Academic glossary

Academic glossary

University study has its own specialist vocabulary. If you’re unsure about the meaning of a particular word or phrase, consult the list below. Looking for more advice? Consult our interactive skills guides or have a browse of our resource bank.


abstract (n.) – a short piece of writing typically found at the top of a journal article, which describes its aims, methods, results and implications


appendix (n.) – information attached to the end of a text, such as documents referred to in that text, or large data sets that cannot be incorporated into the text without disrupting its continuity


body of text (n.) – the substantial part of a piece of writing; excludes features like abstracts, reference lists, and appendices


citation (n.) – mention of a source of information in an essay, report etc.; a citation is typically short, appearing in the body of a text (cf. reference)


direct quotation (n.) – material copied exactly from one text into another; usually words, though sometimes images


dissertation (n.) – an extended study of a topic or related topics, carried out with clear research aims decided in advance; conducted over several months or more, and written up in distinct sections


essay (n.) – a text, usually written, though sometimes presented verbally, dedicated to a topic or related topics; unlike a report, an essay does not require an explicit structure, i.e. headings, sub-headings and a table of contents


executive summary (n.) – a short piece of writing typically found at the start of a report; describes aims, methods, results and implications


literature review (n.) – a piece of writing intended to summarise, compare and scrutinise important research relating to a particular subject; a literature review can exist on its own, though it more often forms a part of a dissertation or thesis

Source: Desmaziéres (1998)

paraphrasing (n.) – the act of describing ideas from another text in one’s own words; used extensively in academic writing (cf. direct quotation)


peer review (n.) – the process by which experts in a certain field srutinise new texts prior to their publication


plagiarism (n.) – the act of using ideas from another text, published or unpublished, without properly acknowledging their origin


primary research (n.) – the process of gathering new data for the writing of a report, dissertation etc.


qualitative (adj.) – refers to research that deals with non-numerical data and involves observational methods


quantitative (adj.) – refers to research that deals with numerical data and involves mathematical methods


reference (n.) – mention of a source of information in an essay, report etc.; a reference typically contains extensive publication details, which help to direct a reader to that source; references often, though not always, appear at the end of a text (cf. citation)


reference list (n.) – a set of references relating to all the sources used in a text; typically found at or near the end of that text


referencing (n.) – a term used to describe the act of producing citations and references


report (n.) – a piece of writing dedicated to a topic or related topics, which typically relies on distinct sections and an explicit structure, e.g. headings, sub-headings and a table of contents (cf. essay)


secondary research (n.) – the process of examining existing evidence in order to offer new insights into a topic or idea; these findings are then presented in a report, dissertation etc.


source (n.) – a text, e.g. a journal article, that has influenced the creation of a new piece of work


study (n.) – the act of dedicating oneself to a subject or concept in an effort to know and understand it better


text (n.) – a broad term used to describe something that is the product of human thought and activity, and which gives expression to ideas; texts can consist of words, images and sounds, or a combination thereof


thesis 1. (n.) – an extended study of a topic or related topics, carried out with clear research aims decided in advance; conducted over several months or more, and written up in several distinct sections


thesis 2. (n.) – the central argument or claim made throughout a piece of work