Here is a selection of tips on writing better essays from students and academics.
Liz Davies, London Metropolitan University
Be careful in your use of references.
Students should make good use of recommended websites, texts and journal articles. I always look at the references section before reading an essay and the quality of referencing is an excellent indicator of the overall quality of the essay. If a student lists references which are obscure and unknown to the marker, this may demonstrate a creative and interested approach to the subject but it also alerts me to the likelihood of plagiarised work.
A long list of references, without clear relevance as to how the student has made use of the exact source, is another alert to plagiarism and a “cut and paste” approach.
Use non-academic sources too.
Students often state that they should not quote Community Care as a source because they have been told to only make reference to peer-reviewed and academically sound material.
I do not agree with this approach because social work is a fast-developing field and Community Care provides a good pointer to other source material. I expect students to search the Community Care website as a useful source of current material. However, I expect them to use this information to direct themselves to other source material.
Alison Higgs, Open University
Refer to the marking guidelines for your stage of the degree.
Find out what markers are looking for. Remember that tutors want you to do your best – so use their feedback!
Barry Cooper, Open University
Keep to the word count.
There may be penalties if you go more than 10% over the maximum allowed.
QueenB (via CareSpace)
Use your tutors and feedback to improve future essays.
Your tutors have a vested interest (their reputation and their jobs!) in getting you through so most will be willing to assist you in any way they can. If you’re not doing as well as you want to be, or if you fail a piece of work, go and see your personal tutor with samples of your essays and ask for tips about how you can improve.
Spread your work out so you don’t end up with five essays due in the same week.
This might sound simple and obvious but I’ve seen so many people saying something similar to “I’d planned my workload but now the deadline/ exam date has been changed and it means I’ve got two due on the same day/ week”. Plan well in advance – aim to finish the assignment well before the due date so if you get flu/ computer failure/ changed deadline you don’t end up struggling.
Sannah (via CareSpace)
Always make a detailed essay plan.
The essay will just flow if you use a plan. Also try to get a family member to check over it. And you could also ask your tutor to check your plan to make sure you’re on the right track.
Hovis (via CareSpace)
Use journal articles to access the most up-to-date research and information.
There are so many interesting articles out there and including them in your essays can potentially improve the quality of your work and this may boost your mark. It may also improve your practice.
Read your marker’s feedback and take it on board.
In the majority of cases, what they are saying makes sense. The university should have staff to support you with your academic work, especially if there are specific areas you are struggling with (citations, sentence structure, grammar, etc). Use this support and it will be of great benefit to your essay writing and your future practice.
Student (via CareSpace)
Read the question carefully and make sure you understand exactly what is being asked of you.
Each word in an essay question has meaning – make sure you understand what this is for each essay and how this will influence the structure of your answer. Take the title apart word by word and think how each links to the criteria against which you are being assessed.
For more information go the Essay Help section of CareSpace, where you can see many more tips and post your own requests for help.
Do you have questions about writing essays? Get advice from fellow students on CareSpace.
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