How to score 80%+ for university essays (specifically medical related) Watch

As.1997
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Guys, I've been struggling really badly to do well in university to score well for essays (also known as in course assessments). I've come across different types of essays/writings that I was required to produce. 2 examples include; writing a literature review on a scientific journal and the other is just answering a question such as current advancement in a particular disease using a particular device e.g. stents for the treatment of coronary artery disease.

1) Could those who have scored well (i.e. 70%+) please jot down with as much detail on how they go about producing essays of that quality?

2) Also, there are some issues that I face and one of those is that I struggle to understand some text within journals and find it really frustrating as that makes me waste so much time or I end up giving up and just wanting to finish my essay rather than producing quality work.

3) If you produce plans etc... how exactly do you do that i.e. do you know what you want to write for each paragraph and then look into journals to see what you can find?

4) I'm slightly confused about how to go about writing essays, do you guys who score well pick out paragraphs from journals that fit well with what you want to say and reword? Or do you go about it differently?

All advice is much appreciated
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ax12
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(Original post by As.1997)
Guys, I've been struggling really badly to do well in university to score well for essays (also known as in course assessments). I've come across different types of essays/writings that I was required to produce. 2 examples include; writing a literature review on a scientific journal and the other is just answering a question such as current advancement in a particular disease using a particular device e.g. stents for the treatment of coronary artery disease.

1) Could those who have scored well (i.e. 70%+) please jot down with as much detail on how they go about producing essays of that quality?

2) Also, there are some issues that I face and one of those is that I struggle to understand some text within journals and find it really frustrating as that makes me waste so much time or I end up giving up and just wanting to finish my essay rather than producing quality work.

3) If you produce plans etc... how exactly do you do that i.e. do you know what you want to write for each paragraph and then look into journals to see what you can find?

4) I'm slightly confused about how to go about writing essays, do you guys who score well pick out paragraphs from journals that fit well with what you want to say and reword? Or do you go about it differently?

All advice is much appreciated
Do you have a personal tutor? If so I’d take them your work and ask them for some pointers as to where you’re going wrong and what you can do to improve. Your library may also run some sessions on how to do a literature review and writing academic pieces, so I’d pop in there and ask them about that.
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As.1997
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Yup, we do have personal tutors. And will do. Thanks
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username1221160
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To address your points:

1. You read published work and look to emulate it. You need to equal the scientific style adopted in journals. It needs to succinct, direct, detailed and logically structured. A lot of students let themselves down by waffling, repeating themselves or structuring their writing badly.

2. This is down to your own lack of knowledge of the subject. Again, you address this by reading more.

3/4. Don't pick out paragraphs and look to reword. Your work it needs to be your own critical synthesis of published work.

There is no magic shortcut to good scientific writing. It is a skill that takes time to master. You have to willing to sit in the library for long periods of time, be highly self critical and read until you understand a topic in depth.
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Claree
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(Original post by As.1997)
Guys, I've been struggling really badly to do well in university to score well for essays (also known as in course assessments). I've come across different types of essays/writings that I was required to produce. 2 examples include; writing a literature review on a scientific journal and the other is just answering a question such as current advancement in a particular disease using a particular device e.g. stents for the treatment of coronary artery disease.

1) Could those who have scored well (i.e. 70%+) please jot down with as much detail on how they go about producing essays of that quality?

2) Also, there are some issues that I face and one of those is that I struggle to understand some text within journals and find it really frustrating as that makes me waste so much time or I end up giving up and just wanting to finish my essay rather than producing quality work.

3) If you produce plans etc... how exactly do you do that i.e. do you know what you want to write for each paragraph and then look into journals to see what you can find?

4) I'm slightly confused about how to go about writing essays, do you guys who score well pick out paragraphs from journals that fit well with what you want to say and reword? Or do you go about it differently?

All advice is much appreciated
I have a lot I could say on this. Of most importance:

1) Style

Generally, in scientific writing, you want to just say things as they are, with great clarity. This requires clarity of thought on your part as to what you are writing about, and then you present the material in a way that is really easy to understand. Good scientific writing is really easy to read and understand - its purpose is to convey information.

Keep rereading what you've written and think, could you write it in a clearer way, or in fewer words (though sometimes more words can be clearer)? Write the essay, leave it for maybe a few days, come back and read it again - ambiguities in your writing may become apparent. Don't write anything for the sake of it, so delete anything redundant.

