Academic Integrity

Step 5: How do I improve and finalise my assignment?

<< previous

Checking your referencing

Checking in-text references

Good referencing will improve the overall quality of your assignment for several reasons:

  • your arguments will be clearly supported by evidence
  • your work will be more convincing
  • your reader can find your sources
  • your lecturer can see how widely you have read and whether you fully understand the work
  • your work will reflect the academic values and good academic practice expected at the University of Kent.

In addition, you will be able to use your own sources for further research in the future. Use the following steps to proof-read the final draft of your assignment:

  • On a paper copy of your assignment, read each paragraph and highlight all the direct quotations:
    • Have you used quotation marks or indented quotes correctly? When and how to use indented quotations varies with different referencing styles: check the 'Academic Integrity: Referencing Style Guides'.
    • Have you included page numbers for each quotation? This will also depend on your referencing style, but most systems require page references on direct quotations.
  • Re-read your work and highlight all other references. Check all references, including quotations:
    • Have you included the citation with correct details i.e. if there are two authors, have you listed the two authors?
    • Is the year correct?
    • Have you used the correct style consistently?
  • Check that every cited source is on your reference list. You can do this in two ways:
    • If you have already prepared your reference list, read your assignment and tick off each citation against the reference list item. If you have an extra citation in the body of your work, then add the appropriate reference list entry. If you have an extra source in your list which you have not cited, remove it.
    • If you do not have a full reference list, create a table on a separate page. As you read your work, add each citation (i.e. the author details) to the table. This will give you a full list of authors and you can add the full bibliographic details from your notes. If you need an alphabetical list, you can sort the table (remember to hide the lines around the table). If you are using a numerical referencing style, you will have your citations in the correct order.
  • On the final reading, check that the grammar around each citation flows naturally; see 'Step 4: Writing references'.

Checking your list of references

The most common error in the reference list is that students forget to check that their reference list is complete; every source you cite in your assignment must be listed in your reference list.

  • On your first reading, check that your list is complete - Use the steps listed in 'Checking your in-text references' above (also reproduced below):
    • If you have already prepared your reference list, read your assignment and tick off each citation against the reference list item. If you have an extra citation in the body of your work, then add the appropriate reference list entry. If you have an extra source in your list which you have not cited, remove it.
    • If you do not have a full reference list, create a table on a separate page. As you read your work, add each citation (i.e. the author details) to the table. This will give you a full list of authors and you can add the full bibliographic details from your notes. If you need an alphabetical list, you can sort the table (remember to hide the lines around the table). If you are using a numerical referencing style, you will have your citations in the correct order.
  • Is your list in the correct order? You may need to sort the list alphabetically or numerically depending on the referencing style that you are using.
  • Have you formatted the list consistently and correctly? Check:
    • Have you listed author names consistently? Look for full first name or initials only; using full stops and commas consistently etc.
    • The author's first name and family name. Have you listed the author's family name first? For example, how would you list the author 'David James'?
      Names in English are written 'first name family name' with no comma between them. In this example, 'David' and 'James' can both exist as either a first name or a family name. If you see them written as David James, you can tell that James is the family name because there is no comma between the names. In a reference list, the author's name must be shown as James, David or as James, D. The comma after the name shows that 'James' is the family name.
  • For Internet sources:
    • Have you listed and author and date published? If this information is not available, have you used the page title?
    • Have you listed the URL in full plus the date accessed?
    • For information on the correct format for listing Internet sources see 'Academic Integrity: Referencing Style Guides'.

back to top

Style and formatting

Style and formatting

This section is about checking the overall look of your assignment, rather than the language and style (that is in the proof-reading and editing section below). Paying attention to the layout and formatting of your assignment improves the appearance and readability of your work. Tidy up your work in the following steps:

  • Remove any headings or planning text that you may have inserted into your document. In general, academic essays do not include headings: these are a feature of reports or much longer pieces of work.
  • Remove any highlighting or inserted comments that you used to check your work at any stage. You should check that all your corrections have been completed before removing any reminder highlighting.
  • Check that you have used the same font throughout the document.
    • You may be expected to submit work in a certain layout: e.g. a specific font or font size and line spacing. Check that your document confirms to any required style guidelines.
  • Include a fully completed module or departmental assignment cover sheet if required.
  • Submit your work as expected and required:
    • If submitting in hard copy, check if you need to submit one or two copies.
    • If submitting online, check that you have used the correct format for the filename (some departments have very clear and specific requirements) and that you are submitting the work to the correct drop-box, i.e. an email address, a VLE drop-box or a Turnitin submission.

