Tips for Success from a 3rd Year Student Completing a Second La Trobe Degree!
By Guest Writer Rachelle Moore
As first year students you will all be very familiar with the Connect Mentor program. Well a few lucky Health Science students had the fortune to be mentored by Rachelle Moore, whose effort in writing this survival guide contained within, earned her the Outstanding Mentor Award at the close of the semester 1 program a few weeks ago. We are delighted that she has agreed to share this for publication on our blog.
Connect Mentors are there to do whatever they can to help you succeed and navigate your way through first year with as few bumps in the road as possible, and Rachelle is no exception. She hopes you will enjoy this blog and find a few useful tips in there that will help you get a better grade next time.
Layout and Formatting:
- Make sure that you have a professional layout. A sloppy appearance with uneven spaces can give the reader an impression that it’s a rush job.
- Present a cover page titling the assignment, student number, name and other details. I have provided mine as an example. It looks extra professional and shows the marker that you made the time to do it, not just a rush job!
Font, size and spacing. Standards are: size 12, Times New Roman or Arial, double spaced. Pay attention to your marking guide for each assignment to make sure you meet the requirements. PowerPoint presentations for example can differ (slides are usually single spaced with larger font).
Spelling and grammar:
- Marks are deducted for spelling mistakes! Not only this but lots of errors can make the reader question your knowledge base and consider you careless, so make sure you correct all errors using word.
- Once all errors have been corrected you may still have red or green squiggly lines, for e.g. Names and referencing. Click on top left hand button of word > word options proofing > scroll down to exceptions > select both ‘hide spelling errors in this document only’ and ‘hide grammar errors in this document only.’ As assignments are submitted electronically these underlines can be seen by the reader and it’s off-putting, as well as attention drawing to any mistakes you have made. Hide them and if you did happen to spell something wrong the assessor is less likely to notice it!
- There are some useful links on the Latrobe website to help you with grammar; I like the common mistakes section. You may be writing something wrongfully without realizing it. Check it out: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/students/learning/allu-documents/5-Favourite-Errors.pdf and http://www.latrobe.edu.au/students/learning/allu-documents/error-analysis.pdf
- The academic language and learning centre can help you with constructing essays and look at your drafts. Most importantly they can bring out your potential to help you become a better writer! Here is the link to their contact details and location for health sciences: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/students/learning/faculty-advice/health
If you don’t want to see anyone in person but are keen to improve your writing skills, this is a must read: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/students/learning/allu-documents/ACADEMIC-WRITING-pdf_120924_2.pdf
Referencing and using Endnote:
- Download Endnote, it will make your referencing so much easier! The link is here: http://latrobe.libguides.com/endnote
- Once you have downloaded Endnote you will want to import references, the quickest way to do this is by clicking ‘Import to endnote’ under the search result in Google Scholar. Otherwise you can import files and folders that you have saved to your PC or USB into your endnote library. To do this when in your endnote library click on File > Import > File (or folder).
- To add references from endnote into your Word document in text and reference list do the following: highlight in endnote the reference that you want to insert to your word document > put your cursor in word where you want to add the in text reference > select the Endnote tab on word (final tab for Word 2007) > Insert citation > arrow down to insert selected citation. If you haven’t selected the citation before accessing word you can alternatively click find citation and it allows you to access your files from Endnote.
- Know your style: For most Health Science disciplines it is APA6. This library tool for APA6 style will help you reference correctly: http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/referencing-tool/apa-6/
- Most importantly, make sure that you use the correct format for the correct resource. I.e. for books the title is in italics, but for journals it is different: the journal name is in italics. Also pay attention to the number of authors as you list the names differently depending on the numbers. I’ll go through that briefly with you now via the Library referencing tool.
- Do you have enough references? The bare minimum will get you a pass but not an A.
- What references are you using? Mostly journal articles are the way to go. One or two textbooks (usually prescribed texts) may be included but not usually more than that. Only .Gov and .Edu websites should be used unless informed otherwise by your assessor. Assessors want peer reviewed information and almost anyone can buy a .Com site and will not need any of the information posted on it to be reviewed, therefore stay away from .Coms!
- Are you referencing enough? Whenever you introduce a new idea in a sentence that has come from another source (not yourself) you should paraphrase it (i.e put into your own words), then place in text referencing in brackets at the end of the sentence. Here is paraphrasing explained: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/students/learning/allu-documents/Paraphrasing.pdf
- I tend to reference every few sentences as I use many sources of information. The bare minimum would be 1 to 2 in text references (can be the same source if need be) per paragraph.
Direct quotes can be use to emphasise a point or present a statistic. For example. Such and Such (2010) states that conversing with a patient during care can increase their level of happiness and improve their overall hospital experience. Do not use too many as assessors usually prefer paraphrased material, and i’ve seen students be marked down for adding too many or not adding them in correctly. Try not to use more than 1-2 per paper unless it is requiring a fair amount of statistical evidence of other studies.
Finding References using Google Scholar:
Forget spending hours searching on La Trobe databases in the library and use Google Scholar! You will need to setup your preferences in Scholar to allow full text La Trobe access to journal articles. To do this click on this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_settings?hl=en&as_sdt=0,5
then select Library Links on the left hand side of the page. Type in ‘La Trobe University then hit search > select ‘La Trobe University – Full text @ La Trobe’ then hit Save.
Setup Scholar to allow references found in the search to be imported to Endnote. To do this click on this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_settings?hl=en&as_sdt=0,5
Then go down to Bibliography manager and select ‘show links to import citations to Endnote’ then hit save.
