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Academic Writing Feedback Glossary

Kate Dekker

Jun 23, 2020

Are you ever stumped by the terms used in the feedback you've been given on your writing? We know the English language can be confusing sometimes, so we've put together a list of terms, with explanations and examples, that are commonly used when giving feedback on academic writing. 

Download the Writing Feedback glossary pdf here. 





A shortened form of a word or phrase

uni; lab

abstract noun

A noun that describes a state of being, quality or feeling

freedom; democracy

academic integrity

Being honest and fair when conducting academic work by acknowledging all sources with correct referencing

All students at university need to behave with academic integrity.

academic text

A textbook or journal that has been reviewed by academic peers

Students should use recently published academic texts for their assignments.


An abbreviation formed using the initial letter of the words in a phrase or sentence

WHO for World Health Organisation

active voice

The subject of the verb does the action

He drinks coffee.


A word that describes a noun

big; expensive


A word that describes a verb or an adjective

well; quickly; patiently


The repetition of initial sounds in neighbouring words

The snake slid slowly through the grass.


A reference to a place, event, literary work or work of art either directly or indirectly to help the reader make associations

He was a Romeo in her eyes.

American English

The American spelling for a word

color; organization; traveling

annotated bibliography

A list of citations with an accompanying summary and evaluation of each source

The annotated bibliography was helpful in selecting the best sources for the major essay.


Punctuation used to indicate either missing words or possession

don't; the girl's dress; the brothers' bicycles

argumentative essay

An essay which presents an argument on an issue or proposition

Argumentative essays are the most popular type of essay in Law.


A word that introduces a noun

a; an; the


A type of argument; a confident and forceful belief

The author's assertion in relation to the scientific evidence was disputed.

assessment criteria

The elements or features on which an evaluation of a text is based

Assessment criteria often include task completion, content sources, and accuracy.


The reader or viewer to which a text is targeted

A writer should always keep the intended audience in mind.

Australian English

The Australian spelling for a word (the same as British English)

colour; organisation; travelling

background information

Information that provides the reader with a history of the issue or problem

Background information to the topic should be included in the introduction.


A list of all the references read or viewed when preparing a work, but not all cited in the work

In general, assignments at university require a reference list, not a bibliography.

body paragraph

A paragraph located in the main part of a paper that supports the thesis or aim

A body paragraph contains a topic sentence, supporting sentences with evidence and can include a concluding statement.

British English

The British spelling for a word (the same as Australian English)

colour; organisation; travelling


The process of using a capital letter to signify the start of a sentence, proper nouns and acronyms

He drinks coffee; James Davies; WHO

choppy sentence

Choppy sentences occur when there are too many short or simple sentences in a row

Choppy sentences make your writing sound disjointed and unsophisticated.


When you add information from another individual's work into your work

In-text citations must be used throughout your research paper.


A type of argument; a statement that has no evidence to support it

He claimed his idea was stolen even though he had no proof.


A part of a sentence that contains a verb

as it is necessary


Words and phrases that are so overused that they lose their effectiveness

Avoid cliches such as 'going forward' in academic writing.


The process of organising and linking ideas in your writing

Paragraphs must have unity and cohesion in order to be effective.

collective noun

Words used to describe a collection

team; group; flock


Words that often go together, such as 'communication style'. The words 'communication format' do not usually go together, so they do not collocate.

time management; make an investment

colloquial language

Language that is conversational

see you later; that's really cool


Punctuation used to indicate the expansion of an idea or the beginning of a list

Bring several items: boots, a jumper and an overcoat.


Punctuation used to separate key parts of a sentence including phrases and clauses, as well as items in a list.

Although he studied hard, he failed the test. Success in study requires commitment, effort, and time.

comma splice

Using a comma between two independent clauses instead of a full stop or linking word

A comma splice can be corrected by joining the sentences with a full-stop, semicolon or conjunction.

common noun

The names of everyday objects that can be seen, heard, smelled or touched

phone; song; flower; keyboard

communication strategies

The various methods of communication

written; spoken; visual; oral

complex sentence

A sentence containing a dependent and an independent clause

If a student has advanced writing skills, the essay produced is likely to be well-structured and error-free.

compound sentence

A sentence containing two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction

Students need highly developed written communication skills, and they also need good research skills.


Succinct; brief

An email should be clear and concise.

concluding sentence

The final sentence of a body paragraph that sums up the main idea

The concluding sentence reinforces the main point of the paragraph.