Proof reading and final editing

Essay structure

In your final proof-read, you need to check the following aspects of the structure of your essay:

  • Introduction,
  • Paragraphs and development,
  • Conclusion.


Your introduction outlines the case you will make in your assignment and how you will develop your argument.

Have you included:

  • Two or three general, introductory statements about your topic, including some background information?
    • These introductory sentences are usually placed at the beginning of the introduction and should become more specific, leading your reader to the thesis statement.
  • A clear thesis statement?
    • The thesis statement is usually the last sentence in the introduction. It generally includes the main topic, general answer to the question, subtopics and possibly the outline of your argument .
  • Does your thesis statement broadly answer the assignment question?
    • One statement is usually insufficient to answer an assignment question fully, but the thesis statement should give the reader a clear indication of the case you will present and the final conclusion you will draw.

Paragraphs and development

Your argument is developed through logical steps as set out in your paragraphs. For your argument to be clear to the reader, your paragraphs should be structured correctly and linked in a logical order.

Look for the following features in each paragraph:

  • A clear topic sentence.
  • Supporting sentences which include evidence or examples to support the topic sentence.
  • Referencing of each source that you have used to support your ideas.
  • A link to the next paragraph.
  • Clear development of the topic within each paragraph.
  • Clear development of your argument across paragraphs.


Your conclusion should sum up the argument you have presented in your writing and restate your thesis statement. You also need to give your final comment on the topic: this may be an opinion based on the points you have made or a suggestion for further research.

Read your conclusion and check that you have included:

  • A clear signpost that this is the conclusion: e.g. 'In conclusion...'; 'Overall...'; see 'Step 4: Signposting your work'.
  • A summary of the main points you have made in your assignment.
  • A restatement of your thesis statement. If your introduction and conclusion do not match, then your argument will not be convincing or may even fail altogether.
  • A final sentence reflecting your opinion, suggestion for future steps/research or message to the reader.

Adapted from:
Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd Ed. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Oshima, A. & Hogue, A. (1999) Writing Academic English, 3rd Ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Spelling, grammar and punctuation

Your final proof-read for grammar, spelling and punctuation should be done in separate stages so that you can focus on one aspect of your language at a time. To make it easier to spot errors, you can:

  • Read each sentence individually.
    • This forces you to read each sentence as a 'stand-alone' unit so you can more easily spot grammatical errors within a sentence.
  • Read each sentence aloud.
    • This helps you to spot poor punctuation and over-long sentences. A useful 'rule of thumb' is that sentences generally should contain less than 26 words.
  • Focus on the type of errors that you know you tend to make.
    • Often we make similar spelling or grammatical errors, so look for these: use a dictionary for spelling and meaning, and check your own 'typical' errors.
  • Look for one type of error at a time i.e. spelling first, then grammar and finally punctuation.
  • Read the tips on proof-reading below and then try the proof-reading exercise. You can check your answers against the solutions.


Common spelling errors usually include double/single letters, plurals; the use of s/z (i.e. US or UK spelling forms) or confusing words that sound similar but are spelled differently (cite/site; there/their; hear/here). Use the following steps to check you spelling:

  • Use your spell checker wisely. It will not pick up the wrong word e.g. from/form; of/off; moth/month.
  • Look for apostrophes. Have you inadvertently used an apostrophe instead of a plural form?
  • Look for commonly confused words e.g. accept/except; affect/effect etc.
  • Use a dictionary if you are not sure of the exact meaning or spelling of a word.

Useful links:


Poor grammar will confuse your reader and disrupt the flow of your writing. Look for common errors (comma instead of a full stop; very long sentences) and focus on errors that affect the meaning of your work.

