What markers are looking for in your work and using feedback to improve your writing.
Most written assignments are marked using assessment criteria, which show the areas the work is marked on and what's expected at each grade band. Each department has its own assessment criteria, and sometimes modules have a specific set of criteria too.
Assessment criteria can be organised as a list of descriptions for each grade band, as a grid with descriptions for each marking area and grade band, or as marking areas rated on a scale.
Criteria have different areas (or categories) that work is marked against. Marking areas can vary across departments or assignments, but there are some key areas that often appear. Here are some ideas of what markers may be looking for:
This area looks at how far the assignment meets the task requirements and the relevance of the information included.
Make sure you read the assessment instructions carefully!
This category focuses on the quality of your argument and critical analysis relating to the topic. It's also sometimes called 'originality of thought' or 'engagement with ideas'.
An important aspect of academic writing is incorporating relevant previous research and thinking as well as your own findings. However, it's not enough just to describe or summarise this information - to get higher marks, you also need to critically analyse it. What does it mean in terms of your overall argument? If the content is the 'what', the analysis and argument are more like 'so what?'.
Relating this to Bloom's Taxonomy, this requires more complex processes; analysing, evaluating and creating.
Questions markers may ask:
Critical analysis is spread throughout assignments in small critical comments and is also usually the major focus of the discussion or conclusion. To help you critically analyse source information or your own findings, ask questions like why? how? and so what?
This area focuses on the structure and organisation of the assignment, which is important to help the reader follow the argument easily.
This area is about the surface aspects of your work - how does it look and feel?
You can find examples of correctly formatted citations and references in our practical guide to referencing styles.
Your module learning outcomes and assessment criteria could be found in your programme handbook, an induction or module VLE site, or the module catalogue.
You need to know what markers' expectations are, so read the criteria carefully. Consider:
You can use the criteria in a few ways to help improve your assignments:
If you have questions about the marking criteria, ask your module tutor, your academic supervisor, or book a Writing Centre appointment.
View this information in a new window: Assessment criteria [Google Doc]
Feedback comes in many forms:
Feedback is an opportunity to develop and improve. It's not always nice to read, but don't ignore it!
These comments help you understand the strengths of your writing. For example, If you know that your structure was clear, you can use the same approach in your next assignments.
Also, they make you feel good - give yourself a pat on the back!
It might not be very nice to hear about aspects of your work that are not so good, but these comments are the most useful to help you improve!
This type of comment often includes phrases like:
See the sections below for tips on dealing with some common problems identified in feedback.
Comments like this can give you ideas to consider or further reading to help deepen your knowledge on a topic. This is especially useful if you want to explore this topic further in later modules or your dissertation.
They could also highlight gaps in your understanding. In this case, it might be worthwhile to go back and revise the module content to help you in your later modules.
Here's a handy three-step process to use your feedback to write better assignments.
And then the cycle begins again!
You can use this template to review your feedback to identify areas for improvement and work out what you need to focus on:
The issues below are often identified in feedback. Open each for advice on how to address them in your next assignments. Some are easier to deal with than others!
Feedback like this is very common, as the mistakes are easy for markers to spot.
It shows you need to check your work carefully for small mistakes or typos in spelling, grammar, punctuation or word choice before you submit. This checking is often called 'proofreading'.
More detail & advice:
Each referencing style has specific formatting requirements for in-text citations, footnotes and the reference list/bibliography (as used in that style). For example, in APA style (Tanaka & Smith, 2007) is correctly formatted, but (Tanaka and Smith 2007) is not. These can seem like small details, but they're very important to get right!
To avoid making referencing style errors, check all of your citations and references carefully before you submit. Common errors include:
You can find examples of correctly formatted citations and references for each style in our practical guide to referencing styles. You can also use reference management software to generate citations and references from your sources - this can save a lot of time! They're not always 100% correct though, so you'll need to check them still.
More detail & advice:
Comments like this suggest that your writing focuses on the more descriptive processes - remembering, understanding and applying. To access higher marks, you also need to demonstrate more critical skills - analysis, evaluation and processing. This is considering what the information means in terms of your argument.
More information on what criticality is and how to add it to your work:
Assignments need a clear overall structure. This usually means a linear structure, where paragraphs have one central idea and build on each other towards the final argument. You can think of this as a flight of stairs going from your title at the bottom to your conclusion at the top. A key way to improve your structure is to plan out your points and arrange them before you start writing.
Cohesion is also an important part of structure. There are lots of words and phrases that you can use to link your ideas more clearly. These phrases don't really add any information, but they make the links clear to the reader so it's easier for them to follow your argument
For more in-depth information, see our advice on structuring academic writing:
Academic writing uses a very different style to other types of writing. Some of the key features are:
For more in-depth information, see our advice on academic writing style:
To get a good mark, you have to complete the assignment that was set! This means answering all parts of the task, staying relevant and using an appropriate structure and style. Make sure to read the assessment brief carefully to find out what you need to do.
For more information see our advice on understanding task requirements:
In most assignments, you need to refer to information in sources to support your argument - without evidence from sources, your points are just your opinion, and it's very difficult to show any critical analysis.
Make sure you:
Find on choosing suitable sources and how to find them on these pages:
View this information in a new window: Using feedback to improve writing [Google Doc]