Academic Writing, Writing

Back to School: 7 Tips to Help You Ace Your Writing Assignments

In North America, the UK, and certain other parts of the world, it’s time to start a new school year. If you are entering university as an international student, you may be feeling overwhelmed right now. According to recent research, English language proficiency can significantly impact your academic performance. Interestingly, multilingual students who list English as their third language tend to have the highest mean GPA.

Since writing is a vital key to academic success, now is a good time for you to assess your writing skills.

  • What are your strengths?
  • How can you build upon them?
  • Are there any areas where your writing needs to improve?

Whether you are a freshman or an experienced student who wants to improve, the following tips will help you navigate your way through university-level writing assignments. Even if you’re not in school at all, you can use these tips to help you succeed in the workplace.

1. Time management

Stay ahead of the game by getting—and staying—organized. Here are some strategies to keep you on track:

  • Choose the right calendar. You may prefer a digital calendar, such as Google Calendar, or a traditional paper planner. Each one has its pros and cons, so choose what best suits your lifestyle.
  • Input key dates. As soon as you get the syllabus for each course, input all of the assignment deadlines and exam dates into your calendar.
  • Set up reminders. For digital calendars, set reminders to notify you well in advance of an assignment’s due date. For paper planners, use colored stickers or markers as visual cues.
  • Work backwards from deadlines. Determine what steps you need to take in order to prepare for each assignment or exam. Break down these steps and assign them to specific dates leading up to the deadline.
  • Do a weekly review. Dedicate some time each week, perhaps on a Sunday, to review your calendar for the week ahead. This ensures you’re aware of upcoming commitments.
  • Check each syllabus regularly. Professors often update their syllabi with important information or make changes to deadlines. Make it a habit to check each course syllabus at least weekly.
  • Sync across devices. If you’re using a digital calendar, make sure it’s accessible on all your devices. This ensures that you can update or check it anytime, anywhere.

2. Tools and Resources

Do you know that your school probably provides special resources to help you succeed? Knowing about these tools before you need them can save you a lot of time and keep your stress levels low.  Check with your student center, advisor, or school guide to learn about tools that may be available to you.

  • Find out if you are eligible for learning accommodations. There may be resources to support you if English is not your first language or if you are dealing with any disabilities that affect your academic performance.
  • Meet with peer tutors. Many schools provide peer-tutoring programs to match you with a trained student tutor who can help you understand the material you’re learning.
  • Find out which services your school library offers. Beyond being a quiet place filled with research materials, your library may provide resources like special study guides, research tutorials, lessons on basic computer skills, and much more. 
  • Join student groups. Getting involved in clubs or organizations can help you connect with other students and build a strong social network. You can learn many tips and tricks that are specific to your school just by talking to other students.
  • Check your instructors’ office hours. Most instructors set aside a certain time period each week to meet with students and discuss any problems or issues. You can also use this time to talk to your instructors about ideas for projects or opportunities in your field of interest.
  • Remember to look for services off-campus. You can also find other services through local or online businesses. For example, TextRanch frequently assists students by editing academic papers or answering specific questions about English.

3. Official policies

You can avoid many pitfalls by making sure you are aware of all the rules and guidelines your school has in place, especially in the following areas:

  • In a diverse academic environment, respectful language is crucial. Your school will have certain policies in place regarding the use of names, gendered language, offensive language, and more. 
  • You’re an adult now, but you’ll still need to abide by a code of conduct. Different cultures have different rules and laws. For example, if you come from a country where teenagers can drink alcohol legally, you should be aware that in the United States the legal drinking age is 21, while in Canada it is 19.
  • Cheating and plagiarism: Don’t do it! If you are overloaded with coursework, you may feel tempted to cheat on an exam or find a term paper on the internet and pass it off as your own. However, plagiarism is never a good idea! Neither is cheating. You could ruin your academic career.
  • Some rules or guidelines may vary. Individual instructors or academic departments may have their own guidelines, especially regarding absences, due dates, missed assignments, and style guides.  

