There are many ways to improve your coursework and all of them are easy to implement if you dedicate some time to them.

From improving your grammar to nailing the Harvard reference style, we have a whole host of tips and tricks to help you take your writing to another level.

If you’re wondering how to improve your student performance and impress your teachers, working on your essay writing skills is a great start.

Words to help you sound smarter

Wooden tiles with letters forming words
Your choice of words can play a big role in the impact of your essay.

We all know there are certain words that can make your essay stand out from the next, and make the transitions between points easy on the eye for the reader.

Having said that, it’s very important that you don't ruin a great piece of writing by trying to sound too smart.

The thesaurus can be a useful tool when you’re writing, but don’t become over-reliant on it. Sometimes less is more, and the speed you can create with shorter words can make for a more compelling read.

We’re going to break these works down into different categories to make it easier to skim through whenever you need to. For the full list of words, head over to our article titled ‘20 words to help you sound smarter’.

  •  Connectors

Connectors are what allows your writing to flow.

If you’re writing an essay, half the battle will be convincing the reader with a coherent argument. The way you do this is by creating a logical argument that flows seamlessly from one point to the next.

To make these transitions from one point to another you’ll need to rely on connectors.

Connectors, or linkers as they’re sometimes known, are words which link one point. to another.

For example, if you were to make one point for a certain stance and then make a contrary point for the sake of a balanced argument, you could use a connector like ‘on the other hand’, or ‘in contrast’.

The best part about learning new connectors and then using them in your writing is that it will help the flow and can express a comprehensive grasp of grammar and its use for creating meaning in a text.

To get the most out of your connectors you can play around with their positioning in a sentence, and even use them in conjunction with other connectors.

  •  Adjectives

Adjectives can add gravity to a point and provide perspective for the reader. A ‘sharp decline in sales’ sounds much more dramatic than a mere ‘drop’.

However, adjectives are easy to overuse and can dilute the effect of your writing if you aren’t too careful. If you were to describe how ‘the big company had a large amount of excellent products’ then you would arguably be using adjectives too liberally.

The trick is to use adjectives when they say something that otherwise the reader wouldn’t have assumed.

For example, if you were to describe a scientist as ‘logical’ it might come across as a little redundant since the profession implies a degree of rationality. Using an adjective such as ‘emotional’ however, would challenge most readers’ expectations and is a more interesting adjective in this situation.

  •  Verbs

Verbs describe the actions of a text, which makes them a crucial part of any essay.

Generally it’s a good idea to use verbs in an active form, rather than a passive one.

This lends the action more of a sense of urgency and makes them appear more direct, and there’s less confusion as to who is doing the action.

An example of a verb in the active form can be seen in the following sentence: ‘the boy throws the ball’. You know exactly who is doing the action, and it leaves no room or confusion. It also emphasises the boy as opposed to anything else in the sentence.

An example of a verb in the passive would be something like: ‘the ball was thrown by the boy’. In this sentence you still know who is doing the action, but it’s given less importance than the ball.

Once you feel confident enough with both the active and passive constructions you can play around with them to place the emphasis on the most relevant parts of the sentence.

  •  Nouns

Nouns are a very common part of any text, and using smart ones can elevate your level of writing.

This is especially true if you need to express something specific that a general noun doesn’t imply.

Take ‘cure’ as an example. It’s a great blanket noun which can describe any method or medication used to treat a sickness.

However, if you are talking about poisoning you will want to use the word ‘antidote’ instead, as it specifically refers to the remedy given to those who have been poisoned.

While it might not seem like there’s a big difference in meaning, using the correct word can capture the true sense of what you’re trying to say.

How to improve your essay writing skills

Fountain pen writing on paper
Improving your essay writing skills can make a huge difference to your coursework.

Writing an essay is challenging.

Writing an essay which impresses your teacher and earns you a top mark can seem impossible at times.

Don’t worry though, there are several techniques you can use to improve your essay writing skills and get the best marks every time.

Before you think about essay-specific tips and tricks, it’s worth working on the basics and building a solid foundation.

Vocabulary and Grammar

One of the best weapons in any writer’s arsenal is a sound knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.

To improve your vocabulary and grammar one of the best things you can do is read.

The more you read quality literature, the more you’ll expose yourself to solid writing which you should absorb kind of like an intellectual process of osmosis.

A lot of authors, Stephen King notably among them, claim that being a great reader of books is necessary if you want to be a great writer.

Constructing an Argument

To construct a coherent argument you need to do a couple of things.

First, know the topic.

You can’t expect to write a convincing argument about something you don’t have some knowledge of. Do your due diligence and research the topic thoroughly before you begin planning.

Next, construct an outline.

While you might be tempted to get stuck in and get all your great ideas down on paper, it’s important that you make a plan or outline first. This is where you’ll map out your argument and separate it out into different points.

Finally, write a first draft.

First drafts may seem like a waste of time, but having a rough essay in front of you is better than a rushed one. Switching between writing and editing as you work is a surefire way to interrupt your flow, so save the editing for afterwards if possible.

How to improve your grammar

There are several rules you need to adhere to in order to improve your grammar.

While grammar might bring up images of studying sentences for hours on end and doing exercises ad nauseum, it doesn’t have to be that way.

This approach is often taken for learning a foreign language, but since you should already be well-versed in English it won’t be quite as challenging.

Use the Active Voice

One of the first things any experienced writer will tell you is that you should strive to use the active voice as much as possible.

While the passive voice has its uses, if used too often it can hinder the flow of an essay and make understanding the text more of a challenge in some cases.

If you’re struggling to stick with the active voice, always keep in mind who or what is doing the action.

A common example in essays is to start a sentence by saying ‘it’s thought that’, while this is fine, it doesn’t tell you who is doing the thinking. It could be scientists, researchers, students, and trying to trace it back to a subject could add a lot of clarity to your writing.

Avoid Fluff

Fluffing is something we’ve all done, whether we realise it or not.

Fluff can be defined in many ways, but one of the worst examples is when you repeat something you’ve just said in a slightly different way.

Other examples of fluffing include filler phrases and sentences that you throw in when you don’t know what to say next, or you’re looking to reach a word count.

Doing this too often can make your writing appear bloated, and can detract from its impact significantly.

This means try to move away from using words that convey doubt like ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’, because they’re often used just to pad out a sentence and don’t add too much to the meaning.

How to Harvard reference

Books open on a white background
Citing various sources doesn’t have to be a headache.

Harvard referencing can be a headache, and is difficult to implement if you’re not familiar with the rules.

One of the best ways to get to grips with the Harvard reference style is to see real-life examples of it.

A simple internet search should yield plenty of results of texts which have used the Harvard reference style for you to analyse.

Aside from looking at different texts, there are a few key things to keep in mind with this referencing style.

  •  In the text

If you have to reference a book or text as you write, all you need to do is write the last name of the author and publication year in brackets.

For quotes, you should add the page number they can be found on too.

  •  Reference list

The list of references at the end of an essay is a little more complicated, but should come naturally to you after a couple of successful attempts.

Going in alphabetical order with last names, you should include the first names as initials.

The publishing institutions and place of publication go after the title of the work.

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Daniel

A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.