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Writing essays and assignments

We all have our own ways of planning and writing our essays. Here are some tips for you to consider to help you further improve your marks.

Student studying in library

The basics

  • Put all your deadlines on a chart or wall planner, so as you can see at a glance when everything is due.
  • Break the assignment process into steps and work backwards from your deadline to schedule in mini-deadlines for each step.
  • Analyse your essay titles and make sure that you really understand what you need to do - one of the most common reasons for students not getting as good a mark as they hoped is that they didn't answer the question.

What do you think?

  • Research with a view to finding your answer to the question: ask yourself critical questions about your reading to help you decide what you think and what you want to say in order to answer the question.
  • Don't leave the important parts of your essay inside your head. Another really common reason for getting lower marks is that students don't make clear the significance of what they're saying or show how it relates to the question. Go through each paragraph of your essay and ask yourself, ‘Why have I written this?’ If you don't know the answer, make it clear or leave it out!

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes

  • Plan your essay from your readers' point of view: what is the best way to show them that your argument is sound, well-reasoned, well supported and leads logically to your conclusion?

Use your feedback

  • It may sound obvious, but revisiting feedback on your previous essays and applying it to your current assignments can make a big difference.

Structure

  • A clear structure is vital. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Does my introduction fully address the question?
    • Does every paragraph make a clear point, and do consecutive paragraphs flow logically from one to the next?
    • Does my conclusion summarise my answer, reminding the reader of the strengths of my argument and how it answers the question?

Draft and redraft

  • Give yourself plenty of time to draft and re-draft your essay and then to proof read it before the final hand-in day. It's a good idea to leave at least one day between each draft.

Stick to your School’s guidelines

  • Make sure you follow the guidance from your School and the University about correct academic practice, including referencing and using sources appropriately.

LearnBetter

For more advice about essay writing and other aspects of doing academic work, check out LearnBetter, a study skills resource created by Study Development Advisors at the University of Edinburgh.

LearnBetter is available for all students to use. Accessible through Learn, it includes information sheets with tips, suggestions and explanations to help you work effectively and make the most of your studies.

More information about LearnBetter