Look for:

  • Incomplete or run-on sentences. See the 'OWL materials: Sentence fragments' and 'OWL materials: Sentence punctuation patterns' or the Grammar Slammer 'Run-on sentences' and 'Sentence fragments'.
  • Subject - verb agreement i.e. plural nouns with plural verb forms etc. This can often be tricky in longer sentences where there may be more than one subject in a sentence, such as:
    "An eye for detail, time spent planning and patiently reviewing your work are contributing factors to good essay writing". Note the use of 'are' not 'is'. Constant changes and edits to your writing may mean that this type of error can creep into your work. See the 'OWL materials: Subject/verb agreement'.
  • Correct use of apostrophes - apostrophes are used to show possesion (the girl's book) or missing letters (I'd/ I would). Apostrophes are never used to show the plural. Common mistakes include: its/it's, their's/theirs. See the 'OWL materials: Apostrophe'.

Useful grammar links:


Correct sentence punctuation is essential if you want your reader to fully understand your work. As you check your writing, start with simple items and then look for more complex errors. You may wish to review your punctuation and grammar in more detail. If so, try the following online resources:

Look for:

  • Capital letters: used to start a sentence; full stops to finish.
    • Capital letters should only occur within a sentence on certain words e.g. proper nouns (names of people, places or specific nouns); the pronoun 'I'; countries, languages and nationalities; trade names. There are several exceptions and complex, specific rules: for a full explanation see a grammar book or online resource such as 'The OWL at Purdue: Capital letters'.
  • Commas: commas have a series of rules, and different grammar books explain these in slightly different ways. If you find commas confusing, check different explanations (see the books listed below or an online grammar link such as 'The OWL at Purdue: Commas'). The main rules to master are how commas are used in:
    • Lists: Usually a comma is used to separate list items with no comma before the final item in the list; this is preceded by 'and'. For example: 'Todd, Jones and White have written on the topic'. However, if the final list item already includes 'and', then a comma is required. For example: Todd, Jones, and White and Fredricks have written on the topic. This shows that White and Fredricks wrote together. NB: long items in a list may be separated by a semi-colon.
    • Joining two sentences: A comma can be used to join two sentences ONLY when the sentences are joined by for, and, nor, but,or, yet, so (f-a-n-b-o-y-s). For example: 'She ran, but he walked'. Sentences joined by any other conjunction (other than the (f-a-n-b-o-y-s) must be punctuated with a semi-colon (a colon is not used to join sentences). For example: 'There are many theories on child development; however, the debate over "nature versus nurture" has not been settled'.
    • Bracketing: These are used to separate out (bracket) words in a sentence which are not essential to the meaning.
      - First example: "Law, while often considered difficult, is a rewarding subject to study". These commas could be replaced by brackets without changing the meaning of this sentence; therefore, it is grammatically correct to use bracketing commas. NB: Commas must not be used to separate out a group of words essential to the meaning of the sentence.
      - Second example: "Although it was raining, she went out". You must use a bracketing comma to separate a word or phrase at the start of the sentence from the main clause.
  • Colons: These are used when the words following the colon are explaining, adding information or restating the point made just before the colon. A colon may also be used to introduce a list or instructions. Eexample: 'There are many aspects of punctuation that need to be reviewed: colons and commas are the tip of the ice-berg'. See also 'The OWL at Purdue: Punctuation'.
  • Semi-colons: These are used to join sentences (as above); to separate long items in a list (as here); and as a shorter pause than a full stop between sentences. See also 'The OWL at Purdue: Punctuation'.

For more information see the following guides, available from the Student Learning Advisory Service:
Field, M. (2000) Improving Your Spelling, Oxford: How to Books Ltd.
Peck, J. & Coyle, M. (1999) The Student's Guide to Writing: Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling, UK: Macmillan Press Ltd.
Peck, J. & Coyle, M. (2005) Write it Right: A Handbook for Students, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rose, J. (2001) The Mature Student's Guide to Writing, UK: Palgrave.

