Starting an assessment task can be stressful. Not sure where to begin? Here are 5 steps to help you get on track:
Understand the task
During your course you’ll be expected to submit lots of different types of assessment. Understanding the assessment requirements and reading the task instructions carefully will help you stay on track and submit what is actually required. If you’re unfamiliar with academic writing you might what to check out types of assignments. The assessment guidelines include the marking rubric (CRA) which outlines the standards used to grade your work. These often contain extra information about weighting of marks and how many references to include so it pays to read them carefully for EVERY assessment task. The instructions also include information about the accepted format, referencing style and mode of delivery for presentations. Find out more about CRA sheets.
Analyse the task instructions
Once you’ve checked out the task itself and looked at all the criteria it helps to break it down further. You can unpack the assignment by identifying key words that tell you more about what is required:
Content words identify the topic or issues related to your task.
Directive words explain what you need to do to meet the criteria and how to do it.
Limiting words narrow the scope of your assessment by providing more detail.
Use the key words to brainstorm everything you know about the content (topic) so that you are ready for the next step. Find examples of directive words in the Task Word Glossary.
Research the narrowed down topic
Use the content words (which tell you about the topic) and limiting words to make a research plan. Make a list of questions that you need to answer and make sure you read with that purpose in mind. It’s important to note the searches you do so you can keep refining the search and find the most relevant, current information. If you don’t feel confident about researching a topic QUT Library has a stack of online resources to guide you through the process.
Organise your notes effectively
You need to read and note the information you have identified as useful for your assessment task. There’s no one method that works for everyone but it helps to have a basic system and to keep reviewing and refining your skills during the semester. So, make sure you develop a process to organise your information in a way that makes your life easier. Record the reference material every time you refer to a source. If you are doing this electronically use file names that make it easy to locate the information later and store the files under topics so you can locate them again for future reference. Learn more about effective notetaking in our study guides.
Make a detailed plan
Whether you’re writing an essay or preparing a presentation it always helps to have a really good plan. Use the task instructions to map out what you need to include in your assessment task.
Most written assignments require you to organise the information logically and the task instructions will often give you a structure to follow.
It may be tempting to think that it’s not so important to write a plan for a presentation but careful planning goes a long way! Planning the content, structure and timing of a presentation is essential to achieve maximum grades. Check out QUT’s guides for preparing a presentation.
The first assessment you do at uni or the first assessment for a new unit can feel a bit overwhelming and it’s easy to let self-doubt creep in. The good news is, you’re not alone at there are so many resources to support you. Check out academic help and workshops available to you this semester.
Like it or not, spelling actually matters! For some of us it doesn’t come easily but every written assessment you submit will be marked for English expression which includes grammar, spelling and puntuation. If you want to express yourself clearly and achieve the highest possible grades it’s important to take the time to proofread assignments for spelling errors.
A good starting point is to select English(Australia) in Word before you start working on your document and make sure you use Microsoft Editor. If you need help to set up editing for Microsoft Word have a look at this quick guide or check out the free training on LinkedIn Learning (requires QUT sign-in).
Another strategy to improve your writing is to learn more about it. There are literally thousands of websites dedicated to writing and language use but Oxford English Dictionary has a great section on its site, Lexico, which contains lots of quick-reference spelling tips. For example, if you can’t remember whether the plural of tomato is spelled tomatoes or tomatos, then you can jump straight to plurals of nouns post to get some advice. There’s also a handy list of common misspellings, arranged in alphabetical order and a guide to the differences between British and American spelling.
No matter how you go about it the important thing to remember is that poor spelling leaves an impression so it’s worth taking the time to get it right!
Have you ever been told your ‘writing is too descriptive‘ or ‘you need more critical analysis‘? This is common feedback on written assessment and a source of frustration for many students. While some description is necessary most uni assessment tasks require you to produce more analytical and critical writing. This shows that you are engaging in current academic debates and have evaluated the research relevant to your discipline.
