1. The purpose of your piece of work
One of the best ways to meet any marking rubric is to ensure that you have written a clear purpose or argument that is easily apparent to a reader in the introduction of your piece of work. A poor start to a paper is one way to lose the marker's sympathy very quickly.
2. The Introduction
Your introduction should be impressive and grab the reader's attention. This is important in order to encourage or induce the reader to continue. Of course the examiner is obliged to continue but you are much better off if he or she wants to continue. As far as the rubric requirements of most research papers are concerned, the introduction should be clear and show relevance to the area or topic you are writing about.
3. Body of the work
It is important to try and ensure that the body of your work is a smooth continuation of the introduction. As much as possible try to ensure a similar rhythm, pace and tone.
When writing your paper take care with the construction of paragraphs. A paragraph should focus on a central idea and develop that idea with several supporting sentences. Ensure that paragraphs are arranged in a logical manner and avoid being repetitive. Word limits are strictly enforced so every word is precious. Do not waste words saying the same thing more than once.
4. Content of paper
In order to achieve an "A" level piece of work, the content of the paper should have a balanced presentation of relevant, accurate and legitimate information that is offered in clear support of the central purpose of the argument that you are presenting. This should also show thoughtful and in-depth analysis of the topic you are researching.
5. Clarity of writing
For each of your subheadings make sure your writing is clear and concise. It is important not to become sidetracked. Attempt to stick to the main ideas which need covering under each subheading and develop them in logical succession.
In order to improve your grades try to develop a variety of thoughtful transitions. Transitions need to clearly show how the central ideas or themes of your work are connected. It is very important that the paper's ideas flow in a smooth and logical manner from one to another. This is necessary to ensure the reader can follow the line of reasoning that you are presenting.
Sentences need to be both well written and well phrased so try to vary the length and structure. The choice of words can be very important. Where possible try to go beyond the generic term and find a more precise and effective word. It is important that your choices are concise and meaningful.
Spelling and grammar mistakes should never be made. It is a very basic requirement to get your paper proofread by a competent person before submitting it. If you are aiming for an "A", numerous spelling and grammar mistakes in your work can distract the reader and make them consider you inattentive and careless.
Most rubrics place great emphasis on conclusions and recommendations (where appropriate). The conclusions reached should be well supported by the body of your work. Try to ensure that the conclusion gives appropriate insights into the research paper topic. It is essential to check that the conclusions, questions raised or suggested solutions are strongly supported within the report.
7. Use of References
The references in your paper are of critical importance. This is often the area that results in students not receiving the "A". In order to support the claims you have made in your paper, try to give preference to compelling evidence or professional and legitimate sources. It is important to ensure that the evidence presented in your paper can be trusted.
Double check that your list of references does not contain mistakes. This is even more important when quoting sites off the internet.
When referencing something you have read and are using in your work. be it print (book, journal etc.) or electronic, use the Harvard system. Here is a great guide from De Montfort University.
DO NOT PLAGIARIZE
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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