If you are studying in a British university you will be required to do a large amount of writing, whatever your subject. Some people distinguish between "essays" and "reports", and you may also know some other names for written assignments. However, sometimes the same name is used for very different types of assignment, and different names are used for very similar types of assignment.

Some of these assignments are more common in some disciplines than in others. For example, in business Case Studies are very common, in law Problem Questions are very common, while in history and philosophy Essays are very common.

Three thousand examples of proficient British university assignments from more than 30 disciplines, such as business, engineering, law, biology, sociology and history have been collected. These form the BAWE corpus. By analysing these assignments 13 basic Genre Families of student writing can be identified and each one has been given a specific name.

The 13 Genre Families are:

Here is some more information about the background to identifying these Genre Families.

Note that the names that have been given to these assignment families have very specific meanings on this site, but you will probably find that your lecturers and your fellow students use these names much more loosely – they may for example call most written assignments "essays", and they may use the terms "essay" and "report"  interchangeably.

Try this Task to check that you understand about the BAWE project.


Task 1

Choose the correct answers for these questions about the project.



Hi, I am Mahmoud, I am working on improving my academic writing. I need to know about the possible way to get a feedback on my writing, can one enlighten and advice me about the online resources that offer this sorts of writing correction.

Hi Mahmoud
The grammar checker and spell checker in an English language wordprocessing program can help you to identify basic structural errors in your writing. Some English language testing agencies have tools that can evaluate answers to English language test questions, and I know of some researchers who are developing a semi-automatic feedback tool for writers of journal articles. I don't think tools of this sort are available to the general public yet, and anyway they wouldn't help much with most types of university assignment, as discipline-specific assignments are very different from the writing produced for English language tests, and they are not usually like journal articles either. University assignments can take many different forms and can be structured in many different ways depending on the purpose of the writer and the conventions of the discipline. Use a grammar checker and a spell checker to help with accuracy, and refer to the Writing for a Purpose activities to learn about the way different types of assignment are constructed, and why.
The Writing for a Purpose Team

Can anyone tell me, British council published any LearnEnglish book?

Hello Shafijee,

We have not published any sort of commercial LearnEnglish coursebook. Instead, we have preferred to produce Support Packs for some of our content, for example Big City Small World and Elementary Podcasts episodes, which are freely available in pdf format at no charge.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, all admins. I'm very appreciate what you are doing for everyone. Could you tell me how I can learn to write from basic paragraph to academic essays (step by step). Thanks a lot!

Hi Hang Le
You don't say what discipline you are studying - first you need to check whether you need to write essays or some other kind of assignment. Essays are very common in the Arts and Humanities disciplines, but less common in the Sciences.
In some English language classes students are taught to write a 'five paragraph essay'. This approach may be useful for beginners, but the five paragraph essay is very different from an academic essay. It is much shorter, and the writer does not usually need to demonstrate disciplinary knowledge, or refer to other writers or to information sources.
When you write an academic essay it is important to discuss what other people have written about your topic, evaluate their arguments and identify points of agreement and disagreement. Usually the quality of your discussion is far more important than the conclusion you reach, and it is much better to treat opposing arguments in a balanced way than to try to persuade your reader that there is just one right answer to the question you are discussing.
Look at http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/node/9049/ to see the different ways in which an academic essay can be structured.
The Writing for a Purpose team

I love to study english. it's a pleasure for me, but sometimes it seems very hard. Perfect tenses are terrible!!
But i won't give up. It's a dream comming true.

Yes, the tense system is really hard - you don't just have to learn the correct verb forms, you also have to learn when to use them! One piece of good news for you is that we don't use the perfect aspect that much in academic writing! The present perfect is used when making general statements about a topic (e.g. "there have been many attempts to empirically verify the effects of birth order") - these kinds of statements are particularly common in introduction sections. It is also sometimes used when citing sources (e.g. "Gardner (1983 ) has identified at least seven distinct learning preferences"). However the simple present and the simple past tense are much more common.

The Writing for a Purpose Team

When I have a problem in learning English, I can ask "The English Learn Team"and I find reliable answers. On the other side, when I find others' problems in writing, I, in my capacity, try to solve those. Thus, I learn English well here. Therefore, this is my favourite webpage.

Hi alphabet26,

Thanks very much for your kind comment - we're very pleased to hear that LearnEnglish is your favourite site!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team