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Ten Ways to Improve Your Grades

It is possible to improve your grades by self-editing your essay or assignment before you hand it in. Many students fail to look over their work once they have completed it, or they do not know what to look for.

This means that students are handing in work that contains spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, unclear or clumsy writing, and referencing and formatting errors. Some students have even greater problems with issues such as the clarity and consistency of their argument or their essay organisation. These types of mistakes are costing you grades!

You might be very surprised how much your grades can be improved through editing your own work before you hand it in. This article will explain ten ways you can improve your essay writing yourself.

1. Spelling and Consistency

Spelling is a very important aspect of essay writing that many students overlook. Usually this is because of spell-checking programs, which many students rely on. However, it is important to remember that if you have mistyped a word that is not a spelling mistake, the spell checker will not find it. For example, you could type ‘hole’ when you mean ‘whole’, ‘four’ when you mean ‘for’ or ‘though’ when you mean ‘thought’. Once you have completed writing your first draft, read your work through carefully to look for these kinds of mistakes.

It is crucial that you are consistent throughout your essay. This applies to many things, including the spelling of words (for example, advisor or adviser, focusing and focussing), the spelling of names, the capitalisation of words and headings, whether numbers are written in words or numerals, and the hyphenation of compound words. For example, if you are using Australian/British English you must do so throughout your essay. You cannot use the word ‘recognise’ and then later use the word ‘organize’. You must stick with the -ise spelling (‘organise’). If you capitalise the first letter of ‘Church’ the first time, you cannot refer to it as ‘church’ later in your essay.

2. Grammar

It is very difficult to write an essay with perfect grammar because there are many rules that must be followed and thousands of exceptions to these rules that you must know. In order to aim for perfection, the best plan is to hire a professional editor to edit your essay. However, there are many things that you can do yourself to improve the grammar in your essay and assignment writing.

Ensuring consistency of tenses is one of these. Often students change tenses inappropriately in the middle of an essay without realising, changing from the ‘literary’ or ‘historical present’ to the past or vice versa, for example: ‘In this chapter, Creswell discusses the review of the literature. In the following chapter, he focused on the use of theory.’ A careful reading at the completion of writing your essay with a focus on just the tenses can ensure that you have used the correct tense throughout the essay.

Here is another grammar tip: Verbs must agree in number (singular or plural) with their subject, even if they are separated by phrases that begin with words such as ‘together with’, ‘along with’ and ‘as well as’. For example: ‘The storm as well as the fire was responsible for the destruction’.

3. Paragraphing

Many students write paragraphs that are too long. A paragraph should contain only one main idea. There is no definite length for a paragraph, but normally you would have at least three paragraphs on one typewritten page. Long paragraphs can cause confusion for the reader, since they would contain several ideas, and they make your essay look poorly planned. If you have a paragraph that is a page or longer, see if you can break it up in a logical place, that is, between ideas. You may need to add a new topic sentence to do this.

You should also avoid paragraphs that are too short because they can make your essay look fragmented. If a paragraph contains only two or three sentences, see if you can expand on the content or combine the paragraph with the preceding or following paragraph.

4. Repetition

Developing a sophisticated and creative writing style can take time. One thing you can do immediately to improve your writing style is ensure that you do not repeat the same words too often in your essays, especially words with more than two syllables. Using varied language to express yourself can make your writing more interesting.

You should also avoid repeating facts in the body of your paper because it can decrease the strength of your argument.

5. Essay Organisation

For some reason, many schools and universities do not spend sufficient time teaching students how to organise their essays properly. Beyond the knowledge that an essay must contain an introduction, a body and a conclusion, many students do not have a clear understanding of how to organise an essay correctly.

Here are a few tips. When writing an argumentative essay, your introduction must do two things to be considered an introduction. It must first answer the essay question. It must then introduce all the main ideas you will discuss in your essay to convince the reader that your answer is correct. An introduction should be roughly ten per cent of your essay length. So for an essay of 1,000 words, write an introduction of 100 words.

Use topic sentences. These are sentences at the beginning of each new topic that tie your essay together. They introduce new topics and explain why they are relevant to the essay question. Topic sentences give your essay an internal logic, and help you to write a convincing argument.

6. Direct and Indirect Quotations

This is an example of a direct quotation: Dr Jones told me yesterday that ‘students who want to improve their grades should hire a professional editor’.

This is an example of an indirect quotation: Dr Jones is always emphasising how important it is to hire a professional editor if you want to improve your grades.

It is preferable not to include too many direct quotations in an essay. Essays of a very high standard are written almost entirely in the student’s own words, with many references to the sources used (using indirect quotations). You should quote directly from a source only when it is absolutely necessary, for example, if you had a need to point out a particular person’s opinion on an issue, or if an issue or opinion is particularly controversial. Otherwise, it is highly favourable for you to demonstrate that you have read, understood and assimilated the source into your own knowledge of the subject. The best way to do that is to present the ideas in your own words and then provide the reference.

7. Formal Language

When writing an academic essay, you must use formal language. You cannot use contractions such as ‘don’t’, ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’. You must write these words out in full (‘do not’, ‘cannot’ or ‘will not’). You should also refrain from using any colloquial language (slang) in an academic essay.

8. Your Research

The research component of writing an essay should take up the majority of your time. It is the longest stage of the essay writing process. How much time you spend will depend on your year level, the word length of the essay, the type of essay (minor, major or tutorial paper) and what percentage of your grade it is worth. It also depends on what grade you are aiming for.

The way that you record your research is vital to the essay writing process. If you do not record your research properly, you could spend hours (or even days or weeks) doing your research, and then when you begin to write your essay you may discover that you have to go back and redo things, such as search for page numbers or correct quotations. This is a waste of your time!

Record your research in a way that makes essay writing easier for you. It must be accurate, include all the information you need, and give you a chance to record your own ideas and thoughts on the material you are reading as you go along. Do not leave this to the end!

9. Referencing and Bibliography

Referencing is crucial to essay writing; however, it is often overlooked by students. If you do not reference properly at university you can get into serious trouble for what is called ‘unintentional plagiarism’. One type of unintentional plagiarism is when students find information during their research and include it in their essay (even if they have completely reworded it) but then do not provide a reference. If you do this, you are actually claiming someone else’s work as your own, which is plagiarism. Unintentional plagiarism is very different from deliberate plagiarism, which is when students are cheating on purpose. However, it can get you into just as much trouble. This is why you must learn how to reference correctly!

You must find out from your school or university which referencing system you need to use for each subject you study. Then, spend some time learning how to reference using that system correctly.

Once you know how to do it, and if you have organised and recorded your research properly, referencing your research as you are writing your essay should be simple. You should have all the information you need right in front of you. That is why it is so important for you to keep track of which books you use and the numbers of the pages on which you find information while you are doing your research.

10. Polish Your Writing

After you have written your first draft, you should edit it yourself before you have anyone else look at it. This means that you should read it very carefully, looking for mistakes and things you can improve. Since editing requires that you look for a number of different things, it can be a good idea to read over your essay several times.

The first time you read your essay, concentrate on just the writing itself. Look for spelling mistakes, things that are not explained clearly, and grammar that could be improved. Do not look for anything else at this stage.

The second time you read your essay, look for problems with your content. This is the point at which you check to see whether the information you have used to write your essay is correct, whether you have answered the question properly and whether you have argued your case successfully.

Once you have corrected your essay as well as you can yourself, it is recommended that you hire a professional, academic editor.

Updated 08 October 2018

Dr Ellen McRae,

Managing Editor,

Elite Editing.