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[Disclaimer that is needed so that Google would not rank me down for plagiarizing my own work: This post originally appeared on]

By Vlad Mackevic

Essay deadlines are fast approaching (some of them have already passed), and it’s time to summarise everything I have written over the last term. So, here are the top 20 tips that will make your academic writing better.


1. Answer the essay question. Look for the verbs in the imperative form (those that sound like orders) and perform the actions that are required.

2. One of the most popular action verbs is discuss. In case you have doubts about its meaning, it means “name several reasons why something is the case and then name several others why it may not be the case”. In other words, discussing is saying: yes, because…, listing the reasons, and then doing the same for no, because…

3. If you have a free choice of topic, create a simple, focused question.

4. Use Wikipedia for general knowledge. Do not reference it. Then read textbooks for information about theories. Then read academic journals for special cases of application of those theories. Do reference those two. Other sources you can use for referencing are quality journalism and email correspondence with people who have some authority in your field of study.

Wikipedia has references, too! And you are free to use them.

5. Acknowledge the limitations of your theories, your data and your methods. No theory is perfect. No dataset is big enough. No method is perfect – researchers often combine at least two of them to achieve greater reliability. Whether you choose to do so or not, admit that your research is limited.

6. Carry a notebook everywhere. You never know where a great idea might strike you. And as deadlines draw nearer, you will need great ideas more than ever.

7. Don’t leave a blank page. Brainstorm. Freewrite. Outline. Write anything – at least set out a basic structure. There are no bad ideas in the beginning – you can delete what you don’t like later.

8. Use Google Scholar. It is an excellent resource for finding academic journals on your topic in electronic format.

9. Be critical about the previous research on your subject. Do not just list what others have done before you. Write how their work is related to what you’re doing. Do not believe one source or one opinion. Always consult several different sources if possible.

10. Have a well-defined structure:

  • Introduction (say what you’re gonna say) – 10-15% of the word count
  • Main body (say it) – 70-80% of the word count
  • Conclusion (say what you’ve just said) – 10-15% of the word count

11. One idea = one paragraph. No more, no less. Watch the video on structured paragraphs below. Also, read this article.

12. Proofread your work. Aviod speling anf grammer errors at all coasts.

See a great and funny video about The the Impotence of Proofreading below

13. Read it out loud. If it sounds bad, rewrite it.

14. Give it to your friend to read. Two heads are better than one.

15. If you have a problem, talk to your lecturer.

16. Do not assume the first draft to be perfect.

17. Give your assignment a break. Leave it for a day or two. Then come back to it and start editing.

18. Format your assignment.

  • Simple 12 point font
  • 1.5 inch margins
  • Number the pages
  • Simple, conservative title page

19. Reference your work. Click here for the Harvard reference guide. Courtesy of Anglia Ruskin University.

20. Have fun and keep writing!

Vlad Mackevic

P.S. This article is based on Vlad Mackevic’s book From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write a First-Class Essay. You can download sample chapters of the book for FREE by clicking here or by entering your email address below.

The book can also be purchased on in paperback and Kindle eBook formats. If you do not own a Kindle reader, Amazon provides a range of FREE applications for your computer, Smartphone or Tablet.

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