If you struggle with written assessments, here are some strategies to help you with:
- how to tackle an assessment (Tactics)
- what to keep in mind when creating an essay plan (Key Concepts)
- how to support your argument (Referencing)
- what to remember before submitting (Finishing Touches)
When you receive an assessment, read through the requirements. Look for:
- what kind of work is needed (e.g. is it a 1000-word essay, or eight responses of around 200 words each?)
- what the parameters or conditions are (anything the subject coordinator brings to your attention, like not including subject headings, or requiring an introduction and conclusion),
- the general scope of the project (will you be exploring a disease, creating and supporting a diagnostic hypothesis, or crafting an individualised plan of care?).
Read the directions carefully and identify the key requirements. This is where marks will be allocated, so you want to ensure what you submit addresses them.
You could summarise your requirement/s to refer to throughout your writing and reviewing process, to ensure you have addressed the requirements of the task.
2. Key concepts
Whatever the content of your writing, at its heart you are creating an argument, for example:
- why to administer drug X instead of drug Y; why diagnosis A fits better with the case study that diagnosis B; or
- how guideline S can be applied to this situation T to achieve desired outcomes U and V.
Every statement and fact should be either building, illustrating, or supporting the argument you’re making. Sentences should be clear and logically lead to the next, with each paragraph containing a new but related idea. Don’t waste the word count!
Clearly and explicitly connect theory, or information from sources, to the requirements for your paper. This means writing things like:
Culturally safe care has been shown to increase Indigenous patients’ trust in health care institutions (reference); Bloggs’ (2017) examples of culturally-safe practices include X, Y, and Z, while staff education addressed at reflection and awareness of how our cultures affect our perspectives (reference) also contributes to health care facilities that are more welcoming to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Incorporating these changes will therefore facilitate greater participation in western health care by these marginalised Australians, improving their health outcomes.
Write for a reader who is educated, but don’t assume they have any underlying knowledge of your topic.
Ensure you define or explain every relevant term, and avoid gaps. Your reader shouldn’t be left wondering ‘But how does implementing that intervention lead to that outcome?’ or ‘If a CT scan and an MRI can both confirm this diagnosis, why are both needed?’.
Pay attention to any feedback you’ve previously received, particularly for the same subject as the current assessment so you don’t repeat mistakes.
It’s important to accurately acknowledge your sources and use correct formatting.
Every fact you state should be supported by a reference. You are presenting an argument, and the literature you cite supports that argument or position.
Referencing well is a skill that comes with practice. Your university’s style guidelines are a start, but you may also find these examples useful:
- If you are providing several references for one or related facts, list them together e.g. there are three kinds of mammals: marsupial, monotreme, and placental (Farrago et al., 2017; Hepplewhite 2018).
- If you are listing several related facts from a number of references, indicate the source of each one e.g.: examples of placental mammals include cats (Bornstein, Parker, and Kenan, 2012; Pederson and Geller, 2012), dogs (Pederson and Geller, 2012; O’Sullivan et al. 2014; Aaronson 2016), elephants (Singh 2011), and dolphins (Singh, 2011; Pederson and Geller, 2012; O’Sullivan et al., 2014).
- If you are citing multiple facts from the same source, make it clear that the author/s said all the things you’re attributing to them e.g.: Pederson and Geller (2012) hypothesise that placental mammals achieved dominance over marsupial and monotreme mammals because the longer gestational period a placenta allows gives an evolutionary advantage. They add that this means young are better able to survive the death of the mother, adding that placental mammals are ambulant at birth, while monotreme and marsupial young are still essentially foetal. Of course, humans are the exception to this independence-from-birth advantage (Singh 2011).
Use a referencing software program such as EndNote. Once you’ve put in the information for each reference (including directly importing them from online sources), it will insert in-text and listed references in the required format.
Don’t forget to alphabetise your reference list. In Word ‘home’ tab, highlight the entire list, and click on the A-Z↓ icon.
4. Finishing touches
When you’ve completed writing, put it aside for a few hours to give yourself some distance.
Read it aloud slowly or ask someone who doesn’t know the subject matter to do it for you, as they’ll pick up problems you may overlook. Listen out for:
- grammatical errors (e.g. ‘is’ where you should have written ‘are’)
- spelling mistakes (e.g. ‘seperate’ instead of ‘separate’)
- typos (e.g. ‘on’ instead of ‘in’)
- signals for punctuation (a small pause indicates a comma, a longer pause a full stop, and a change of topic often means a new paragraph).
Most importantly, check for gaps in your work (see Key Concepts) and ensure your writing is consistently academic in tone.
- Start preliminary thinking about the assessment as soon as you receive it
- Identify the assessment requirements, and write to them
- Remember that you’re making an argument: everything you include must support or advance your case
- Make sure your formatting and referencing meet the instructions given and your department’s requirements
- Everything that comes from anywhere but your own experience must be referenced
- Take the time to review your work before submission
Tara Nipe is a registered nurse, diploma of nursing trainer and second year sessional lab and class room educator. She is also a Professional Officer at ANMF Federal. This is an abridged version reproduced from her blog with permission.