AWA: Academic Writing at Auckland

AWA papers have comments added to explain features of the writing. This page explains the seven types of comments used.  

Response to topic

Response to topic comments are often found in the introduction section of papers as they highlight the way the writer is engaging with the topic or question and providing a direct response. The writer can do this in various ways. They might provide a reason for the paper by showing how the question is part of a broader debate or issue, and establish the significance of that issue first, then narrow down their focus to the specific topic. They might use some of the key words from the assignment question to show the paper is directly on topic, but also reword part of the question to show that they are not just parroting back the question but are providing an individual response. They might show how the content and structure of their paper will be appropriate for the question. For example, if the question calls for an argument essay, the writer usually establishes a position on the issue and indicates how they will support that position. Response to topic comments focus on these aspects. They might also appear in other places to show how different sections of the paper respond to different parts of the topic, and in the Conclusion, where the writer often refers back to the assignment question to recap how it has been addressed.



Structure comments are provided throughout a paper to indicate the organisation of the text. Academic texts are usually organised in distinct ways based on the type of paper and the topic. Reports, for example, usually employ an Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion (IMRD) format, and Essays an Introduction, Body, Conclusion structure. If an essay topic requires comparison of two objects, the essay Body will be structured to present the similarities and differences between the two objects clearly. Good writers use these common organisational patterns to make ideas clear to the reader, and they also signal the structure of these ideas for the reader. For example, Introductions usually include a thesis statement which presents an essay’s overall idea, and Body paragraphs often begin with a topic sentence which presents the main idea of that paragraph. Conclusions often review main ideas as a reminder of content covered and as a link back to earlier parts of the paper, tying ideas together. Such organizational features are explained by the Structure comments. Coherence comments are also related to a paper’s structure, but focus at a finer level of organization and flow.


Idea Development

Idea Development comments highlight the way ideas are expanded, explained, compared, synthesised and evaluated. For example, they point out where definitions and theories are introduced to clarify ideas and provide more abstract concepts, where evidence or examples are introduced to support a broader idea, and where cause-effect or compare-contrast relationships are developed. They can indicate where opposing arguments and refutations introduce and reject alternative positions, where deductive or inductive forms of logic are employed, and where conclusions are reached based on the evidence presented. Idea Development comments  are found throughout a paper.  Because both Idea Development and Structure comments focus on relationships between ideas, there is some common ground between these areas.  



These comments focus on the way material from other sources is integrated into a paper in the form of summary, paraphrase and quote. A key feature of academic writing is this integration of source material as a way to explore, develop and support ideas. Sources can provide important background or contextual information, theoretical frameworks, evidential support, opposing views and other relevant information. It is important, however, not to depend so heavily on sources that the paper comes across as unoriginal and merely repeating others’ views. A paper full of long quotes from sources, for example, is unlikely to receive a good mark as the writer won’t have established an independent voice or position on the topic. Good writers use source material carefully, integrate it into their own sentences, clearly indicate when it is being used, and avoid letting it dominate their own voice. Sources comments highlight these aspects in AWA papers.    



Referencing comments point out the technical aspects of the in-text and end-of-text referencing which accompany source material (summaries, quotes and paraphrases). Integration of source material is a standout feature of academic writing, and the format of referencing information for these sources is governed by strict conventions. This allows a reader to identify the source of an idea clearly and helps avoid the problem of plagiarism. Various referencing styles are used in AWA papers, with APA, MLA and Chicago among the more common styles. Referencing comments explain these formats and conventions.



Coherence in writing is achieved when ideas are developed, organised and connected in a logical way, allowing the writing to flow and ideas to come across clearly. Therefore, some features that contribute to coherence are already highlighted by Structure and Idea Development comments. Coherence comments in AWA usually focus at the level of organization and flow within and between paragraphs and sentences. Signals that indicate idea relationships such as cause and effect, compare and contrast, abstract theory and concrete example, classification, a term and its definition, and counter-argument and refutation are highlighted by these comments. Parallel structures, referent expressions, use of synonyms and other linguistic features that connect ideas across and within paragraphs and sentences to create coherent and flowing text are also indicated by these comments.      


Expression and style

Expression and style comments focus on the effect of language choices made by AWA writers on the expression and style of their papers. Academic style can be difficult to define, with writer manuals often suggesting what shouldn’t be included (e.g. slang, abbreviations, contractions and personal pronouns) rather than what should be in order to achieve appropriate expression and style. In fact, academic writers adopt a style which ensures clear, effective and efficient communication. Precise, accurate and fully developed yet concise writing is valued, for example, and vague, ambiguous or wordy expression is avoided. Expression and style comments in AWA therefore focus on the way the writers have enhanced the clarity of ideas through vocabulary choices, noun phrase length, the use of clear yet concise expression, cultivation of a careful, objective tone and stance and other common stylistic features. Good writers also try to maintain interest, by varying sentence structures and vocabulary, for example, and these features are also signaled with these comments.