Tips on writing different types of coursework
Coursework is usually some type of academic assignment that shows tutors and examiners if students have learned and understood the materials covered during a course or throughout a full school term or year. Students are given these assignments when they join a diploma or degree program, and they are generally included in the overall grading for a course, term, or school year.
Some types of coursework are similar to or designed to resemble lab work and other types of experimental projects such as surveys, polls, and various observational tasks. Alternatively, they may involve certain types of scientific or academic research in any one of a number of subjects where the material covered in class is difficult to evaluate just from tests or exams.
The steps required to complete coursework successfully
- One of the first steps is to choose a topic carefully and work out the objectives of the assignment. As well as understanding the topic, it is also important to understand all of the coursework’s requirements. When looking at possible topics try and stick to the “middle” rule. This means you should try to select something that is not too commonly used (since there is no point in writing about the same topic as everyone else) but also one that is not too highly specialized or that is not very well known or researched (since it is important to be able to find sources of information easily). If possible or appropriate, the topic may need to be narrowed down so that it can be understood in just one way and to allow you to present your views in a clear manner.
- If necessary, consult your tutors, particularly your coursework supervisor. Get their opinion on your choice of topic and, if necessary, ask for advice on ways to improve it or whittle it down. It is possible that tutors will advise on the potential or promise of your topic, their perspective of it, the best place to begin research work, what obstacles may present themselves, and the like.
- Once a topic and the objectives of the assignment have been settled, you can begin creating a rough plan of the structure of your work. The requirements with regards to content and structure can differ from one college or university to the next, so you need to understand these before you start planning. Since your initial plan is not yet final you may need to amend it later, but for now, this plan will give you a starting point.
- Choose what research methodology or methodologies you will use. While much depends on the topic, research methods can include analysis, comparison, experimental work, observation, surveys, etc. as well as such standard techniques as studying any information sources you can find on the topic. You should also check the best methods with your tutor or course supervisor.
- Work out where all the information you need can be found, assemble any equipment you will need for your chosen research method(s), and start your research work. Remember to make notes while you are researching. Additionally, keep checking your plan as you go along and make any necessary adjustments. The notes you make should be legible and easy to navigate.
- Using your rough structural plan and research notes/materials, start creating an outline for your coursework. An outline is essentially a more advanced version of your structural plan i.e.it will be more detailed. Once this has been created, begin writing the first initial draft of your paper.
- Continue to work on this initial draft until it starts looking like a final version. Keep in regular contact with your tutor or supervisor as you progress.
- Make sure your coursework is thoroughly proofread and edited before you submit it. Check also that the data contained in your work is accurate, credible, and consistent.
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Selecting a topic
A large part of coursework revolves around selecting a suitable topic. It is, therefore, essential that your choice is balanced and reasonable. Consulting with tutors can sometimes help to narrow a topic down but, ultimately, you may need to make this decision by yourself. To achieve this, try moving from the more general to the specifics. Two techniques that may help are mind mapping and/or brainstorming.
Decide on an area to research in the future; If, for instance, your subject is American literature, choose a period, school, realism, romanticism, or similar. If, say, you opt for Beat literature, you might then focus on one of its most famous proponents - Jack Kerouac. Thus, you can continue narrowing your topic down even to the point of selecting one of Kerouac’s novels for analysis. Consider the problems, events, characters, and possibly the relationships depicted within the text. Once the above-mentioned steps are complete, your final topic may be as follows, “Jack Kerouac – the Embodiment of Freedom in Dean Moriarty’s Personality.”
Lastly, do not forget that you can only write successfully on topics that interest you.
Important points for consideration
- Research is a vital part of almost every coursework project. So you should not bypass or short-circuit this stage, no matter how tempted you may be. Indeed, you should do the opposite by collecting as much useful data as you can from a variety of sources such as journals, books, websites, existing experiment results, and the like. Essentially, approximately 60 percent of project time should be devoted to research.
- You should base your coursework content on information that is accurate, reliable, and relevant. Every piece of data used should serve the purpose of proving your thesis statement or hypothesis, and your paper should comprise of a comprehensive analysis of the chosen topic.
- It is often the case that students put coursework off for as long as they can and then try and cram the writing element into the one or two weeks before the submission date. This is possibly why a lot of coursework is prone to an excessive amount of typos and other errors. Indeed, such careless mistakes are often the cause of negating all the good work and sound arguments that go into a paper. Therefore, for safety sake, proofread your work carefully before submitting it and use Google Docs, Microsoft Word or similar word-processing software to identify obvious errors.
- Double-check that your written work is legible and easy to understand. Make use of subheadings because these are an effective means of showing natural transitions from one point or paragraph to the next. They are also good at breaking text down into smaller sections, thus making it easier to read. Liberal use of transitional words will show clearly how the points, arguments, ideas, and evidence or proof are linked. Be mindful about the structure and length of sentences since it can be more difficult to understand long, complex sentences while shorter ones may not properly get your thoughts or points across. You should additionally check that your wording is accurate and precise, and that you understand the meaning of every word you use.
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What you should and should not do
What you should do:
- Make a backup or duplicate copy of all research source materials and all your work. Coursework projects are often long and time-consuming, and you cannot be certain you will not encounter computer problems.
- Check that you have properly cited every resource you used. It is essential your written work does not contain plagiarism even if it is not intentional.
- Try not to over-simplify your work or use too many generalizations and/or sweeping statements. While there is no need to be overly scientific, try not to overly-simplify information that should not be simplified.
- Try and get the final version of your work finished a little early. This will allow you time to correct any flaws your course supervisor finds.
What you should not do:
- Do not just write about your topic as though it just occurred to you. Make a point of always trying to see if your topic can be narrowed down because it is a lot harder to write about a topic that is obscure, ambiguous, or just not clear.
- Avoid jargon, slang terms, and contractions like can’t, won’t, don’t, etc. Coursework language should be formal and scientific.
- Do not introduce new thoughts or ideas in your concluding paragraph. These should be set out in a logical manner in the main body paragraphs and they should be used to expand and elaborate on your research findings.
- Do not make statements that you cannot support with reliable quotations and reference materials. You should offer evidence for every claim you make even if some of these seem obvious.
- Allowing insufficient time for research work. Despite this being critical, a lot of students try to bypass the research stage and start writing straight away.
- Insufficient or inadequate proofreading and/or editing. This stage is also very important because the cost of avoidable errors can sometimes be very high. Missing a simple word in the summary or conclusion can ruin your entire argument.
- Sending coursework in on the exact date it is due. This often deprives students of one last chance to check and correct errors.
- Not identifying inaccurate statements, missing citations, incorrect formatting, over-simplifications, or unnecessary complexities, and so on within a text.
- Making text too difficult to read and/or understand.