The final section of a written assignment or presentation, whereby the main idea is reinforced, main ideas are summarised and a final comment provided

The conclusion is an essential component of an effective essay because it restates the main ideas.

concrete language

Language that provides specific details so a concept can be identified or observed clearly

An effective leader, such as Bill Gates, has a vision to eradicate poverty.


A word that joins two words, phrases or parts of a sentence together

however; because; while

continuous tense

A tense that expresses an activity that continues over a period of time

he was working; he is working; he will be working


Two words that become joined for informal or spoken language

shouldn't; we’re; it’s

controlling idea

The part of a topic sentence that states the main idea of the paragraph

The controlling idea is the main concept that will be written about in a paragraph.

countable noun

A noun that can have a plural form

One book; two books


Punctuation that is used to emphasise a point, or, like brackets, to set off a disconnected expression or element

Three students - John, Sarah and Ethan - received an award.

defining relative clause

A clause that contains essential information necessary to describe a noun. No commas are used before and after the relative clause

The man who was wearing the black jacket stole the wallet.

definite article

'The' used with some nouns to show certainty

The research that was conducted this year


The meaning of a word

Definitions can be found in a dictionary.

dependent clause

A clause that cannot stand on its own

Because of the virus

descriptive essay

An essay that describes a situation, person or experience

The students were asked to write a descriptive essay about the camp.

direct quote

The words that are directly spoken or taken from a source

Use a direct quote as evidence of the style used by the writer.


The process of highlighting various aspects of a topic

The discussion about how to address the crisis was controversial.


An incomplete version of a text which is usually the first version of a written assessment or report

Academic staff often provide feedback on a draft essay.


Checking written work for structure, the logical flow of ideas and task completion

Editing an assignment is necessary prior to submission.


A set of three dots (...) used to indicate missing words that are unnecessary

Martin Luther King stated, "I say to you today, my friends... I still have a dream."

end text reference

A reference placed at the end of an assignment for a work cited in the assignment that includes all bibliographical details of the source

The end text reference must correspond to the in text reference in the body of the paper.

exclamation mark

punctuation used at the end of a word or sentence to indicate emphasis or strong feelings

Enter at your own risk!

executive summary

Also known as the 'abstract'. Provides a summary or overview of the entire report or journal article

The executive summary is useful for a time-poor reader.

figure of speech

A word or phrase used not for its literal meaning but for a desired effect

Shakespeare is famous for his use of alliteration, metaphors and other figures of speech.

final essay statement

The last sentence in the conclusion of the essay

You should end with a strong final essay statement.


The results of an investigation

The findings indicated that the pollution levels had increased by 10%.

formal tone

Writing that uses formal vocabulary and a detached and precise style

It is evident that students can benefit significantly from having accurate and concise communication when working on assignments and other important tasks.

full stop

Punctuation that ends a regular sentence. In American English known as a 'period'

The population is expected to increase by 3% over the next year.

future tense

A tense that expresses an idea that occurs in a future period from now

In September there will be an election.

general statement

A sentence that makes a general comment about a topic located at the beginning of the introduction

That playing video games has become a popular pastime is a general statement.


A statement based on an inference derived from most cases but which may not be true for all cases

That all men are unemotional is a generalisation.


An –ing noun that looks like a verb

Listening to music


A title or brief description for a section of a paper

A heading should be concise yet informative.


The use of exaggeration to evoke strong feelings or to provide emphasis or effect

There will never be a moment like this.


Punctuation used to join two existing words, in order to create a third meaning



A phrase with a special meaning

Give it your best shot.

in-text reference

An acknowledgement of the source of an idea placed within the body of your work

An in-text reference usually includes the author's surname and the year of publication of the work.

indefinite article

A word used with some nouns to indicate one of something

a; an

independent clause

A clause that expresses a complete thought and can stand on its own

The students enjoyed the lesson.

informal tone

A general style of language used for everyday events and narrative writing

It's a wonderful time to be alive.


The way something has been understood; the meaning derived

A poem may have several different interpretations.


The opening section of a piece of writing or presentation that introduces the topic and the aim

The introduction needs to engage the reader or audience.

introductory phrase

Similar to an opening statement, the phrase at the beginning of a text that engages the reader's attention

A strong introductory phrase will give the reader a clear sense of the text that will follow.

inverted commas

Also known as quotation marks. They are placed around a quotation or dialogue

Martin Luther King stated, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."


Irony is a figure of speech where there is a contradiction between what is said and what is really meant

I left a message on social media that you should not use social media.


Grammar that does not follow normal rules, especially used to describe for verb forms

He is a member of the family.


