Hi everyone, ‘the Doctor’, back again to offer you a little advice on how to make the most of your work during your time at college or university. It should be the best time of your life but it can often be marred by stresses and strains which can be easily avoided or dealt with if you have a little help from someone who has ‘been there’ – and that’s why I’m here!

This time, I’m going to offer you a little advice on presentation. By that, I don’t mean just spelling and punctuating correctly, although it goes without saying that these should always be perfect. No, what I mean by ‘presentation’ is all the apparently ‘little things’ which will make your work stand out.

Structuring

The first thing that you should think about when you are attempting to improve the presentation of your work is structuring. This might mean using subheadings appropriately, paragraphing accurately, keeping your sentences under control – or a combination of all three.

The main thing to remember is that you are aiming for clarity, you should be thinking constantly of how your work will look to whoever is assessing it.

Remember that tutors mark hundreds of papers and that most pieces are addressing similar topics. Since tutors are ‘only human’ (although sometimes it might appear otherwise) this marking can be a tedious task (believe me, I know) and you’ll get better marks if you help them a little by making your work easy to read: clear structuring helps with this.

Attention to Detail

Editing an essayWhen you have a heavy workload, which is inevitable in higher education, it is all too easy to think ‘that will do’. However, that is a phrase which you should banish from your linguistic repertoire if you want to get the highest grades.

No matter how short a piece of work is you should make sure that it is your best. Present everything as you would yourself: to the best of your ability.

A good way of checking how you could improve your future work is to look at your past work. Ask yourself:

  • Am I expressing myself clearly?
  • Am I saying what I want to say?
  • Am I using ten words where one would do?
  • Am I really answering the question that was asked?
  • And the killer question: what would I think if this were someone else’s work?

That last one is the real clincher because it is like asking you to grade your work – which actually is quite a good idea if you do it honestly!

Learning to Edit

Correcting essay mistakesGo through a previous piece of your own work and cross out anything that isn’t absolutely relevant. This is really difficult to do but it sharpens your ability to structure your argument like nothing else so it is really worth a try.

If you were writing professionally, you would be paid by the word (which makes you think twice about writing too much) and editors would ruthlessly cut anything that they considered superfluous, you wouldn’t have any say in the matter, whether you thought they edited out ‘the best bit’ or not!

Believe it or not, they do this because they know that readers don’t have the patience to read long, drawn out pieces. They know we will stop reading and we won’t take notice of their glossy adverts (which is what it’s all about)!

In the academic world, however, efficient editing is a great way of showing that you know what really counts. Remember this editing maxim:

‘If in doubt, leave it out!’

Final Tips

  • Always check your spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • Always leave time for proofreading – this is absolutely crucial.
  • Always paragraph accurately and logically, linking each one to the next.
  • Introduce your work so that the reader understands your argument and wants to know more – make that first sentence really bite.
  • Reference carefully, citing according to your university’s or college’s instructions – never plagiarise deliberately or accidentally.
  • Stick to the point throughout – develop your argument don’t wander off.
  • End with a convincing conclusion: summarise and synthesize.

All these tips will help you to present your work more accurately so that when it is graded you will not be wasting marks on foolish errors. Even things like formatting, line spacing and font size matter so don’t leave anything to chance: remember, every word counts.

‘Good luck’ and I’ll be back again soon!

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