So, you’ve mastered the basics of essay writing (with the aid of our other helpful guides!). How do you go from so-so to superThis guide will help you improve your essay’s quality with some easy-to-follow hints and top tips. The most effective ways to improve are to assess your grammar, check your structure and make sure your reasoning is sound.
The key to improving your grammar is practice. Improve your work through reading, through writing and through getting feedback from others. Here are some points you should consider …
Check (or get a friend to check) your syntax: the way your sentence is structured. A badly organised sentence can be very hard to understand.
Use the correct tense. The present tense should be used for author’s opinions (in most cases). Sometimes the future tense is used in introductions, but it can be better to use the present tense here also
Ensure you use prepositions correctly. Prepositions are words such as ‘on’, ‘of’ ‘from’ etc. which denote the position and movement of the nouns.
Make sure you understand how to properly use colons and semi-colons, and if you don’t understand, leave them out. Also learn how to use commas correctly.
The most commonly misused punctuation mark is the apostrophe. Make sure you understand when it should and shouldn’t be used.
Remove unnecessary words. Try to use a simple style in which each word used is necessary.
In academic writing you should not use colloquial or informal words and phrases.
Watch out for over-long sentences. Start new sentences where it’s appropriate.
Remove inappropriate capitals in the middle of sentences. Only proper names and proper nouns should be capitalised.
Limit your use of metaphor and other ‘poetic’ devices, or remove them altogether.
Finally, proof-read several times. If you can, get an academically-inclined friend to proof read as well.
It’s been suggested that poor structure is one of the most common reasons for poor marks for essays.Refer to our other guides on essay writing, but remember to use the ‘introduction – main body – conclusion’ structure, and ensure that the main body is clearly organised and that your ideas ‘flow’ well.
Correct referencing is also important. Not only must you reference every point you make in the essay, you need also to use the right referencing system as dictated by your tutor. Note that Harvard and other systems have several variations, so if unsure ask!
Make sure the points you make follow logically. Understand how an argument works, that is, how you provide evidence for the things you want to say. Ask yourself, does this sentence follow from the previous oneHave I given the reader enough evidence What possible objections are there to this statement
Don’t make sweeping generalisations if you can’t back them up with empirical evidence or theoretical models.
Similarly, make it clear when you are speculating, and restrict the occasions upon which you do this.
Avoid indirect assumptions. That is, be aware of your own prejudices and try to eliminate them from your writing.
A List of Checks Before you Submit
Is the title correct, that is have you used the title you were given – and all of it
Is there an introduction, where you identify the topic and state what you are going to sayHave you defined your key terms
Is there enough referencingAll the points made should be referenced. Make sure you are using the correct referencing style.
Also make sure that you don’t use too many direct quotations, and where you do use them you should mention the page number.
Is each main idea in a separate paragraph
Does the essay ‘flow’, with each paragraph following logically from the next
Does your conclusion summarise the main body and tie findings back to the main question
Are you conforming to any layout instructions given by your tutor (font size, spacing and so on)
De Montford University (2013) ‘Focus on Essay Writing’, [online] (cited 14th February 2013) available from
Loughborough University (2013) ‘Essay Writing’, [online] (cited 14th February 2013)
University of Essex (2013) ‘How to Improve your Academic Writing’, [online] (cited 14th February 2013) available from
University of Glasgow (2013) ‘Coursework’, [online] (Cited 14th February 2013) available from
University of Nottingham (2013) ‘Writing Essays’, [online] (Cited 14th February 2013) available from