- This is your assignment bible; you almost need to pay more attention to this than your assignment question! Complete all the tasks allocated/assessed for in the excellent section and you are on your way to an A grade, or possibly a B (we have to be realistic, A grade assignments take time to master) and don’t worry you will get there! 😀
- Pay attention to the number of marks allocated to each question/topic assessed for on the rubric, this can guide you how much to write for each section. I.e. if an assignment (1500 words) is worth 15 marks for a two part question; one part is 10 marks and the other part worth 5, then you would allocate roughly 1000 words (less conclusion and introduction) for the 10 mark question and roughly 500 words for the 5 mark question. Be mindful that sometimes this won’t always be the case, you may answer questions more succinctly in fewer words, sometimes a good answer isn’t always a long one, but a sharp and to the point one. It depends on your topic.
- Here you will find the number of references required. For the assignment. If they ask for 10 I aim to find 12! I like to show I have gone to effort and am interested in my work, which usually pleases the reader and ensures me a better grade J
They may list particular formats required or question styles (i.e. letter format or list instead of describe). Pay attention to these requests and highlight them in the rubric!
- Make sure you understand what you are writing as a reader can tell if this is not the case. If you don’t understand the topic you are also more likely to get a higher copy score for the turn it in program as you won’t be paraphrasing as well. So to make your assignment your own know your topic well by getting information from a variety of resources.
- Each new idea should be presented in a new paragraph, make sure that your paragraphs are not too bulky in the body, as they can exhaust/irritate the reader.
- Make sure you have a strong introduction and conclusion. Remember introductions set the scene of the paper and tell the reader what you will be exploring and ways in which you will do it. You may need to define terms here and in that case you will need to use a reference, otherwise references are not usually required here. Conclusions can be a little shorter and summarize all the key points and arguments of the paper, as well as the overall findings/discoveries made. Make sure not to discuss anything not previously covered in the body here as you will lose marks.
So you’ve written your essay but have you proofread it? You may not have spelt something incorrectly but you may have used an inappropriate word for that sentence, so always take the time to double-check. I find that proofreading twice is sufficient to detect and correct any spelling or grammatical errors.
If you have a close friend that you know is pretty good at writing you can offer to proofread each other’s assignments before submission, helping each other out and picking up repeated mistakes that you might not have noticed yourself. This is only recommended though if you have different topics as you must be mindful of plagiarism. We don’t want to risk that happening to you!
This is taken seriously by the university and can result in you being dismissed from your studies without completion (i.e. kicked out of your course). We don’t want that to happen so no matter how late you are running with your assignment, don’t do it! It’s better to lose a few marks due to lateness than lose your degree. Remember to submit your documents through Turn It In and you are less likely to run the risk.
Turn it in sometimes requires up to a week for one document to be processed twice in the same Turn It In drop box, to check for plagiarism. This happens when your first score comes up as a high amount of plagiarism, and then in this case you need to fix it again and resubmit a second time to get a second report. This means you will need to be super early in your submissions if referencing isn’t your strong point. This long wait period can be overcome though if the assessor has created a separate Turn It In draft box for the subject to generate a first report independent of the final report. If there is not a draft box approach your assessor or course supervisor to get one created, for that LMS subject. It will make not only your life but also your fellow student’s lives easier. Remember that you pay for your degree and have a right to speak up and make quality level of education better!
Advocacy: if you have an issue/dispute about the authenticity or unfair marking of an assessment/misconduct and you need advocacy then join the student union and go see them in the Agora (on the upper level next to the library) as they are your student voice! More information about the union advocacy service is here: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/students/learning/academic-integrity/alleged-misconduct
Don’t be scared to ask for one, if you have a valid excuse and ask early enough you might just be lucky enough to be granted one! Don’t leave it to that weekend before the due date to email the assessor, it won’t happen! Unless you have a medical/personal reason that can be justified or proven in which extensions can usually be granted at short notice, then give the assessor at least a few working days notice. Be mindful though that some assessors won’t grant any extensions unless requested more than a week prior to the due date.
Didn’t get that extensions and couldn’t hand in your assignment on time? It’s not the end of the world. The usual protocol for mark losing is that you lose 5% of your overall mark per day, up to a total of 5 days late (25%) then if submitted after that point your assignment won’t be marked. So sometimes it may be better to hand in an assignment one day late and lose 5% than to hand in a rushed assignment which only has half the required word count.
Be organized and get onto it early! Do an assignment plan in your diary! Set aside assignment study days. Most of all don’t leave it to the last minute unless you are an expert at working under pressure, be honest with yourself 😛
I like to use colour coded sticky tabs for assignment due dates, poking out from the pages of my diary to alert me when something is due or coming up (I’m a tad old-school with the pen and paper preference). Otherwise for all you new kids set early memos/alarms in your phone a week before assessments are due so in case you have got caught up in university life and forgot a due date, your phone will remind you in time!
Finally! Common mistakes of students that cause them lose marks (do not make these)!
Constant spelling and grammatical errors
Not paying attention to the marking rubric and not addressing the key points that the guide requests for
Allocating too much word limit for a question worth a small amount, then not enough to a question worth a large amount.
Thinking that 8 references is enough when they asked for 10 (you will get marked down).
Not referencing correctly (both in text and end of list) using the correct style and format per particular source (i.e. book format, journal format).
Not using appropriate references. Never use Wikipedia guys, instant fail!
Copying word for word full sentences and sometimes paragraphs from a source. Also not using referencing. If you do these things be prepared to say goodbye to your degree.
Incoherent/poorly constructed sentences. Please re-read your sentences out aloud if need be to make sure that they are comprehendible.
Asking for extensions too late.
Submitting documents very late (i.e. over 3 days) this can give the reader a negative impression and can appear lazy, beware!
Good luck everyone! Make sure to get plenty of rest, take your multivitamins and drink plenty of water to keep that brain hydrated and working at its best! I wish you all the best in your assignment writing; now go get that A grade!