The look and presentation of your essays is critical at university. In fact, part of your assessment criteria may include marks for the way in which you present your work. You may be able to gain marks for following assignment conventions such as page numbering and line spacing, and every tutor will look favourably on an essay that is properly proof-read and edited. Good editing techniques will also allow you to look at the way you have structured your argument and will allow you to take a more critical look at your content. It is important to be able to effectively edit your paper on a number of levels so that your writing is clear and error free. However, these activities take time, so when planning your essay try to leave enough time at the end for editing and presentation. The longer you have for these activities, the more polished your essay will appear to you tutor and the more bonus marks you are likely to receive.
The suggestions in this information sheet are universally acceptable essay conventions. However, your tutor or module director may have preferences that differ from these suggested conventions. If your tutor asks you to present your paper differently, please follow your tutors advice. In any case, if you are in doubt, ask your tutor what they prefer.
Ordering your essay
An essay that is words or longer should include all of the sections outlined below (appendix is always optional, however). Essays below this word count do not necessarily need front sections (outlined in section number two). However, always check with your tutor regarding this requirement. Use the following guide to make sure that your essay contains all the essential elements. Your essay should have:
- A title page You should always attach a title page to your work. In most cases, your tutor will provide you with a Departmental cover sheet that you will need to submit with your paper. Use this as your cover sheet and be sure to fill in the details correctly. Secure the cover sheet to the front of your assignment before handing it in. Make sure that you tell the tutor which essay question you are answering somewhere on the title page.
- A front section In longer papers, for example ISMs and dissertations, there should be a few pages in the front section dedicated to a table of contents, list of illustrations/ tables, and an abstract. You usually only need to provide this information if your paper is words or longer.
- An introduction Your introduction is an important part of your essay. An effective introduction should do a number of things, but most importantly it should re-iterate the essay question in your own words, often by stating a hypothesis, and it should provide the reader with an outline of the essay. In other words, tell the reader if you agree or disagree with the essay question, and how you are going to prove that you are right! In your introduction you might also like to provide scope and a rationale for the reader by outlining what you will and will not be discussing, and why. In the introduction, you may also try to motivate your reader and provide a general introduction to the topic.
- A body The body or main section of your essay should follow the outline provided in the introduction. Each paragraph should be well constructed and should flow from the preceding paragraph. A single paragraph should only contain one general idea and should begin with a topic sentence. This sentence should summarise the purpose and subject matter of the paragraph. Each paragraph in your essay should relate somehow to your original hypothesis. When editing paragraphs, check that the paragraph could be read and understood in isolation from the rest of the assignment, but also check that it clearly contributes to the overall argument.
- A conclusion Your conclusion should summarise the main arguments you have made in the essay and should again reiterate how these arguments relate to the original question. You may like to end the conclusion with a final thought or motivation for the reader, but never introduce new material into the conclusion.
- An appendix (this is optional) An appendix (or appendices) appears towards the end of a paper and includes any information that is helpful for the reader, but not essential to the argument. Anything appearing in an appendix is not included in your overall word count.
- A reference list – Students should use the Harvard referencing system that requires in text citations (not footnotes) and the use of a reference list. The reference list should appear at the very end of the assignment and should list all cited texts and electronic resources alphabetically by authors surname. For more information about compiling a reference list, please access the Guide to Harvard Referencing information sheet, available from the Student Support Officer or the study skills web site (telephone 01392 262 855 or log on to tudyskills). The reference list is not included in your word count.
Presentation rules and essay conventions
While it is important that your essay is well structured and has credible content, you tutor will also be looking for evidence that you have followed universal essay presentation conventions. Some of these conventions exist as part of academic tradition, and some of these conventions have developed recently with the popularity of word-processing. Wherever the conventions come from, it is important to remember that these rules exist for a reason. Sometimes the reason might just be that the rule makes reading your paper easier for the tutor. However, by following the rules and conventions set out below, you will find that your essay looks neater and more professional.
While there is the option at level one to hand write essays, it is preferable for students to word-process their essays. This is mainly for two reasons. Firstly, word – processed essays look neater and are generally easier to grade, especially when the spell-check and grammar -check are utilised. Secondly, the nature of a word-processor encourages students to complete several drafts of a paper, thus refining and reviewing their ideas, but without re-writing the entire paper each time. The Department does, however, recognise that not all students have access to a word processor, and for this reason, the following section is split into three categories: general rules, rules for word-processed essays, and rules for hand written essays.
