When you’re in the writing up stage of your assignment you’ll be busy typing away focusing on getting your ideas down on the page and the assignment written. As you’re typing you’ll struggle in places to think of exactly the right words or phrases to express your ideas effectively and in a formal or ‘academic’ enough way. Alternatively, you’ll know that you’ve written a paragraph that doesn’t quite ‘sound right’ and doesn’t really get across exactly what you want to say.

However, stopping your ‘flow’ of writing to look up words in a dictionary or thesaurus, or rewriting the same sentence or paragraph repeatedly trying to make it sound right, becomes a distraction causing you to lose your train of thought. It’ll also take you far longer than you’ve planned for to get that first draft written. A simple solution can help.

1. Use the highlight function

Use the highlighting function in Word or Google Docs as you’re typing up your assignment to mark those ‘not-quite-right but I’ll come back to them’ words, phrases or sentences. I use the yellow highlighter for individual words I need to look up and sentences that I think might need a re-write.

text editing Once you’re finished typing your entire assignment script and you look back over it, the highlighted text will remind you that you need to edit those particular words or sections of text. You can use this function for highlighting other editing points such as spelling, grammar and references.

Apply a colour-coding system such as yellow for vocabulary, green for grammar/collocations, red for references. Once you’ve reached the end of writing a section, or you’ve finished typing up your first draft, you’ll have an immediate and colourful reminder of what you need to edit and exactly where in your assignment you need to make corrections. Highlighting in this way acts as a reminder to double check and correct the small but important details such as references and spelling, mistakes with which can easily lose you valuable marks yet often get overlooked.

2. Use reliable editing tools

Make sure you use a reliable dictionary to check your vocabulary and phrase use. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) is the authority on British spelling and language usage. It includes an audio tool to check pronunciation of new words and plenty of example sentences that demonstrate how particular words or phrases are used in context. Remember, correct English usage includes knowing the form, meaning and use of words and phrases.

You should also have access to a good subject-specific dictionary, either paper or online. You need to learn and understand the language of your subject and how it’s used in order to write about that subject clearly and accurately. When you come across a word or phrase in class or in your reading that you’re unsure of, you must look it up using the right resource. Doing so is part of your research process. ‘Googling’ unknown vocabulary and subject terminology won’t give you the full insights that a good dictionary does.

3. Plan time for editing

Of course, when allocating time to assignment writing you need to plan for an editing stage. Editing gives you the opportunity to review, refine and even re-write small sections of your assignment to maximise your opportunities for increasing your grades. You should aim to write the full first draft then give yourself some assignment ‘downtime’ of about 24 hours so you can review the text with refreshed eyes and brain that will be able to spot errors.

Once you get into the habit of using these strategies, your assignment writing will be quicker, smoother and far less stressful.

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