find research material, and for assisting with referencing. However, students generally need to take advantage of this resource on-campus during library hours
  • Style guides and other help sheets: the libraries at most universities provide a number of online help sheets for reference styles, writing tips and other issues related to writing. However, in this modern technology era, the idea that students will read a help sheet or indeed come on campus during library hours, is ill-informed
  • Study Skills: Most universities offer some sort of study or academic skills support. A student can make a booking with an advisor, attend a short course or seek out help sheets.

What is sadly lacking, however, is access to:

  • tutoring; specifically targeting academic writing, during the hours a student needs it (more often than not, in the evening or week-end)
  • online support, for seeking assistance (e.g., how to search the library databases)
  • tools that assist with writing, such as bibliographic software

On this last point, most Australian Universities do provide some bibliographic software support (e.g., EndNote), but this tool is primarily geared towards seasoned researchers (rendering it complex for an undergraduate to use) or not provided to undergraduates at all. Also, referencing is only one aspect of the complex process related to academic writing:

  1. Understanding the assignment (i.e., what is being asked)
  2. Finding research material related to the assignment task
  3. Knowing the difference between a thesis, a proposition and an assertion
  4. Structuring a story relevant to the assignment question
  5. Understanding the essentials of writing structure (e.g., introductions, conclusions)
  6. Quoting and paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism
  7. Providing a grammatically correct communique
  8. Referencing research material appropriate to the discipline (citations, footnotes, bibliography and image captions)
  9. Formatting a document relevant to the task (e.g., preparing an essay versus a report)

1. Understanding the assignment (i.e., what is being asked)

If you fail to clearly understand what is being asked, then the answer a student provides will miss the mark. Work done will go for naught. Examining a research question involves unpacking the keywords and identifying the aim or purpose of the question (i.e., getting to the heart of the matter).

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

2. Finding research material related to the assignment task

Libraries themselves and library databases have a wealth of information. Sorting through all that data requires knowledge of researching using keywords, understanding the value of current information compared with older information, constructing a review of the literature in the field of inquiry and knowing how to manage what you find, so it doesn’t get lost.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

3. Knowing the difference between a thesis, a proposition and an assertion

The ability to convey meaning is indeed a craft rather than a science. But, the ability to carefully build a story around a central theme requires intimate understanding of the role of language. To make an ill-found claim is an assertion, to suggest something is to make a proposition, to state how something might behave is to posit a theory. Research work is important to our world. It helps us understand what is going on and our position in that world. A lack of understanding about the fundamentals of our own thoughts fails to provide the skills that will challenge beliefs. Challenging our beliefs constitutes progress, but it must be done in a thoughtful manner if anyone is to take notice. Beliefs that have evidence are theories we can all subscribe to. Beliefs that are forced upon us tend to get rejected outright.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

4. Structuring a story relevant to the assignment question

Education was founded on philosophy. The great philosophers had an intimate understanding of the art of forging an argument. Politicians are also great orators, but the difference is that Politicians tend to ignore the question, speaking of what they want you to hear rather than what is being asked about. Great orators know how to stay on task, and weave their story into a convincing argument supported by good evidence.

Tools available: Some templates can be found in various word processors; ComWriter has more structured templates; otherwise it is blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

5. Understanding the essentials of writing structure (e.g., introductions, conclusions)

Starting and finishing your story can is like welcoming your guests and bidding them farewell; it is not something you would ignore or overlook. But the customs of welcome and farewell are learned from our peers and mentors.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’. ComWriter templates have a structured approach.

6. Quoting and paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism

Many people have said many things. It is important to acknowledge the great writers in our field and use them (politely) to support our arguments. The ability to weave another’s words into our story is quite challenging. I once heard a well qualified Professor say “I call this…” I was shocked, because what he claimed was ‘his’ (I) were the words of another well-known author in the field. Plagiarism is theft! Stealing other’s ideas without acknowledgment is appalling. But building on what has gone before is evolution. Evolution is founded on history (previous knowledge that we must acknowledge).

