How to Improve Writing Skills

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Writing good essays and assignments by Deborah Grieve
Throughout your time at university you will be required to write essays or assignments. These serve an important function and you should see them as a very useful opportunity to express your own ideas and to reflect your understanding of a subject. Most of us find getting down to writing assignments difficult. The advice below will help you plan and clearly structure your writing. You should feel confident that when you hand in your work to be marked you have given it your 'best shot'. It is important for you to keep essay writing in perspective and not worry too much; this can often be easier said than done. By knowing what is expected of you, planning your essay writing thoroughly and getting it in on time you will feel more at ease with yourself.

Why write essays - What are lecturers looking for in an assignment?

The purpose of essays and assignments is to direct attention to certain ideas which are considered to be an important element in a course of study. They are also a means of developing independent research skills. Essays and assignments therefore serve an important function and you should see them as a very useful opportunity to express your own ideas and to reflect your understanding of the subject. They can be used as part of the overall grading for a module (summative assessment) or to assess your current level of understanding of a topic and then help to raise that level by the use of tutor feedback (formative assessment).  

How are Essays Marked? Assessment Criteria

Often students aren't sure of the best way to approach writing and having to write essays or assignments can thus seem quite daunting. Before sitting down to write your essay it is worthwhile thinking about what aspects will get you good marks. We asked a lecturer to say what he was looking for in a good assignment. His answers were as follows:

“When assessing either written coursework or examination answers the following criteria are used”:- • (a) A good answer is one which addresses the question, provides an analysis and a logical discussion in relation to the question, demonstrates a good grasp of relevant content and underlying concepts (Literature Review/Research), presents a balanced argument and shows knowledge of counter arguments, is well structured and clearly explained, shows good evidence of wider reading, refers appropriately to personal experiences, is accurately referenced according to a standardised system (Harvard Style), draws conclusions from sound evidence, has a high level of accuracy of English (or Welsh) and is neatly presented. • (b) An average answer is one that attempts to address the question, is satisfactorily structured and explained, demonstrates an acceptable understanding of the content and concepts involved, shows some evidence of wider reading, uses some authoritative sources and is fairly well written with a few errors of English (or Welsh), but which generalises in places, presents a less balanced view, and maybe includes some unsupported opinion or unjustified conclusions. • (c) A weak answer is one that does not directly answer the question, includes very little, if any, analysis or argument, is mainly descriptive in nature, shows inaccuracies and lack of understanding in relation to content, is poorly explained and demonstrates lack of clarity in expression and thought, is not logically structured, is based mainly on unsupported opinion, over-generalises and makes sweeping statements, uses few authoritative sources and references or none at all, includes material that is irrelevant to the question, does not refer to personal experiences, does not draw valid conclusions, is inaccurately referenced, contains several errors of English (or Welsh) and is untidy.

The Essay Theme/Topic

This may be selected to enable you to deal with material which has already been considered or discussed during lectures or seminars....
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