Academic glossary

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, 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 sign appearing in the body of a text suggesting the influence of another text or ‘source’

  • 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  • plagiarism (n.) – the act of using ideas from another text, published or unpublished, without properly acknowledging their origin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.) – details of a source, such as author(s), 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)

  • 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 conveys ideas to an audience; texts can consist of words, sights 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