4th November 2019

Academic glossary

University study comes with its own specialist vocabulary. If you’re not sure what a particular word or phrase means, consult the list below. Can’t find the word you’re looking for? Get in touch with the Academic Skills team. If you’re in need of further advice regarding work at university, 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.) – a signal in the body of a text used to show that another text is being referred to

  • 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 its aims, methods, results and implications

  • literature review (n.) – a piece of writing intended to summarise, compare and scrutinise the key ideas within a particular topic or field; can exist as a standalone text, though more often found as 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 given 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  • plagiarism (n.) – the act of using ideas from another text, published or unpublished, without properly acknowledging their origin

  • reference (n.) – details of a source, such as author, date of publication, title and publisher, written according to a certain set of guidelines

  • 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)

  • source (n.) – a text used as the basis for part of another piece of work

  • study (n.) – the act of dedicating oneself to an idea or group of related ideas in an effort to know them better

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

  • thesis (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