Your department might have guidelines on style. Follow these if they give them. Otherwise, I would write in third person, except in certain circumstances for special emphasis. However, sometimes a different style of essay may be wanted e.g. a more discursive essay comparing different options and coming up with your own judgement. That said, you can write your opinions in a detached, 3rd person manner, for more formal scientific writing.

Literature reviews

The point of a literature review is to systematically categorise the existing literature, such that it is clear where the gaps are e.g. "a, b & c did x, d, e & f did y, no one in the literature has yet done z" or "literature in this field broadly comes under either y or z". These gaps are what you suggest future research fills. Schematics/diagrams, or graphs comparing performance, are impressive. You can also get high marks by trying to find disagreement in the literature, and also agreement e.g. "a & b think x, disagreeing with c & d who think y". Better still is to try to explain why this disagreement might have arose.

Context

In my reports, I tried to appreciate the broader context of the topic/experiment, discuss possible applications, future work etc. However, when you are just starting learning a subject, this can be challenging.

2) The best written papers are easy to understand. If you find an article hard to understand, it may be the fault of the author for not presenting their ideas more clearly. Therefore, don't blame yourself/be disheartened!

I find reading all the way through an article, underlining what I don't understand, and moving on, helpful for a first reading, as opposed to getting stuck on a section I don't understand at first. I find that the article then tends to make much more sense upon rereading, now that I have the bigger picture. Rereading at a later date also helps. I look up the words I don't understand. Often, you don't need to understand the entirety of an article to write your essay. Often I find looking at citations of such papers helpful - they may explain something more clearly. Or looking at earlier work of the authors may be helpful.

Also, reading journal articles trying to understand them is not a waste of time - it can be a key part of writing a literature review, and increases your knowledge/understanding, but it is possible to become much more efficient at doing this.

If you really don't understand a particular article, just pick other articles to write about in detail, instead! You could just mention the incomprehensible article in passing, if at all.

3&4) I usually work the other way round - look at the literature, and use this to inform your plan. It's a bit different though if it's a literature review as part of a research project - I will then specifically look up all the key features of my research project in the literature, and see to what extent they have been adressed. Then I can say how my project will fill gaps. In which case, yes, I would be looking for articles to fill paragraphs on certain topics.

And for other kinds of essays, yes, once I've identified what the major things address are, I will look in the literature to help address them. But I use the literature to help me decide what to address in the first place.


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As.1997
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(Original post by Claree)
I have a lot I could say on this. Of most importance:

1) Style

Generally, in scientific writing, you want to just say things as they are, with great clarity. This requires clarity of thought on your part as to what you are writing about, and then you present the material in a way that is really easy to understand. Good scientific writing is really easy to read and understand - its purpose is to convey information.

Keep rereading what you've written and think, could you write it in a clearer way, or in fewer words (though sometimes more words can be clearer)? Write the essay, leave it for maybe a few days, come back and read it again - ambiguities in your writing may become apparent. Don't write anything for the sake of it, so delete anything redundant.

Your department might have guidelines on style. Follow these if they give them. Otherwise, I would write in third person, except in certain circumstances for special emphasis. However, sometimes a different style of essay may be wanted e.g. a more discursive essay comparing different options and coming up with your own judgement. That said, you can write your opinions in a detached, 3rd person manner, for more formal scientific writing.

Literature reviews

The point of a literature review is to systematically categorise the existing literature, such that it is clear where the gaps are e.g. "a, b & c did x, d, e & f did y, no one in the literature has yet done z" or "literature in this field broadly comes under either y or z". These gaps are what you suggest future research fills. Schematics/diagrams, or graphs comparing performance, are impressive. You can also get high marks by trying to find disagreement in the literature, and also agreement e.g. "a & b think x, disagreeing with c & d who think y". Better still is to try to explain why this disagreement might have arose.

Context

In my reports, I tried to appreciate the broader context of the topic/experiment, discuss possible applications, future work etc. However, when you are just starting learning a subject, this can be challenging.

2) The best written papers are easy to understand. If you find an article hard to understand, it may be the fault of the author for not presenting their ideas more clearly. Therefore, don't blame yourself/be disheartened!