When two or more ideas, places, characters and their actions are placed side by side for the purpose of comparison and contrast

The giant and the little person walked hand in hand.


The area between the edge of a page and the content

The size of the margin can be adjusted in a Word document.

marking rubric

A document indicating assessment criteria and descriptors of the various levels of achievement

A marking rubric provides a clear insight into how an assessment will be marked.


A comparison stating something is or was something else

The road was a ribbon of moonlight.

missing word/s

Words omitted from a text

The student has some missing words which affected the clarity of the argument.

modal verb

A verb that tells a mood or opinion

would; should; must

narrative plot

The order and structure of events in a story

A typical narrative starts with a beginning that establishes the main characters, a middle that builds rising tension, a climax that brings the action to a head and a resolution that provides closure.

narrative writing

Writing intended to tell a story

A fictional short story is a form of narrative writing.


A sentence that uses ‘not’

He isn’t hungry


The process of changing word form, usually from a verb to a noun, to nouns in order to make a text sound more academic

Nominalisation changes the verb 'require' to the noun 'requirement'

non-academic text

A text that has not been referenced or peer-reviewed

A magazine is a non-academic text.

non-defining relative clause

A clause that contains non-essential or extra information about a noun

Shakespeare, who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote many plays and sonnets.


A word that names a person, place or thing

contract; building

noun phrase

A group of words that act as a noun

The top of the building


A noun or pronoun that follows a verb

In the sentence 'David takes the train', the train is the object.


The use of a word that sounds like the sound it is describing

Smash; bang; creak

opening statement

The first statement in a persuasive speech or argument

The opening statement should attract the attention of the audience.

opinion essay

An essay of which the main purpose is to provide an opinion on an issue

The opinion essay made some useful observations about the use of pesticides in agriculture.

Oxford comma

The use of a comma before 'and' or 'or' in a list of at least three items

This is because the ability to write with accuracy, cohesion, and clarity is an important component of assessment tasks.


Two words used together that have opposite meanings

tough love; cruel kindness

parallel language

Language that has the same grammatical structure

Recommendations should be written using parallel language.


Expressing someone else's idea using your own words

Academic assignments mainly consist of paraphrases of ideas from research.


Another term for brackets. Used to set off disconnected expressions or elements that could be omitted.

Some companies (such as EDC Corporation) offer employees bonuses.

part of speech

A type of word

noun; verb; adjective; adverb; preposition; pronoun; conjunction


A verb form that can be used as an adjective, a noun, to create a verb tense, or to create the passive voice

The finished product; He has finished his assignment.

passive voice

When the subject of the sentence is affected by the action

The bike was made last year.

past tense

A tense that expresses an idea that occurred in the past and is now complete

He completed his assignment yesterday.

perfect tense

A tense with have + past participle of the verb

Michael has been to London. By next year he will have travelled to Tokyo.

personal title

Titles associated with a person's name

Mr, Mrs, Dr


Giving human-like qualities to an inanimate object

The wind screamed through the forest.

persuasive device

A technique used to persuade the audience

Rhetorical question; expert opinion; repetition

persuasive writing

Writing which is intended to persuade an audience of a particular point of view

An argumentative essay is an example of a persuasive text.

phrasal verb

A phrase that connects a verb with a preposition

look into; sum up; start off with


A small group of words that make sense together and form part of a sentence. Phrases may be noun phrases, verb phrases, or participle phrases.

the young man; walked along the road; listening to music


Failure to acknowledge another person's ideas or work

Plagiarism is considered academic misconduct.

plural form

Two or more of something

pens; people

point of view

The perspective or lens through which a text is written

First person (I); second person (you); third person (he/she/it)


An idea or fact that provides reasons to support a conclusion

That mobile phones should be banned at school is based on the premise that there will be fewer distractions for students.


A word that shows a relationship between nouns

in; from; at; on; for; over

present tense

A tense that expresses an idea that occurs at the current time or always

I eat sandwiches for lunch; I am eating a sandwich at the moment.


A word that indicates someone

I; you; he; she; it; we; they; my; your; us


The supporting evidence for a fact or argument

There is proof that smoking causes lung cancer.


The process of checking and correcting a piece of work for errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar

Proofreading will improve the readability of your assignment.

proper noun

Name of an organisation, person or place and spelled with an initial capital letter

Alex Smith; New York


Marks used to separate elements in a sentence and to convey meaning

comma; full stop; apostrophe; colon; semi-colon; question mark; exclamation mark

question mark

Punctuation at the end of a sentence that denotes a question

How many students have been affected?

reference list

A list of end text references found at the end of a major essay or report, sometimes referred to as a bibliography

A reference list is required for most university essays and reports.