So, what does it mean to be critical?
In order to be a more critical writer you need to be critical throughout the whole writing process.
questioning what you read and not necessarily agreeing with it.
looking for reasons why you shouldn’t accept something as being correct or true.
identifying problems with arguments or methods, or referring to criticisms of these.
suggesting ways in which something could be improved (if required).
sometimes reflecting on your own behaviour/attitudes/performance.
Demonstrate your understanding
Your writing needs to show how you have interpreted the unit content and readings, how you have used that information to demonstrate your understanding, and what your position is on the topic. This doesn’t mean that you are including you opinion (unless asked to) but you are building an academic argument based on what you know and the evidence you have.
The way you structure your argument and the quality of the evidence you use to support your claims illustrate your thought process and how well you have understood the issue or topic.
Support your argument with quality evidence
Make sure you always use evidence to help you strengthen your position. Synthesise sources to ensure you answer the reader’s potential questions and counter any opposing arguments.
For most assignments you don’t need to provide a lot of background or historical information so you should keep descriptive statements to a minimum. Focus on providing more analysis and evaluation to demonstrate your interpretation of the facts, and support your arguments by explaining the significance, outlining consequences and/or implications and making recommendations.
Tips for being more critical
Don’t just describe something. Make sure your writing also identifies the significance of the issue/evidence.
Rather than simply explaining what the theory says go further and show why that theory is relevant.
It’s also not enough to outline the method/intervention/treatment. You need to demonstrate how appropriate it is.
Make sure your writing always answers the question so what?
For useful phrases to use in your writing check out Manchester Phrasebank’s section on Being Critical.
And if you really want to learn more try this free online course from Future Learn
Write Up is a wonderful support service for students and I feel so lucky to be one of the facilitators for the team.
We get students to work together, give feedback and provide support for understanding, responding and structuring assignment tasks, checking and integrating research, and help with language.
So far, we’ve had students from a wide array of faculties, and I thought I would share the most common issues that students have asked us for help with.
Here are my top three writing tips
1. Before you even set pen to paper, get organised! Gather all your resources together from your tutes and lectures (especially your assignment task sheet with the criteria!). Now you’re all set to begin. Your task sheet is your treasure map. It is your guide to what you need to cover in your assignment.
2. Keep your sentences short for clarity—if you see any sentences that are running over 3 or 4 lines, it’s time to break them up with full stops!
3. Always be specific about the ‘subject’ of your sentence and who you are referring to. For example, if you are currently referring to your theorists as ‘they’, it’s time to use their name, or be more specific about their role. Make your writing as clear for the reader as you can. If you only use words like ‘they’ or ‘she/he’ the reader won’t know if you’re talking about the ‘nurses’ or the ‘patients’. Don’t make them guess!
We look forward to seeing you in one of our Write Up sessions.
They’re fun and helpful and we can’t wait to meet you all.
Write Up facilitator
When writing university assignments you have to acknowledge quotations, information and ideas taken from other authors. At QUT the four commonly used styles for citing and referencing are APA, Harvard, AGLC and Vancouver. APA Style is used in many disciplines but it is most commonly required in Health and Education.
This online tutorial has been adapted from APA’s tool for teaching and learning effective writing. It takes you through the basics of seventh edition APA Style, including format, and organisation; academic writing style; grammar and usage; tables and figures; in-text citations, paraphrasing, and quotations; and reference list format and order.
You can also find more information on seventh edition APA Style in the official Publication Manual (7th ed.) and the Style and Grammar Guidelines section of the APA Style website.
These days there are also heaps of tools that can help you manage your readings and referencing. While they might seem to make things quicker and easier, it’s important to know that they are not 100% reliable. Make sure you fully understand the elements and construction of citing and referencing.
