A guide to editing your assignments properly

April 12, 2016
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I often get told that I must do really well on essays at uni because I’m a writer. But really, that’s not true. Writing is one thing, but you can be a decent writer and not put together something polished—it’s all in the editing. Things like grammar mistakes and poorly structured arguments can lose you quite a few marks. How many times have you been in a tute where assignments were handed back and grammar was mentioned as something that needs work? It’s really not that hard, it just takes a little extra time, and it’ll probably score you a free five or 10 per cent.

Read it aloud

If your essay doesn’t make sense when you read it aloud, it’s not going to make sense when someone else reads it for the first time. Sentence structure and punctuation errors are easily missed when you’re rereading the same thing over and over, but reading it aloud lets you hear how it reads to someone who isn’t familiar with it. Make sure every sentence flows like it would if it were spoken.


Big, complicated words aren’t worth it if they don’t actually enhance your essay. Sure, if a word is perfect for the situation, use it, but don’t just use the ‘synonym’ function of your word processor to make your work sound more intelligent. A solid argument will get you better marks than using unnecessarily big words will. The same goes for Proust-level long sentences: if it can’t be said in a short, concise way, it either deserves a paragraph to itself or it’s not as relevant as you thought it was.

Only say what needs to be said

Think about your word count as too small, no matter what it is (sorry, honours students). Every word counts—even in longer assignments. If an assignment has a longer word limit, it’s because your lecturer or tutor thinks there’s that much to be said about the topic, not that you have more words to spare. Keep sentences and paragraphs to the point. There’s no value in going on about one of your ideas when it can be said simply. Longwinded explanations just confuse things; you want to be as clear as possible.

Don’t over-explain your sources

Footnotes are there so people know that a statement isn’t an idea you came up with. You don’t need to explain every source and what their view is, just the major ones. It’s perfectly OK to state a fact that supports your argument, reference it, and not go into detail on the source if it’s not crucial to your essay. On this note, it’s also a good idea to avoid basing your argument entirely around your sources. Yes, they’re important, but your tutors also want to see you engage with the material on your own. It’s OK to come to your own conclusions.

Don’t use the wrong grammar, OK?

‘You’re’ means ‘you are’, and ‘your’ refers to something you own. ‘There’ refers to a place, ‘they’re’ means ‘they are’, and ‘their’ refers to something they own. It’s not that hard, see? Look, not being good at forming strong arguments in your essays is one thing—that takes practice—but if you’re making these kinds of mistakes in your essay, you probably should have listened in high school. Seriously, there’s information everywhere about how not to stuff up basic grammar. There’s no legit excuse for this.

Special mention

Using italics for emphasis. If your point doesn’t make sense without the italics, it needs to be rephrased. Remember, assignments are a formal writing style—emphasis on words is pretty distinctly colloquial.

Rubee Dano

Rubee is an Arts student in her final year at Monash. She has been an intern for The Lifted Brow and written forArcher and Aphra.

Image: Joanna Penn, Flickr Creative Commons license