The process of acknowledging the sources of information used in a piece of work

There are many different referencing styles, including APA, Chicago and Harvard.

referencing guide

A guide to referencing conventions and techniques

The referencing guide can usually be found on the library website.

referencing style

A method of referencing with specific conventions

Common referencing styles include APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA and Vancouver.


Looking back and evaluating an event or experience

Students were asked to write a reflection about their learning experience.


Refers to the style or tone used when speaking or writing

Formal register: The business engaged a consultant - Informal register: The business took on a consultant.


Grammar that follows normal rules, especially used to describe for verb forms

It takes time to understand.

relative clause

A clause that gives information about people, places, things, possessions and time

A photographer is a person who takes photos.


Saying or doing something again, usually for emphasis

Repetition is a persuasive technique.


A document which identifies and examines issues, events, or findings of an investigation

The manager presented his sales report to the team.

report recommendations

Specific actions to address the issues identified in the report

The report recommendations were taken on board by the organisation.

reporting verb

A verb that shows the intention of the writer or speaker

states, describes, explains

run-on sentence

A sentence where two ideas (independent clauses) have been joined by a comma or no punctuation or linking word

There is a problem with the software, it is not up-to-date.


A greeting used in a letter that may be formal or informal

In a business letter, the salutation should be formal.

scholarly journal article

A journal article that has been referenced and peer reviewed

The best source of information for a research essay is a scholarly journal article.

scientific writing

Technical writing to communicate scientific topics

Scientific writing is factual, precise and objective.


Punctuation used to link independent clauses that are closely related, to separate items in a list if any of the items contain commas and before connector words such as 'however'

Some directors want to outsource training; other Directors want to conduct training in-house.

sentence fragment

An incomplete sentence

Professional staff also need to develop

sentence fragment

An incomplete sentence

'When the risk decreases' is not a complete sentence

signposting language

Language used to signal the relationship between ideas

Signposting language such as 'however' and 'previously' help readers to follow an argument.


A comparison between two things using 'like' or 'as'

As white as snow; He rode like the wind.

simple sentence

A sentence with one independent clause or main idea

The art of negotiation is an important skill.

singular form

Only one of something

book; pen

source material

The materials (books, journals, websites) that have been used to gain ideas for a piece of work

The source materials for a research report should be saved in a folder.


The amount of space between lines of text

Line spacing options can be selected under the Paragraph tab in Word.

student voice

The personal style of the student writer

In academic writing, it is important to develop your own student voice.


A heading which is subordinate to the main heading and expresses a supporting idea

Reports use headings and subheadings to identify different sections.


A noun or pronoun before a verb

The student participated well.

subject verb agreement

When the subject agrees or conjugates with the verb form

The analysis shows...


A concise expression of the main idea/s of a text

The review provided a summary of the plot of the film.


An object or person or other element used to represent an idea

red for love; cross for death


Combining ideas from a range of sources to explain and idea

A literature review needs to synthesise ideas on one theme.


A verb form that shows the time

present simple; past continuous, future perfect


The writer's main argument or position in an essay

The thesis is important because the whole essay 'hangs' on this idea.

thesis statement

The sentence which expresses the main idea or stance of the writer in an essay

The thesis statement is usually the last sentence of the introduction.

topic sentence

Contains the subject and the controlling idea of a paragraph

The topic sentence is usually the first sentence of a paragraph.

transition marker

A word or phrase between sentences or paragraphs that indicate the relationship between these elements

Transition markers such as 'furthermore', 'however', 'apart from this', give the reader an idea of what idea is coming next in a piece of writing.


A noun that has no plural form

information; water


Saying something is less important than it is in reality.

"It's rather warm today" when the temperature is 42 degrees celsius.


An action word, something a person ‘does’

show; make; resolve


A piece of writing that contains too much information or unnecessary words

Wordy writing often confuses readers because sentences are too long and the main idea is hard to understand.

writing format

The layout conventions appropriate for a text including margins, spacing and font size

In academic writing, the referencing style will usually provide information about the correct writing format.

writing structure

The organisation of a text which usually depends on the type of text such as an essay or report

When planning a piece of academic writing, it is important to be clear on the writing structure before starting.

Download the Writing Feedback glossary pdf here. 

We hope this helps you understand your feedback. Remember, you can always Connect Live to one of our Subject Specialists to chat any of this through if you need further clarification. 

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