Writing for students: how to impress the hell out of your tutor

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Admit it, part of the reason you’re at university is that you like to look smart and impress people with your knowledge.

It’s okay, you’re in a safe environment here; you won’t be judged. We’re human after all; ego is what sets us apart from the animals… probably.

The thing is, that engorged (but completely justified) ego can be put to good use. Bono uses it to save starving children, Richard Branson to send people into space and you? Well, you can use it to really get noticed by your tutors with your work.

Why is this something worth striving for? Because the more known and well-regarded you are by the university faculty, the more likely you’ll receive decent marks… that’s their own ego coming into play!

So how can you stand out from the crowd with mere words? Well here are a few tips:

Use sources outside of the reading list

‘What, you mean do extra work?’ I hear you ask with a tone of pure incredulity. Yes, that is indeed what I’m saying.

It’s not really that much extra work though, and in fact in most cases this will have already been recommended by your tutors as a means to achieving the highest grades.

So how do you go about finding related texts? I always started by looking in the appendix of any course books. Unlike the human organ of the same name, it’s very useful. Find authors and sources that the set texts draw upon and it’s like cutting out the pointless middle-man. Somewhat like an appendectomy actually.

Our old chum Google’s also pretty darned good for this. Search essay topics and subject areas in depth to stumble across books and authors not mentioned in your outlines.

Create reasoned arguments

What this means is actually backing up your points with some well-researched evidence.

small__5685697893So instead of saying ‘I think Leonardo Di Caprio is the greatest actor of all time never to win an Oscar because I really liked Inception’ think along the lines of ‘I think Leonardo Di Caprio is the greatest actor of all time never to win an Oscar because many of the films in which he starred proved to be both critical and commercial successes and he has worked with, and is well regarded by, some of the greatest directors of all time such as Scorsese, Boyle and Tarantino.’

Wouldn’t it be great if all essays were about Leo? Even I have to admit to having a bit of man-crush there.

Anyway, that’s enough swooning over lead actors from Titanic for now (I may wax lyrical about Kate Winslet later on, who knows).

What I’m trying to say is, an essay that is set to achieve the highest grades will be littered with well-thought out, well-argued and strongly backed-up points. Anything less and you may be saying hello to a certain Dame Thora Hird (strangely enough, both definitions I’ve linked to work well there).

Use independent thought

I’m not referring to copying ideas from the national newspaper here, I’m talking about thinking for yourself.

As strange as it sounds, it’s the one thing most students just don’t get across in their work and the one thing that will actually get you plenty of brownie points in the eyes of the tutors.

We’re not expecting some philosophical treatise that completely sets out an entirely new political system… although that would probably get you a decent mark.

Realistically it’s about giving your own opinion on things; coming up with new ways of looking at stuff in a way that hasn’t necessarily been explored before. This is a very hard skill to master but one which will set you apart from your peers. Next week I’ll be talking about how to think critically, which will help with this.

Remember good structure and grammar

Again, it sounds obvious but is something so easily overlooked. Even I, the bombastic and grandiloquent wordsmith that I am, in the midst of one of my unruly, nonsensical, giraffe-like rants (giraffe like – it doesn’t make sense! Geddit?!) often forget how to use a comma. Like, this.

I’ve talked before about how important it is to make things easy to read for your tutors and I’ve really stuck to that principle post-uni (but then I’m not getting marked for this, I hope).

Both structure and grammar play essential roles in how simple a piece of text is to read so give them significant thought (excessive use of brackets and absurd analogies don’t help either by the way).

So that’s that for another edition of ‘Jackson tells you how to write and completely ignores those rules himself’. Until next time, I’ve been a hypocrite… I mean Jackson Rawlings. Catch you on the flipside, students.

Jackson Rawlings on HowToWriteBetter.net

Jackson Rawlings


Go say hi and link up with Jackson on Twitter – he’s (@jacksonhraw) … and on Google Plus, too…

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photo credit: Loren Javier via photopin cc