As a student who needs to write an essay/assignment, a blank page can be one of the scariest things you’ll ever see.

Whether you find writing essays and assignments exhilarating, or you dread the loathsome things, as a student, it’s highly likely that you’ll need to complete an essay or a written assignment during your learning journey.

So, there’s no point moaning and winging about it, or telling yourself that “maybe if I ignore it, it’ll go away.”

Like all fears, it’s best to face your fear and overcome it. More likely, once you’ve tackled the thing that you’re afraid of, you realise that it’s not such a big bully after all and you can handle it just fine.

The same goes for essay and assignment writing. If you hate doing it, use the tips and techniques below to get on top of your essay and assignment writing and avoid this area being your Achilles heel which causes you to fail your course miserably.

Here are 5 effective ways to write excellent essays and assignments.

1. Lay your foundation first

  • Create a new document in Word, then save it with an appropriate name that relates to the essay/assignment question.
  • Add headers and/footers with identifying information like your student number, course name, etc.
  • Add page numbers if required.

 Top Tip: Even if not specified in the guidance notes, adding page numbers helps you keep track of different sections of your document, so it’s a good idea to include them.

Note the main headings and subheadings. Remember to begin each main heading on a new page.

Example: Main headings may include:

  • Table of Contents,
  • Executive Summary,
  • Chapter Names,
  • List of References,
  • Table of Cases and Statutes,

Subheadings are a breakdown of different topics/areas within your main chapter headings.

After completing the tasks above, you’ll have a skeleton of your essay/assignment.

It’s time to add some meat to those bones.

2. Add some meat to your skeleton

Start by focusing on the essay/assignment question.

Type or cut and paste the question onto your skeleton and make it bold by highlighting it with a different colour.

After making your question stand out, look for any important action words and direct instructions in your question.

Important action words/instructions to watch for may include:

  • (Why) Do you agree/disagree with…
  • Compare/contrast…
  • Describe…
  • Explain…
  • Give examples of…
  • How would you…
  • What’s your opinion of…
  • Why do you think…

Top Tip: To achieve the highest marks possible, focus on addressing the important action words/instructions and doing what they ask of you.

If you need help addressing these action words/instructions, start by using relevant points or important information from your guidance, class/online group discussions, lectures notes, or textbooks highlights to help you get started, formulate an opinion or make a conclusion based on sound evidence.

Do you need to boost your writing and proofreading skills? Download this helpful printable PDF.

Have it handy as a visual reminder whenever you need to insert some excellence into your assignments and essays. 

3. How to address action words/instructions

Create ‘mini subheadings’ of the important action words/instructions. Use these subheadings to guide and help you focus on addressing these words/instructions specifically.

When you’re done answering a specific action word/instruction, remove the ‘mini subheadings’. It was there to make sure you remained focused on addressing it and didn’t get distracted or confused.

Example: If you are asked to ‘Give examples of…’ write these action words down and then give specific examples. When you’re done, delete the action words ‘Give examples of…

Repeat this process until you’ve answered/addressed ALL the action words/instructions in your question.

Top Tip: At this point, don’t stress about being perfect. While writing this first draft, you just need to do a brain dump and write information down on paper. Later you can edit, organise, and transform your essay into a work of art.

4. Avoiding penalties for plagiarism

Under normal circumstances, imitation is often considered the highest form of flattery.

This is NEVER the case when it comes to academic writing.

To avoid severe penalties for plagiarism, (which could even include expulsion), it’s important to bear in mind your institution’s guidance rules on producing original work and avoiding plagiarism.

From the start, you should remember to correctly cite all references you make in your writing because even an innocent oversite may have severe consequences.

Be extremely diligent about ensuring the work you produce is your own, or you’ve given credit to anyone else’s work you’ve included.

To help you keep track of references, you should consider apps like Zotero or EasyBib. For managing and citing sources when writing reference/research papers, Zotero’s ideal. You can collect, organise, cite, and share your research work quickly and easily.

EasyBib: Avoid wasting hours creating a bibliography from scratch by using EasyBib. It allows you to create a bibliography for your research paper quickly and easily. By scanning/taking a picture of the book’s barcode, or typing the name of the book, you can automatically cite/reference books, journal articles, websites and more.

Do you want to make your student life easier and improve your grades? Here’s how to do this NOW!

5. Proofread thoroughly

 After you’ve finished steps 1-4 above, you should carefully proofread your work.

Proofreading thoroughly increases the likelihood of improving your work and your grades.

Although it’s impossible to be perfect, it helps to apply the following tips and techniques when proofreading.

  • Do NOT proofread while writing your essay/assignment.

As I said before, when writing the first draft, your aim isn’t to be perfect, it’s to get information out of your brain and down on paper. Ideas and inspiration come quicker when you are brain dumping, as opposed to trying to be perfect.

BONUS READ: How to improve your writing and learn from feedback to boost your grades

  • When you’ve completed your first draft, it helps if you step away from your work before you start proofreading.

When you’ve had time to rest and rejuvenate, you’ll be more motivated and productive. Taking a break enables you to work better than when you’re exhausted from slaving away at a computer writing the first draft for ages.

  • Consider the essay question/assignment instructions when proofreading.

When proofreading, now’s the time to ensure you’ve answered the question you’ve been asked. If you haven’t, then unfortunately, you need to head back to the drawing board and make some major changes. Go through your work and ensure each section is valid.

  • Be meticulous when proofreading. Examine your work with a ‘fine-toothed comb’.

I know this sounds excruciating but think of how exhilarating it will feel when you receive an amazing grade that’s envied by everyone.

Check for issues like:

  • grammatical errors
  • inconsistent capitalisation
  • incorrect references
  • poor sentence structure
  • repeated words

Top Tip: Some learners prefer to print their paper before proofreading. This is a personal preference which I have NEVER done in all my years of studying. I think printing your paper umpteen times to repeatedly proofread is a waste of time, printer ink, electricity, paper, and some innocent trees. I’ve found that whatever changes you would make on paper with a pen/marker, you can make on the computer with the ‘cut, paste, delete, copy, highlight, bullet points, bold, italic, underline’ keys. However, if you prefer to print, go for it!

Final Thoughts

Writing essays and assignments can be a nightmare, but you can turn the experience into a dream by ensuring that you apply the above 5 effective ways for writing excellent essays and assignments.

Remember to take some time to read and understand the essay question before creating a clear, comprehensive plan to appropriately answer the question asked.

When completed, carefully proofread your essay/assignment, and check your guidance/instructions, to ensure every sentence is clear, concise, relevant and your thoughts flow smoothly.

When possible, use feedback from previous essays/assignments to help you strengthen your work.

Do you need to boost your writing and proofreading skills? Download this helpful printable PDF.

Have it handy as a visual reminder whenever you need to insert some excellence into your assignments and essays. 

Good luck and stay strong.