The Structure of a Reference Topic

When you look at the reference topics, you will notice that they all follow the same pattern. This structure was designed to ensure consistency and make the topics easy to interpret. Each topic has most or all of the following sections.


The title is kept short and clear to give a good idea of what the topic is about.


Each topic is given one to three stars, depending on how important we consider it to be for students learning academic writing. A three-star topic represents information you simply have to know to be a successful writer. A two-star topic is important but not as central. A one-star topic is good to know, but it is less likely to mean the difference between success and failure in academic writing.


In the discussion, we present the idea or problem, giving examples of what not to do and what to do. Typically the first set of examples demonstrate a problem, and the second set demonstrates solutions to the problem. Whenever possible, we use real-life examples from student writing to illustrate the issues discussed.

Examples of what not to do are formatted like this.

Examples of what you should do are formatted like this.


The summary is a condensed, one-line presentation of the main point of the topic. This is a line that you may want to commit to memory, to help you while you are writing.

Further discussion

Frequently, there are further complexities or additional cases to consider. These are discussed in this section, with more examples provided.

Related topics

Most topics are closely related to other topics. In this section you will find links to topics in this reference guide with discussions of similar or complementary subjects.

Further resources

In this section, you will find links to resources outside this website with more information on the topic. These may be definitions, discussions, exercises, and so on.