By the time a student reaches college, a student should have a firm grasp on the basics of spelling and grammar. These two things majorly contribute to a student’s writing skills—and the academic writing score they earn on papers. Below are ten strategies students can employ to make sure that not only their grammar and spelling is flawless, but also how to improve their writing techniques to make their writing sound more formal and professional. There are 10 strategies you should adhere to raise your score in academic writing.
Active vs. Passive Voice
In writing, sentences can be active or passive. While passive sentences are not grammatically incorrect, the language in them is not as “strong” as in active sentences. In active sentences, the noun performs the verb. In passive sentences, it is almost as though the verb performs upon the noun. Two examples are below.
- Active: Shelly passed her test because she knew all the answers.
- Passive: The test was passed by Shelly, who knew all the answers.
Avoid Ambiguous Language
There are two basic types of ambiguous language: syntactic and lexical. In syntactically ambiguous sentences, the sentence could have more than one meaning. With lexical ambiguity, one word could have more than one meaning. Some examples of ambiguous sentences, which should be avoided, are below. When in doubt, try to make sentences as clear as possible to avoid confusion.
- Lexical Ambiguity Mistake: The bats are outside.
- Lexical Ambiguity Correction: The baseball bats are outside.
- Syntactic Ambiguity Mistake: I saw the girl with binoculars.
- Syntactic Ambiguity Correction: The girl I saw was wearing binoculars.
Cite Sources Properly
One common way to lose points on an academic paper is to forget to cite sources or by citing them improperly. Forgetting to cite sources can result in accidental plagiarism. This could cause a student to fail a paper, even if the rest of it is perfect! Make sure any quotes used are in quotations makes. Cite anything that has been summarized.
Use this link to find a general guide for the most popular college citation styles, including MLA, APA, and Chicago. Make sure to put citations in-text, as well as on the bibliography/works cited page to get full credit.
Don’t Repeat Yourself
Being redundant isn’t grammatically incorrect but it is unprofessional and annoying. Professors have dozens or even hundreds of papers to grade. They don’t want to be hung up, reading rewrites of the same sentence over and over again. If it can be helped, don’t repeat information.
However, it is sometimes okay to repeat information. This is best done in conclusion paragraphs. After all, the conclusion is the area of the paper where information should be summed up.
When writing academic papers, there’s nothing more important than proofreading. When students finish a long paper, there’s always the temptation to turn it in without ever looking at it again. However, this isn’t a great idea. Recheck for grammar, spelling, and proper citations, at the bare minimum.
If a student is too burned out to proofread their own paper, which is understandable, they could ask a friend to look over it. Having a new set of eyes looking at a paper can help to find things that may have been overlooked earlier. Going to the college’s writing center or academic writing service with professional proofreaders is another option to think about.
Stay on Topic
Going off topic is an easy way to add to a paper’s word count. However, tangents usually don’t add much substantial information to a paper. More than anything else, they can just be distracting. Stay on topic!
If a student is struggling to meet a paper’s word count requirements, they should instead add quotes, examples, explanations, or background information. This is a way to both inform the paper’s audience and make the paper longer.
Use a Thesaurus
Sometimes it can be difficult to know what the right word to use in a paper. After all, college professors expect students to have a college-level vocabulary. Avoid using casual language. Instead, look for the casual or “basic” word in a thesaurus to find a more professional word to use in its place.
For example, if a student wants to use the word “cool” to describe a Renaissance-era painting, a thesaurus might instead the use of the words dicing, glorious, marvelous, or sensational instead. Any of these words can make your paper look more composed.
Using quotes is a great way to add length to a paper or to back up claims made in the paper. This is a rhetorical strategy, which imposes ethos. Ethos basically means– I know what I’m talking about and here’s proof.
When using quotes, make sure to put them in quotation marks. If this is forgotten, it could result in accidental plagiarism, which no one wants.
Use Scholarly Sources
Not all sources can be trusted. Who wrote the source? What are their credentials? These can be hard to find in non-scholarly sources. Scholarly sources are written by professionals and have been reviewed by other professionals. This way, students can be sure the sources are reliable. One way to find scholarly sources is to use a college library or online resources, like Google Scholar.
Vary Sentence Length
Lastly, try to vary sentence length within paragraphs. This is another thing that isn’t grammatically incorrect but can still make a paper look more professional. A series of short sentences can make a student look uneducated. Too many long sentences can be messy to read. Having a nice mix of short and long sentences can remedy this problem.
The ten tips above are all great ways to improve a student’s writing and raise their academic writing score. Keep these tips in mind when writing papers to make them more professional, and hopefully, earn a higher grade.