Easy Grades: The Unwritten Rules of Academic Writing

  • How can you avoid losing ‘easy’ marks for poor writing?
  • Why can’t you write the way you speak?
  • What are the key features of good academic writing?

As you have found throughout the guide, to be a good academic detective you have to follow the rules of the essay game. You’ve brainstormed, planned, collected information and written your first essay drafts. However, you have a hunch that there is more to getting good marks, and you are absolutely right! Essay writing is both a skill and an art form. The art of writing good essays is a creative process that can’t be taught, but is learned through experience and practice. However, this guide and the next will give you some pointers on where marks are won and lost, which will help to improve the creative side of your writing.

The skill and art of writing

Have you ever reacted to something you’ve read and wondered, why can’t I write like that? Essay markers not only consider your essay structure, supporting evidence, argument and referencing when assigning you marks, they also take into account how clearly and concisely the content has been expressed. As a student you aren’t taught about this ‘art’ of essay writing; you are somehow meant to acquire it on your own. In response to this problem, most tertiary institutions now provide academic support services to improve student writing and studying skills, however they are often unable to cope with student demand.

The way you construct sentences, and how you express your thoughts, is a creative process. If you follow the advice in this book, you can usually guarantee that you will at least pass your essay, because you will have developed the skill of essay writing. However, the art of writing takes longer to develop. The more essays you write, the more drafts you do and the more things you read, the sooner you will develop the art of writing. The remainder of this guide aims to start you on your way to developing the art of writing.

The rude shock

It is common for students to get a rude shock when they get their first piece of work back and their mark is below what they expected. Sometimes this is because they were unclear about what the markers wanted and the standard of work required. This section will help you to avoid these pitfalls in academic writing by giving you an idea of the writing standard required.

When you write, be careful not to confuse the way you speak with the way you write. When we speak, we often use informal language, such as slang, emotive expressions and imprecise statements. Academic writing is the opposite of this; it must be clear, concise and objective. An essay is about sustaining a persuasive argument with a logical structure, supporting evidence and clear expression. For the sake of making this book accessible, it has been written in a style that is less formal than that required of academic writing. Therefore, in essays, your writing style shouldn’t mimic this book, but instead should follow the general rules of academic writing as depicted in this guide.