Tools available: TurnitIn, Grammarly

7. Providing a grammatically correct communique

English is fast becoming a generic language, but there are different flavors (or is that flavours)! For many students undertaking study in the English language poses a real problem when it is not their native language. I have my regular grammar mistakes that seem to haunt me, but trying to make sure our words can be understood is the central goal to communication.

Tools available: Grammarly, can be used in any word processor but is free for online product like ComWriter

8. Referencing research material appropriate to the discipline (citations, footnotes, images, bibliography)

Acknowledging our resource sources is something we learn at University or College. The rules are complex and, quite frankly, antiquated. But rules are there for a reason and we must try and obey. There are many tools available to support referencing, but they are generally antiquated and complex to use. Further, they must be integrated with our word processors or use copy-cut-and-paste. Writing is central to academic work, so it is crazy that we have not a single tool to assist with this. Although ComWriter is one such new tool working towards this goal.

Tools available: EndNote, Zotero, Mendeley, Papers, BibMe, ComWriter

9. Formatting a document relevant to the profession and the task (e.g., essay versus report)

Word Processors all work the same and have endless features and menus. It requires a significant amount of time to become acquainted with these tools, let alone become an expert. Students can spend endless hours formatting documents rather than concentrating on structuring their story.

Tools available: There is only one tool that I am aware of that will automatically format text: ComWriter

A happy stundet concentrating on writing good content


Students enter education for one purpose: skill development. Our role as teachers is to evaluate their skills. Written communication is still the primary mode for evaluating a student’s skill development. Yet we provide little by way of innovative support in this area. Tools are fragmented and old, the rules are complex and difficult to understand, support is lacking, and stress is high. Student Evaluation Surveys tell us about these problems over-and-over again. ComWriter is an innovative new writing platform dedicating itself to enhancing academic writing proficiency. Imagine: a library that acts like a google search, a word processor that has modern tools, the absence of formatting, and the ability to get assistance online. Imagine a learning environment where the pain of evaluation has been eliminated and I am free to explore my own ideas and creativity. Imagine no longer, compose right with ComWriter: NOW AVAILABLE.


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The quiet achiever: ComWriter now being used in 49 countries!

ComWriter, an Australian IT startup, is a cloud-based writing application for students and faculty. It combines the power of Word with the power of EndNote in a single application designed for today’s higher education needs. The product has had a quiet launch over the past 6 months and today hit a new milestone: 6,000 users in 49 countries. So that makes an average of 1,000 users per month and 5 new countries each month. Not bad for a soft entry into the difficult higher education market.

ComWriter hits 6000 users

Dr Linda Glassop, a former academic and the founder of ComWriter said “It is thrilling to get positive feedback on all our hard work”, “Our users seem to have little trouble adapting to ComWriter once they get their mind around our awesome innovation: eliminating formatting!”

Yes, that is correct, ComWriter does all the formatting for you: references AND text, leaving students and faculty free to concentrate on writing content. So, all those challenges with formatting references (you know, commas, colons, italics, all in the right place), not to mention headers-and-footers, have all been eliminated in an easy-to-use cloud-based product.

A Public Library in the cloud: heaven for researchers!

Users can also find references in ComWriter’s Public Library! Linda said their Public Library has access to 2 billion records…now that’s another mind-bending innovation given we aren’t talking about Google! Linda said “ComWriter is capable of writing a first year essay or a full dissertation” “My dissertation has 300 pages, with more than 500 references. We’ve used it as a test case and all the formatting gets done automatically by ComWriter in 1.15 minutes!” “I wish I had ComWriter back in 2000 when I submitted, it would have saved me a very big headache!” Linda sighed.

ComWriter has a free version and can be found at www.comwriter.com.


12 February, 2015

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ComWriter is now Grammarly Enabled

Write-and-cite, then check your grammar; all online. Academic writing has never been easier!

The #1 Writing Tool

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5 ways to fail University


5 ways to fail university

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February 2, 2015 · 9:01 PM