6 tips for writing great assignments

Posted in: Student Careers, University Life

Academic writing is different to anything you will have done before. Rosella gives us her top 6 tips to writing great assesments.

At University, one of the more significant differences from Sixth Form or College is the writing style of assignments. You are expected to delve much deeper into the study of your subject and pull research from a variety of sources to support and illustrate key points. From one student to another, here are my top tips from writing a convincing essay. 

Tip 1: Write your essay on Google Docs. 

Google Docs is the online equivalent to Microsoft Word. It has all the same functions, but I found that it worked better for me while studying. 

It will take your paragraphs as an outline and you can easily segment your writing. My essays used to have several sections so being able to navigate a document with one click was much better than scrolling for pages on end. 

Google Docs does not show a word count on the main screen which gives you less pressure when writing. (However, if you do need to find how close you are to you max word count you can find it by clicking Tools < Word Count < Display While Typing). 

Writing on Google Docs will allow you to work from anywhere as it is a cloud-based system. No more kicking yourself that you left your laptop at your flat and only have tonight to finish your essay and no more full memory on your laptop. 

Tip 2:  Research is a student’s best friend. 

The most important part of preparing to write an essay is research and to know what it is that you want to find out before you start writing. 

Compile a list of questions that require answering for your essay or project. It is often a good idea to arrange to meet with your lecturer to determine the best way of attempting the question. In first year, I thought that the teachers would be annoyed if I requested a meeting, but it is what their office hours can be used for. 

Don’t delete any of your research. A great way to keep everything together is to create a folder or document with sections, this way you can have your plan, your question, your actual essay, references, and research, all in one place. 

If you find information around your topic but maybe think that you won’t use it, don’t be quick to discard it. Three paragraphs in you may think to yourself, “ah, where is that fact?” and realise that it already lost. My advice is to collect everything that you find into a singular place with links to where you found it. This may take up some time, but it will be so worth it which is where the folders come in handy.

Tip 3: Build your argument in early stages of planning. 

When you get your essay question it can be easy to try and start writing straight away. A plan, even a loosely plotted one, can really help you keep moving in the right direction and ensure that your essay remains focused. There are countless resources online about how to plan effectively.

Of course, everyone has their own style of planning. I like to do all my research, then bullet point the evidence I would like to include. Then, as I flesh out the bullet points a decent essay plan appears. During your research, be sure to decide what you are arguing for and which you are against. Whichever side you take, you must have a convincing stance. This means solid points backed up with relevant evidence. 

Another student pain is keeping within the word count. I always struggle to edit my essay down when I have gone way over the 10%-over mark. There are often penalties for not following the instructions set by the lecturer. A top tip is to divide your word count into sections. If you have a 2000-word essay set, divide it like this:

Introduction: 200 words 

Points 5-6: around 300 words per point 

Conclusion: 200 words 

This way you can keep your essay within the guidelines and have a clear plan of how much to write for each section. 

Tip 4: Structure then write. 

The best essays have a cyclical structure. If your introduction is strong enough then your conclusion should be easy to reach. You could introduce the topic with a quote or popular piece of knowledge then end stating what stance you will be taking. Then plot out four to five points from your research arguing for and one with an alternate view on the subject. Then ensure your conclusion echoes your introduction. In all your points ensure that the question has been explored and properly answered. By referring to the question your lecturer will see that you understand the requirements of the essay. 

Introduction: what I am going to say

Main body: what I’m saying 

Conclusion: what I said. 

Tip 5: Don’t reference last. No matter what anyone says. 

You may have read a tweet or blog post saying how much easier it is to write the essay then add in referencing. Believe me, it isn’t. Even if you paste the link next to your quote before moving on that will enable you to add in citations knowing where the information is from. 

Tip 6: Don’t forget your bibliography! 

The amount of times in my first year that I re-read my work so many times my eyes were broken and decided to submit, only to realise that I hadn’t attached my bibliography. Update it as you write and then perfect during your proofreading stage. 

Academic writing is an acquired skill that can take time to learn. Don’t worry if you haven’t quite grasped it as your uni may run sessions on exactly how they want their work submitted. 

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