Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Academic literacy, including good academic conduct

Academic literacy is usually taken to mean understanding how higher education works. It comprises a range of abilities including knowing how to negotiate university systems, for example, to apply for late submission of work when ill or indisposed and what comprise ‘extenuating circumstances’ (which can be used to trigger compensation of marks for example, or penalty-free re-sits). Students with high cultural capital, perhaps those with many family members who’ve been through higher education, are likely to know who to turn to when things go wrong, but those from less advantaged backgrounds are less likely to ‘know the ropes’. Such implicit knowledge can be made explicit through good induction and effective personal tutoring to encourage the behaviours that indicate that students have good academic literacy. These include good self- and time-management, getting assignments in on time, managing competing deadlines without getting over-stressed, effective record keeping, particularly in relation to reference sources, and working at the right level for the programme being studied. Importantly they also include writing and reading for academic purposes.

To help your students develop academic literacy you can:
  • Offer useful information in a variety of formats, including the course discussion board, sessions in regular classes and via student mentors. Don’t just rely on students reading the course handbook in hard copy or virtually.
  • Build into the early stages of the first semester of the first year timetabled non-opt-in workshops on good academic practice and academic literacy so that all students can learn the rules of the game on an equal footing.
  • Clarify for students what are your key expectations of their academic behaviour: don’t just assume they all know what is required.


CIBER (2008) Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future. Available at: (accessed 22 August 2013).

Jones, C., Turner, J. and Street, B.V. (eds) (1999) Students Writing in the University: Cultural and epistemological issues. vol. 8. John Benjamins Publishing.

For more detail on academic and other essential student literacies, see Chapter 6 in Brown, S. (2015) Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives.