Tips for Writing Coursework

Most academic assignments and coursework are designed to prove to instructors and/or examiners that the student has understood what he or she was taught on a particular course or over a completely academic year. From the moment students enroll on a degree or diploma program, they are assigned various types of coursework and these assignments usually contribute to the overall grade for an entire course.

Coursework comes in many forms. Sometimes, it is some type of laboratory work while other types are experiment-based and involve data-collecting activities e.g. polls, surveys, and other types of observational exercises. Sometimes, coursework can involve an element of research work in a host of areas like the sciences where it can be difficult to demonstrate the range of materials covered in an exam situation.

Successful Coursework Writing - Follow These Steps!

  • Select the topic for your coursework carefully and decide what the aim of a particular assignment is. It is important you properly understand the topic and also what is required of you. When you are selecting a topic, aim for something that fits somewhere in the middle. What we mean by this is choosing one that not too many other students write about (because there is little merit in writing about topics that everyone else is writing about) while avoiding ones that are very specialized and/or not very well-researched (because it is best if sources are fairly easy to locate). Then, if possible, you will need to narrow down your topic, making sure that there is only one obvious way to understand it and that it is capable of clearly articulating what needs to be written about it.
  • Work in a consultative manner with course tutors, especially with the person responsible for supervising your coursework. Ask for their advice on the topic you have chosen and see if they can suggest any way of improving it or narrowing it down. Most tutors will be able to give you an idea as to whether a topic has promise or has a good perspective from which to approach it. They should also be able to advise on how to start researching your topic, the obstacles you are likely to face, and on other related matters.
  • Once your topic is chosen and you have worked out your ultimate goal, you should start drafting a rough or initial plan as to how you will structure your assignment or coursework. Most universities and colleges differ from each other in terms of what they require with regards to structure and content. Hence, you should know what these are prior to creating your plan. Your written work is still not finalized and you will have chance to make corrections later. At this stage, however, you need a plan so that you have a place from which to start.
  • Determine what research methodologies are likely to suit your project. Although a lot depends on your choice of topic, common methods include analysis, observation, polls, surveys, experiments, comparisons, and the like in addition to standard methodologies such as examining source materials concerning the topic or subject matter. Ask your course supervisor for advice on the methods you should use or are considering.
  • The next tasks are to determine where you are likely to find the information or materials you need, to assemble any necessary equipment for the methodology you have chosen, and to get started on the research. Do not forget to take notes during the research stage. You should also keep an eye on your initial structural plan and correct it as required as you proceed. It is important any notes you make are easy to follow and read.
  • Develop a course outline using the structural plan you created and the research materials you collected. Essentially, this outline should be a more in-depth version of the earlier plan (where you set out the structure). Once it is created, you can start writing the initial or first draft of the assignment you have been given.
  • Continue working on your draft for as long as necessary or until you think it is beginning to look close to a completed version. Continue to consult with your course supervisor for as long as is necessary and/or as frequently as you need to.
  • Before you submit your completed coursework, make time to carefully proofread it and do any editing that is necessary. It is also important you double-check the data in your work for accuracy, credibility, and consistency.

Choosing Your Topic

Choosing the right topic makes up a considerable part of any academic assignment. Hence, it is important your choice of topic is well reasoned and balanced. There are a number of methods that can be used to choose a topic. On occasion, consulting a tutor on the matter can help you to whittle down a subject area to a particular topic. At other times, it could be that you want to make your own decision. If you do this, you should move from a general perspective down to specifics. You could also consider using a mind map or doing a bit of brainstorming since these are also useful techniques.

Define what field your research fits into. Say, for example, you decide on US literature you will then need to choose which school of literature. Will it be Beat, decadency, realism, romanticism, etc. Let us say you settle on Beat and the work of Jack Kerouac, one of this school's most prominent representatives. You should then continue to narrow this area down by choosing a Kerouac novel to analyze - "On the Road" perhaps. Your next task is to contemplate various elements from the novel e.g. any events, characters, relationships, or problems that the author has described. Once the steps listed above are complete, the final topic for your coursework might be, "The Personification of Freedom as Portrayed by Jack Kerouac through the Character of Dean Moriarty."

Lastly, remember that to write a piece of coursework successfully you need to choose a topic you are interested in.

Important Points to Remember

  1. In any coursework project, the research stage is crucial. If you are ever tempted to skip this stage or take a shortcut and get straight to the writing stage, avoid such temptation. Instead, you should try to collect plenty data from various sources including journals, books, experiment results, websites, and so on. Consequently, researching a topic should take up around 60% of the time you have allowed for the project.
  2. Your coursework's content should be founded on relevant, reliable, and accurate information. Every item of data should aim to prove your initial thesis statement or your hypothesis, and the topic should be thoroughly analyzed in the course of writing your paper.
  3. It is usual for students to procrastinate for too long and then rush to complete their assignments in the final week or so before they are due. It is likely this is why so many papers have a lot of typographical and other types of mistakes. At times, carelessness and too many typos can negate a paper's entire argument. Hence, it is better to play safe and read your work a few times before handing it in. Also, depending on the type of word processing program you are using - e.g., Google Docs or MS Word - you should use the in-built spell-checking tools to pick up mistakes.
  4. Written work should be easy to read and understand so double-check that yours is. Divide your text into subheadings since these breaks are a great way to indicate new points and/or semantic transitions. Moreover, they break down text into more manageable and reader-friendly chunks. Draw attention to the links between ideas, evidence, and arguments in your text by using appropriate transition words/phrases. Be vigilant about the length and structure of sentences. When sentences are too long and too complicated they are often too difficult to read and understand. Likewise, sentences that are too short do not always allow you to get your points, ideas, or thoughts across properly. It is also important to check the wording in your paper for accuracy and precision and to make sure you understand the meaning of every single word you have used.

What to Do and Not To Do

Do

Don't Do

  • Create a duplicate or backup copy of the materials you used in your research as well as all of your other work. It takes a long time to write any type of coursework. And, at any time throughout the process, it is not possible to guarantee the computer equipment you are using might not hit a glitch or some other mishap might occur.
  • Make absolutely sure that every source you used has been cited properly in the course of writing a paper. You need to ensure there is no plagiarism in what you have written even if this is unintentional.
  • Sweeping statements, simplifications, and generalizations should be avoided. While it is unnecessary to be too scientific try not to simplify information too much, especially in cases where the use of overly-simple terms is inappropriate.
  • Do your best to complete your work before the actual date it is due. The extra time will give you chance to fix any serious issues your tutor or course supervisor might find.
  • Try not to end your paper by presenting your topic in the exact same manner it entered your mind. See if you can narrow it down because writing coursework can be a lot more difficult when a topic is left unclear or ambiguous.
  • Avoid slang, jargon and contractions e.g. words like "ain't," "won't," "can't," etc. Coursework should be comprised of language that is official and scientific in tone.
  • Avoid introducing new information, ideas, or thoughts in the closing paragraph of your paper. You should present every point, concept, and/or idea logically in the paragraphs in the main body of your paper. These should be fully elaborated on and expanded in these paragraphs using your research materials.
  • Avoid making unqualified or unsubstantiated statements. Statements should always be backed up with credible support such as references, quotations, and so on. Even though some statements might seem very obvious, you should still provide evidence or support for any claims made in your paper.

Mistakes that Students Commonly Make

  1. Not allowing sufficient time for the research stage. Even though this part is the most important in any coursework writing project, a large number of students overlook it and try to get directly to the writing stage.
  2. Inadequate time given to editing and/or proofreading. These stages are vital because the penalty for mistakes is often very high. Leaving out a word as simple as "not" in a summary or concluding paragraph can negate or ruin an argument you spent a lot of time building.
  3. Handing in an assignment or piece of coursework exactly on the day or date if falls due. In doing this, students may be depriving themselves of valuable time that could be used for re-checking their work and correcting errors.
  4. Poor formatting, leaving out citations, over-simplification of text (or, the opposite, writing in an overly complicated manner), and making overly gullible statements.
  5. Writing a piece that is not reader-friendly or easy to understand.