4. English language practice

No doubt you will be busy keeping up with your reading and writing assignments. Still, if English is not your first language, it’s important to keep practicing beyond what is required for your course work.

  • Keep a journal. Your journal can be used to summarize your day and jot down any thoughts you have about ongoing projects. This is a good way to help you practice your English writing and retain the information you learned in class. Keeping a regular journal can also help you remember important things weeks later. (It’s always surprising how our ideas get blurry, even when they seem so obvious at the moment!)
  • Take time to read for pleasure. Yes, it can seem like all you do is read when you’re in school, but squeezing in time for leisure reading is a good way to improve your English skills. If you are pressed for time, an English audiobook, graphic novel, podcast, or movie can also be a good way to practice your English.
  • Write to family and friends back home. Writing emails or even sending snail mail (gasp!) to family, friends, and pen pals is a great way to practice writing and stay in touch. You will be making new friends at your university, but it’s good for your mental health to communicate regularly with old friends and family members who don’t go to your school.

5. Effective formal writing

Now that you are a university student, your professors will be expecting you to write in a formal style. It takes time and practice to get used to writing this way, even if you are a native English speaker. It’s best to just take things one step at a time:

  • Begin with shorter articles. If you start by reading reading shorter, more accessible scholarly articles, you will soon understand the jargon and expressions used by professionals in your field.
  • Move to more technical material. As you become more comfortable, work your way up to more technical material. This gradual exposure will help improve your understanding of complex topics. This, in turn, will make it easier when you move from reading scholarly articles to writing them.
  • Write drafts: Before submitting any academic paper, make sure to draft and revise. This is where your initial understanding of the subject matter turns into nuanced arguments.
  • Use TextRanch for polishing: Before you finalize your paper, use TextRanch to proofread and refine your writing. The platform offers expert feedback on grammar, syntax, and style, ensuring that your academic papers meet the highest standards.

6. Plagiarism and AI tools

Your instructors will probably provide you with specific guidance about plagiarism and artificial intelligence (AI) tools. Make sure you follow those guidelines! Here are some other things you should know:

  • Plagiarism checkers exist. These tools are widely available, so it’s highly likely that your professor will find out if your paper is not original content.
  • AI checkers also exist. Just as your professors have access to tools that can detect plagiarism, there are now AI checkers that can tell them whether your paper was actually generated by AI.
  • Always cite your sources. If you quote anyone else’s work in your papers, be sure to cite it. If you aren’t sure about how to do this, clarify it with your professor. Also, be sure to format your quotes according to the style guide that your professor requires.
  • You can’t cite AI tools. AI tools get their material from a variety of sources, but they don’t tell you where. This means you cannot properly cite them in your academic papers.
  • AI tools can be unreliable. The quality of an AI-generated paper probably won’t be up to a university professor’s standards. The data in most AI tools is very general; you won’t find the latest scholarly research there.
  • You can use AI for certain tasks. Although you don’t want to use AI to write your actual paper, an AI tool can help you plan and organize an essay. However, this only works if you already have a strong grasp on the material.

7. Details and “little” words

For the most part, the academic papers we edit at TextRanch are well-written, but the “little” words—articles, prepositions, and conjunctions—can cause some big problems.

  • Consult your style guide. Find out which style guide your professor expects you to use and follow it carefully.
  • Use your software. The language assistance tools in your word processor can help you catch minor errors. Make sure you set the language to the correct one for your location/school (for example, US or UK English).
  • Double check your work. Set your paper aside for a few hours (or days if you have time) and read through it later. You can catch many mistakes this way. Starting at the end and reading it backwards is an excellent way to catch typos.
  • Use a professional editor. At TextRanch, we offer a service where a native English speaker will read through your academic papers and other longer documents and provide corrections and feedback.

We will be covering some of these academic writing tips in more detail in future articles. In the meantime, if you need some help making the transition to university-level writing, our team of TextRanch editors is here for you.

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