I find reading all the way through an article, underlining what I don't understand, and moving on, helpful for a first reading, as opposed to getting stuck on a section I don't understand at first. I find that the article then tends to make much more sense upon rereading, now that I have the bigger picture. Rereading at a later date also helps. I look up the words I don't understand. Often, you don't need to understand the entirety of an article to write your essay. Often I find looking at citations of such papers helpful - they may explain something more clearly. Or looking at earlier work of the authors may be helpful.

Also, reading journal articles trying to understand them is not a waste of time - it can be a key part of writing a literature review, and increases your knowledge/understanding, but it is possible to become much more efficient at doing this.

If you really don't understand a particular article, just pick other articles to write about in detail, instead! You could just mention the incomprehensible article in passing, if at all.

3&4) I usually work the other way round - look at the literature, and use this to inform your plan. It's a bit different though if it's a literature review as part of a research project - I will then specifically look up all the key features of my research project in the literature, and see to what extent they have been adressed. Then I can say how my project will fill gaps. In which case, yes, I would be looking for articles to fill paragraphs on certain topics.

And for other kinds of essays, yes, once I've identified what the major things address are, I will look in the literature to help address them. But I use the literature to help me decide what to address in the first place.


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Really appreciate the time you took to write this

May I ask towards the last bit you mentioned you look at the literature to inform your plan. Is this because by looking at the literature regarding your topic you become familiar with the major themes or ideas that are talked about?
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As.1997
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(Original post by Sulfolobus)
To address your points:

1. You read published work and look to emulate it. You need to equal the scientific style adopted in journals. It needs to succinct, direct, detailed and logically structured. A lot of students let themselves down by waffling, repeating themselves or structuring their writing badly.

2. This is down to your own lack of knowledge of the subject. Again, you address this by reading more.

3/4. Don't pick out paragraphs and look to reword. Your work it needs to be your own critical synthesis of published work.

There is no magic shortcut to good scientific writing. It is a skill that takes time to master. You have to willing to sit in the library for long periods of time, be highly self critical and read until you understand a topic in depth.
Thank you for your advice
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Claree
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(Original post by As.1997)
Really appreciate the time you took to write this

May I ask towards the last bit you mentioned you look at the literature to inform your plan. Is this because by looking at the literature regarding your topic you become familiar with the major themes or ideas that are talked about?
You're welcome

Yes. Also, most articles themselves will start with a literature review, though it may be brief, so starting by looking at articles will give you ideas of other articles to look at. If I didn't broadly search the literature first, and instead looked for articles under ideas I'd already thought of, I might miss articles under ideas that I wouldn't have thought of myself.

Of course it's fine to come up with ideas yourself, too, and look for relevant articles. However, my main reason for saying start from the literature (when writing a literature review) is that you are critiquing the literature. You won't know what points of agreement/disagreement there will be between articles, and hence what you can write paragraphs on, until you've read the literature.

Furthermore, it may be hard to structure a review until you've broadly classified the literature. Though if you have some knowledge of the topic already, it may be that you can "guess" the areas into which the literature divides before you read the literature.

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QuentinM
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1) Read the mark scheme for your essays. You should be able to find one online for your module, or a general one for the course. This should give you some pointers. Generally, to get 70% or above you need to show you are reading beyond what was talked about in lectures/seminars-thats something that was always mentioned in mine.

2) I would also say read the title of the essay and underline the key words. Are you being asked to DESCRIBE or EXPLAIN something? Descriptive essays involve you talking about what happens, explanation essays require you to talk about WHY stuff happens. Make sure you know which your essay requires, otherwise you could end up going down the wrong route. I've seen people fail essays because they read the title completely wrong, wrote something not even remotely related, whereas I was able to and got high 70% marks.

3) Generally the key bit is discussion. The BIG thing for being marked well in essays is talking about the IMPACT of whatever was discussed in the papers. Lets say...a paper talks about how a gene is expressed different during the development of the brain in mice, and this particular gene is mutated in ALS (or Motor neurone disease if you are UK based, which I assume you are). What is the impact of that work-why was it done? Its hard for you to see in this example because you won't have read it. But it was done to see how brain development could be disrupted in brains with that gene mutated. The impact is that it could help us understand ALS a bit better, in terms of how it develops, leading to better treatments. Just saying "better treatments" won't give you the marks, you need to be more specific, but again this depends on your specific essay questions.