Specialist terms and academic register

Specialist terms are the words which have a specific meaning when used in the context of a certain field of study. For example, the word 'assessment' usually has a familiar meaning written in a course handbook; however, the meaning will be quite different when used in the context of medicine and patient care. Some general rules for using specialist terms include:

  • Learn the specialist terms for your subject area as if you are learning a new language. Write down new words and check how they are used in the context of a sentence. Learn how to use the terms so that you are confident when using them in your writing.
  • Use the correct term in the correct context. Use a subject dictionary if you are unsure of how to use the word.
  • Use sparingly and do not rely on 'jargon' to make your writing sound more important. Simple, clear language will be easier and more pleasant to read, and you should aim to use technical or specialist terms only when necessary.
  • Give a brief explanation when you introduce a new specialist term in your work depending on the assignment question. This may not be necessary if it is a common term; it is likely to be required if it is a word you have only learnt recently.

Academic register refers to the use of appropriate language in your work. It can be thought of as the written equivalent to one's tone of voice. In 'Step 4: Redrafting in stages' you checked the language and style of your writing. In your final proof-read, look for and use:

  • Formal language: make sure you have not used any slang terms or 'fashionable' language. Also avoid 'chatty' language.
  • Objective language: You must avoid emotional or subjective language. It is sometimes easier to spot this if you consider how your sentence would read if you replaced the word you want to check with the opposite word (its antonym). If you are still unsure, read the sentence aloud, slowly. Does it sound neutral and objective, or subjective?
  • Whole words: Check again for the use of contracted forms.These are not appropriate in academic writing.
  • Gender neutral terms: avoid gendered language or stereotypes.

Useful links on academic register and style:

For more information see the following guides available from the Student Learning Advisory Service:
Peck, J. & Coyle, M. (2005) Write it Right: A Handbook for Students, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rose, J. (2001) The Mature Student's Guide to Writing, UK: Palgrave.

Using feedback to improve your work

Using your feedback from previous assignments

Your tutors take a lot of time to give you feedback on your work- why not make use of it to guide how you will tackle your next assignment? You may even improve your grades while improving your understanding of each assessed topic. Use the following steps to help you make the most out of your assignment feedback and don’t let any possible disappointment cloud how you approach your next assignment. Instead, let constructive self-criticism lead to an ‘action-plan’ for future assignments.

1. Read your feedback as soon as you receive it.

Reading and making use of your feedback is an important part of the assessment cycle.

  • You can use positive and negative comments to improve your work but don’t take any negative comments as a sign of personal failure. Use them to improve your work next time.
  • If you are clear about any part of your feedback, talk to your tutor. Find out why you got the feedback and grade that you did and plan ways to improve. For instance, did you meet all of the assessment criteria?

2. Keep a learning journal.

For each assessment, sort your feedback into useful categories and keep a note of all the feedback your receive. You can use the template below to help or you can design your own template.

  • Look for patterns in the feedback: are you good at certain tasks and not at others?
  • Look for the common areas to improve and find help for those particular areas. Make sure you work on these for the next assessment.
  • Ask your tutor for feedback on these particular areas in drafts of your assessment.

Shaun's Template for Learning Journal – Essay Feedback:

Essay: Date:
Academic content:
Use of evidence:
Structure, organisation and clarity of writing:

Space for recording feedback comments - add lines as you need them…


3. Action plan: Prepare your work.

Does your feedback relate to problems with:

  • The way the answer addresses the question
  • Relevance and application of reading
  • Range of reading material
  • Missing/inaccurate in-text citations and references
Make sure you analyse your assessment question fully before starting your reading.

4. Action plan: Plan your work.

Does your feedback relate to problems with your:

  • Interpretation of the question
  • Integration of reading/research
  • Uneven or unfocused direction and structure of the main argument.

Look at your initial assessment plan and keep that handy while you are researching. Plan your work at both a general level (roughly answering the question) and at a detailed level (paragraph plans, developing your argument). Keep track of your reading and make sure you embed your references right from the start!

5. Action plan: Producing your assessment.

Does your feedback relate to problems with:

  • Structure and organisation
  • Language
  • Difficulty in following the argument
  • Embedding evidence.

Reread and proofread your work before you submit it. Make sure your introduction and conclusion are integral to your work and that you have a clear understanding of the structure you want to use for your work (ie an academic essay or a report). Use clear language and check your grammar. Use the Assignment Survival Kit to help you check your work.

By Judy Cohen, UELT.

back to top

Academic Integrity, UELT, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NQ

Telephone: +44(0)1227 824016 or contact us

Last Updated: 02/11/2015