by Professor Peter Beresford, Brunel University
From my experience of marking many assignments over the years from a diverse range of students with greatly varying life experiences, there are some common mistakes which tend to be repeated but which can readily be avoided. Do that and writing essays and assignments will become a more positive, more productive experience. Here’s how to avoid some of the most common errors.
In the beginning
It really is true that it’s best to have a beginning, a middle and an end. You are taking the reader on a journey. Try to make it straightforward and easy to follow. Begin by explaining (this can’t be too simple) what you plan to do. Provide signposts about what you are going to do next. Feel able to offer headings when you come to new sections. If you want to see what clear, simple and accessible writing looks like, have a look at The Sun or The Mirror.
Keep it simple
Avoid jargon, unnecessarily long words and sentences and complicated grammar. Sadly, quite a lot of the textbooks make just these mistakes themselves, making life even more difficult for students. Remember that essays and assignments are about communication and making that as accessible as possible. A good test is to ask someone who knows nothing about the subject to read what you’ve written. If they can make sense of it, that’s a good sign.
It’s very tempting to make big statements like: “The 1970s were a good time for social services”, or “most people have a poor opinion of social workers”. Maybe this is true. But it’s your job to provide the evidence, not to offer unsubstantiated assertions. Generalisations are difficult to evidence. Try to avoid them.
Separate personal opinion from statements of fact.
You have a right to express your views in what you write, but they need to be offered as such. Offer a personal comment if it seems helpful – after all, you are likely to have learned some really important things from your own personal life or work experience. But this isn’t the same as a body of evidence and shouldn’t be offered as a substitute for that.
Essay help from other students
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