- At levels two and three, all essays should be word-processed. At level one, students have the option of writing essays by hand, although word-processing is preferred.
- Type or write your essay on to good quality, A4 sized paper, and be sure to only use one side of the paper.
- Allow a reasonable margin on each side of the paper. On the left side, you will need to leave room for binding or stapling. On the right side, you will need to leave room for hand written comments from your tutor.
- Ensure that your essay is stapled or secured together in a binder of some sort. (Tip – never insert individual sheets into plastic A4 folders. While this makes your essay reasonably waterproof and certainly attractive, it is a nightmare for the marker to have to pull out each sheet from its plastic folder to make written comments.)
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- Use a font that is easy for your marker to read. The font size should be 12 point, and should be in the style of Times New Roman, Arial, or Sans Serif. Never use Courier font or script -style fonts.
- Use 1.5 or double line spacing for word-processed essays. Left justify all paragraphs but do not also right justify. Exceptions to the rule are when you use extensive direct quotes and when you produce the reference list. Long, direct quotes should be indented and single-spaced and reference lists should be left justified, but single-spaced.
- Ensure that all headings are consistent in terms of size and font style.
- Use the footer function on the word processor to insert page numbers and your name on each page. This is useful if individual sheets become detached for any reason.
- Use the computers spell check and grammar check functions to help edit your paper.
- Ensure that your printers output is of a good quality and that you have enough ink to print out your entire essay.
- Use a good quality, black or blue ink pen to hand write essays.
- Be sure to print or use very neat cursive when hand writing your essays. Ensure that you use a combination of upper and lower case letters; never write your assignment all in upper case!
- If your writing is particularly difficult to read or is quite large in size, you may like to consider writing on every second line, to allow room for the tutor to make comments.
- Write in page numbers and your name at the bottom of each page. This is useful if individual sheets become detached for any reason.
Editing The secret to refining your draft
Editing is the process by which you check the accuracy of your work, whether it be the mechanical aspects of the paper such as spelling and punctuation, or the effectiveness of your structure and content. Editing is the one process that many students forget to complete when finishing an essay. However, extensive and reflective editing will help to refine your ideas and presentation, thus producing a higher quality essay.
The secret to excellent editing is to pause between each editing level. Ros Petelin, a communication and academic writing expert calls this the incubation period. After youve finished your draft, leave it alone for a couple of days before attempting to edit. This way, you become detached from your original writing and you are better able to edit objectively. Leave as long as possible between each level of editing for maximum effectiveness. You will have to schedule editing time into your time management plan.
There are three levels of editing. The macro level looks at the overall issues of structure and flow and requires the editor to ignore issues such as spelling and punctuation, in order to concentrate on the larger, essay construction issues. Middle level edits are those edits that are most concerned with paragraph construction and the use of language. The micro edit is the final, tedious, word-by-word edit that checks for correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other sentence -based mechanical problems. The tasks involved in each level of editing are highlighted below.
Macro level edits
- Get others to read the body of the essay (not the introduction or conclusion) and ask them what your main points are see if you agree.
- Do the paragraphs flow logically?
- Does the overall essay have a logical flow?
- Is the paper written mostly in third person?
- Have you answered the question?
- Does each paragraph have a topic sentence and does that sentence somehow relate to the hypothesis?
- Does the content of each paragraph address the topic sentence?
- Have you used each paragraph to express just one main idea?
- Have you used inclusive language?
- Have you avoided passive language where possible?
- Check that you have only used appropriate words and that you have avoided clich.
- Does the reference list match the in text citations?
- Do the page numbers match the table of contents?
- individual word checks
- individual sentence construction and grammar checks
- punctuation checks
- macro-level check of reference list
Now that you have completed this information sheet, you should be able to submit an essay that:
- contains all essential elements, appearing in the correct order
- follows essay presentation rules and conventions
- Is edited, proof-read, and error free.
A well- polished essay reflects the pride you take in your work as a student. Submit a paper that is edited and presented correctly and you will reap as many presentation marks as possible. Dont lose valuable marks by handing in a hurried report.
Produced for Section of Lifelong Learning
College of Exeter