Life at university means the next assignment is never far around the corner. And while analysing your assignment question is the first step to creating a solid answer, a good writing style will help you get higher grades, and is a valuable skill for the workplace.
To make your writing clearer and more effective, follow these five tips, which will help sharpen your skills. You can also download our editing checklist to use with your next assignment.
1. Include a thesis statement in your introduction
An assignment is not like a movie with a twist at the end: it should show from the start where your argument will be heading and what conclusion you will reach. Your introduction should contain a thesis statement that clearly shows your answer to the question. Think of it as an elevator pitch that summarises your position on the topic.
– Write your introduction last. It’s hard to write your thesis when you haven’t finalised your arguments. So the pro tip is to jump straight into writing the body of your assignment, then write the intro later, once you know what you’re going to say.
– Check that your introduction contains: some background to the topic, your thesis, and an outline of the points you will cover.
2. Get to the point: put your topic sentence first in the paragraph
Make the main point of your paragraph crystal clear by putting it near the beginning of the paragraph (in writing classes, this is often called the topic sentence), then following it with supporting explanations and evidence. It’s much easier for your reader (who is often the person giving you a grade) to find your main point.
– Always re-read your paragraphs – you may find a sentence from the middle or the end of the paragraph explains the main point best. Move this to the first place.
3. Use reliable evidence
For most written assignments, you’ll need to use references to support your arguments. But that doesn’t mean Wikipedia, or some random website you’ve found on a Google search. For many classes, your references should come from academic, professional, legal or government sources.
– For tips on searching for and analysing sources, check out the Library website.
– To find key sources for your subject area, go to the subject-specific Libguides.
– If you have a question about referencing, download a referencing guide or use a referencing tool.
4. Use an appropriate writing style
There are two common problems students have with writing style. Some students throw in every long word they’ve read for class (even if it doesn’t quite make sense), while others write long, rambling sentences with informal vocabulary, as if they’re chatting with friends. Your writing should be somewhere in the middle.
– First, take our quick quiz to check you know the basics of academic style.
– If your writing is too wordy and verbose, you need to use the technical terms of your discipline, but be sure to explain some points in your own words. Read through your writing carefully and ask yourself, “do I know what this is about?” If you don’t, then rewrite, explaining in a slightly simpler style.
– If your writing is too informal, look for words or phrases that you could replace with more technical vocabulary used in your classes. Look for ways to summarise (or condense) your ideas, so that your sentences are slightly shorter and have more content. Cut out the waffle.
5. Don’t forget to proofread!
Even if you’ve followed our other strategies, the overall effect can be ruined if you misspell the names of authors or the key terms you’re talking about. Checking one last time takes a bit of effort but pays off in the long run, as your document will seem far more polished.
– Build in 15 minutes at the end to check over your work. Grab a cuppa and read through your assignment one last time, looking for spelling errors, repeated words, and little grammar errors.
– A simple proofreading technique is to start on the last line of your assignment and work backwards word by word. It’s much easier to spot misspelt words this way.
Best of luck with your assessments! Got any other tips to share? Comment below.