Studying Effectively

Writing tasks at university

Common writing formats at Nottingham

Academic writing takes many forms and there are a number of writing conventions to learn.

The general guidance provided here will give you an overall understanding of certain styles and formats you may be asked to produce during your studies, but you should consult your school about what is expected in your programme of study.

You may be expected to write some of the following:

  • Essays
  • Laboratory reports and lab books
  • Dissertations, projects and theses
  • Reflective writing
  • Notes (e.g. clinical notes, fieldwork notes) and other writing tasks


Essays may be longer than you are used to writing, and many courses expect that you will write longer essays as you progress through your studies.

For example, you may be expected to write essays of 1500 words in the first year of an undergraduate degree, but essays may be 5000 words or longer in your final undergraduate year or at postgraduate level.

Laboratory reports and lab books

Laboratory reports will usually follow a set format: title, abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, references and literature cited.  Lab books provide a permanent chronological record of experiments.

They will usually record the details of what was done, how it was done, why it was done (aims and objectives), appropriate visual information (e.g. diagrams), and who carried out the activities if you are working in a group.

Dissertations, projects and theses

Many degree programmes include an extended piece of writing based on broader research and reading.

These may be called 'dissertations', but other terms may also be used, such as 'project', 'thesis/theses' or 'long essay'.

Reflective writing

Reflective writing is common to many courses that involve practical placement-based activities such as teaching, social work and health sciences (e.g. nursing).

Reflective writing often benefits from using an appropriate reflective cycle to structure how to write about the situation and what was learnt.

Book reviews

Writing a review of a published book might be an exercise that forms part of your preparation for a longer piece of work.

In a book review you will be writing about the ideas and/or arguments in the book, but also about the author and the context in which the book was written. Taking this wider view helps to think critically about the contents of the book.

Notes and other writing tasks

Keeping effective notes may be part of your assessed writing at University, whether it is a placement-based requirement (e.g. clinical notes in medicine and healthcare) or part of a practical activity and preparation for a longer assignment (e.g. fieldwork notes from a geography or archaeology project).

Students on built environment and engineering courses are likely to produce notebooks that include visual and technical notes alongside relevant textual information.

In some courses, you may be expected to produce writing in a format suitable for a particular publication e.g. Nature, Nursing Times, or for a newspaper section such as the 'Earth' pages of The Telegraph.

Studying in Highfield House


Further reading

Developing as a writer

Practical strategies for managing writing

  • Grammar checking support via Grammarly or similar 
  • Preparation and planning
  • Technical advice on writing
  • Choosing your words and improving your writing
  • Writing critically 

More from Academic Support study resources 

People who can help

Talk to someone in your school or a specialist support service



Studying Effectively

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5151
fax: +44 (0) 115 951 3666
Contact us