writing skeletons

 In order to get into the hang of academic writing it is sometimes helpful to examine closely the way in which other writers structure their work.

Swales and Feak (1) offer the use of skeleton sentences to achieve this. This where all of the content is stripped out of a paragraph in order to reveal the syntactic moves. They suggest that those wishing to improve their writing should experiment with putting their own content into these skeletons. This is the equivalent of walking in someone else’s footprints.

Here are some that Barbara Kamler and I use in our workshops on academic writing.


(1)  This chapter begins with a brief discussion of…………….(key theoretical approach you will take in your research) its history and major theorists.

(2)  Next, I look at how ……………. (state the problem you are researching) is constructed in education.

(3)  Then the chapter examines the literature about …………..( the problem you are addressing) that has been produced over the last …………. years.

(4)  The chapter concludes with a look at some notable scholars …………..( names)  from ………………..(name the theory again ) perspective.

 From Ladson Billings, G (1999) Preparing teachers for diverse student populations: a critical race theory perspective, in  A Iran-Nejad and P. D Pearson (Eds) Review of Research in Education. (pp. 211-247)WashingtonDC: American Educational Research Association.


In this paper I discuss the main arguments that deal with the issue of…………

(2) it is my purpose to highlight the ……………… by pointing to…………….

(3) The paper is structured as follows. After giving an overview of the scope of the …………. I review the particular……………

(4) Next I provide a summary of …………….

(1)  Finally in the last two sections I consider several implications for ……. and argue that…………….

 Adapted from Lavie, J (2006) Academic discourse on school based teacher collaboration: revising the arguments. Educational Administration Quarterly 42 (5) 773-805.


The thesis builds on and contributes to work in the field of __________________________

(2)      Although a number of studies (   ) have examined _______________, there has not been a strong focus on ____________________________________________________.

(3)  As such, this study provides additional insights about ______________________.

(4)  This research differs from previous studies in ………….   by identifying/documenting/ ………….

(5) In doing this it draws strongly on the work of ………… and …………. who……………

 Adapted from Dunsmire, P (1997) Naturalizing the future in factual discourse: a critical linguistic analysis of a project event. Written Communication 14 (2) 221-264.


The thesis differs from other studies of_____________________.

(2) It owes a factual and interpretative debt to ________________________and _____________________ and__________________.

(3) In other respects it has benefited from the _________________ presented by _____________ and from  ____________’s treatment of ________________ (    ).

(4) In these writings it is possible to find descriptions and analyses of____________ ________________________________which this thesis does not intend to match.

(5) What it rather does is to present a broader perspective on ______________ than is usually managed, with a more consistently maintained ________________, a greater attention to ____________________, a fuller sense of the range of _____________within a framework which conveys ________________________.

(6) If it is successful in these respects, then much is owed to______________________.

 Adapted from Jones K (2003) Education in Britain: 1944 to the present.Oxford: Polity Press.

(1) Swales, J and Feak, C 1994 Academic writing for graduate students. University of Michigan Press. Second edition now in print.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to writing skeletons

  1. Lesley B says:

    Thanks Pat. I’ve found this really useful in writing, especially when I’ve been stuck for ideas. It’s very similar to the ‘Writing Frames’ we give children when structuring genres for them!


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  5. Janet says:

    Very useful and timely, thank you!


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  11. Sheena McChlery says:

    These examples are really useful, thank you; I will definitely utilise them. A friend used a similar skeleton to construct an abstract and completed the abstract within 1/2 hour, after agonising over it for days.


  12. ROSE GARRY says:

    Very clear examples. So helpful indeed


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  14. Rebecca Rosenthal says:

    Thank you so much, this is very helpful, even for ESL students! And for teaching as well.


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