Detailed examples can be found on QUT cite|write which has been designed to help you create references that meet the requirements of the university and your specific units. For EVERY assessment task you do make sure you check the task instructions carefully and ask your lecturer/tutor if you are not sure which style you need to use.
Nearly time to submit that assignment? You’re probably sick of looking at it but don’t let basic errors and typos affect your grade. Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process which focuses on surface errors such as mistakes in spelling, grammar, citation and punctuation. Take time to do a last minute proofread to look for those all-important details. Here are our top tips for proofreading.
Use Tools on Word
As a starting point use the tools available to you such as the Editor (hit F7) in Word which checks spelling, grammar and style. Set your Proofing Language to Australian English (AU) by finding ‘Language’ in the Review menu and selecting the required language. This will underline any words that are not spelled correctly so that you can correct them if necessary. Just remember that some terminology may not come up in a spellcheck so it’s always best to confirm you have it right.
Print a Copy
No doubt you’ve already spent weeks staring at a computer screen so your eyes need a break. It can really help to print your essay out and make changes with a different colour on the hard copy. Changing the format of your writing will help you to pick up all those little errors that you didn’t notice when your were writing and editing.
It sounds simple but reading your writing out loud can help you to identify grammatical errors as well as content that is incorrect or confusing. If you notice any particularly long sentences, think about where they could be split to make your points clearer. Complex sentences may sound impressive, but they often leave the reader wondering what your main point is.
Check your Citations
Always refer to your task instructions and QUT cite|write for accurate citing and referencing information. Check each citation as you go and make sure it follows the examples given exactly. Don’t forget to check the placement of the parentheses, commas and full stops.
Take Micro Breaks!
Writing is hard work so it’s important to take regular breaks throughout the process. Plan to have five-minute breaks every half hour to allow your brain to work at its best. If possible, go outside and get some fresh air to avoid feeling sleepy. Also, make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of water to help you work at your best!
Proofreading can be tedious but it’s worth investing time into ensuring your writing is error-free and meets the assessment task requirements.
Verbs provide important information to the reader. Deciding on the correct tense can be confusing when writing about research but it’s important to use verbs consistently and correctly to create a logical, coherent flow in your writing. In academic writing there’s no single rule to follow regarding verb tense but there are some basic guidelines to help check your writing for consistency.
Start with the following verb tenses to report information in your writing.
For more tips on grammar and writing style visit the APA Style Blog. If you want to learn more about grammar check out our other posts.
Poster presentations are a visual way to convey information and can help develop your ability to communicate effectively to an audience. The purpose of an academic poster is to present information for others to view easily and to encourage an exchange of ideas between the presenter and the audience. Most poster presentations include the poster itself as well as a short explanation but this may depend on your specific assessment task instructions.
As an academic poster is different from a written report or a presentation you need to approach the task with the key elements in mind. Auckland University’s website, Designing Academic Posters, is a great resource to assist with basic poster design as it steps you through each stage of the process. There are handy tips on planning and designing your poster as well as software for sharing.
Find writing a challenge? Can’t think of another way to express yourself?
The Academic Phrasebank is a fantastic resource if you want to improve your academic writing or need assistance writing up your research. The main menu is arranged according to the sections of a typical research paper but it also includes the following general communicative functions of academic writing:
Classifying and Listing
Compare and Contrast
Writing about the Past
The phrases can be used to assist you in thinking about the content and organisation of your written work, or you can incorporate them into your writing where appropriate. Just make sure you know what they mean!
There is also a Kindle or PDF download version available.
It may be tempting to start writing as soon as you get your assessment task but creating a really good plan can help you achieve a higher grade. The planning process begins from the moment you analyse your essay question and start brainstorming. An effective plan can help organise your ideas and identify where you need to do more research.
Having a really detailed plan for any writing task can ensure that:
you have fully understood the task and topic.
your ideas are clear and organised in a logical way.
you have relevant arguments supported by evidence.
you don’t go ‘off-topic’.
you can see areas for improvement.