You also need to be able to critically analyse work. You need to be able to go through the literature and say what was good about the work they did, what wasn't good, and maybe recommend a more ideal study that could be done in the future to verify findings, or learn more. For example, that paper I mentioned above looked at gene expression in different stages of mouse development. You could critique the paper by checking
-how any mice they used in each sample
-how many different stages of brain development they looked at
-whether they checked for markers to confirm which cells were expressing it (which markers, etc etc)
-did they verify these findings in another organism? Even better-in humans? (I'm not talking about cutting up babies here, this could be done using cultured organdies or some other model like that)

Finally you want to talk about directions for the future-something I alluded to earlier. What studies should be done to expand on this further? What else do we need to understand about the topic?

Hope this helps
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As.1997
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(Original post by QuentinM)
1) Read the mark scheme for your essays. You should be able to find one online for your module, or a general one for the course. This should give you some pointers. Generally, to get 70% or above you need to show you are reading beyond what was talked about in lectures/seminars-thats something that was always mentioned in mine.

2) I would also say read the title of the essay and underline the key words. Are you being asked to DESCRIBE or EXPLAIN something? Descriptive essays involve you talking about what happens, explanation essays require you to talk about WHY stuff happens. Make sure you know which your essay requires, otherwise you could end up going down the wrong route. I've seen people fail essays because they read the title completely wrong, wrote something not even remotely related, whereas I was able to and got high 70% marks.

3) Generally the key bit is discussion. The BIG thing for being marked well in essays is talking about the IMPACT of whatever was discussed in the papers. Lets say...a paper talks about how a gene is expressed different during the development of the brain in mice, and this particular gene is mutated in ALS (or Motor neurone disease if you are UK based, which I assume you are). What is the impact of that work-why was it done? Its hard for you to see in this example because you won't have read it. But it was done to see how brain development could be disrupted in brains with that gene mutated. The impact is that it could help us understand ALS a bit better, in terms of how it develops, leading to better treatments. Just saying "better treatments" won't give you the marks, you need to be more specific, but again this depends on your specific essay questions.

You also need to be able to critically analyse work. You need to be able to go through the literature and say what was good about the work they did, what wasn't good, and maybe recommend a more ideal study that could be done in the future to verify findings, or learn more. For example, that paper I mentioned above looked at gene expression in different stages of mouse development. You could critique the paper by checking
-how any mice they used in each sample
-how many different stages of brain development they looked at
-whether they checked for markers to confirm which cells were expressing it (which markers, etc etc)
-did they verify these findings in another organism? Even better-in humans? (I'm not talking about cutting up babies here, this could be done using cultured organdies or some other model like that)

Finally you want to talk about directions for the future-something I alluded to earlier. What studies should be done to expand on this further? What else do we need to understand about the topic?

Hope this helps
Thank you for your comments. Again, I really appreciate that you took the time to write this for me (as well as other TSR members). I enjoyed reading your advice even more so as you used examples to illustrate your points which is perfect in terms of creating better understanding.

I have a question, when would you say is best to critique i.e. would you critique the literature after mentioning a point from there which you found to be relevant to your title?
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QuentinM
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(Original post by As.1997)
Thank you for your comments. Again, I really appreciate that you took the time to write this for me (as well as other TSR members). I enjoyed reading your advice even more so as you used examples to illustrate your points which is perfect in terms of creating better understanding.

I have a question, when would you say is best to critique i.e. would you critique the literature after mentioning a point from there which you found to be relevant to your title?
No worries. Yes, its best to critique the literature after bringing it up. Its worth noting, not ALL critiques have to be bad. You can give good ones-and actually, giving a balanced critique is a good way to boost your marks!

One example...I did a paper analysing the evidence on whether obesity actually increases dementia risk in my final year. The most recent and respected paper on the topic looked at a sample of 2 million patients of various BMI's. So obviously, big positive was that it had a sample of 2 million people, which was about 100 times bigger than the next biggest study done of its kind. There were plenty of negative critiques too, just to add.

It also highlights the point of actually reading the paper. In that same essay I was writing above, a lot of the smaller studies said their research showed a higher risk of dementia in people who were obese from the age of 40. Yet when I looked at their data, most of the results were barely statistically significant, or they weren't.
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