Academic Tips and Tricks

All the help you need for good essay writing

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Using ‘Recently’

This will be a very short entry, but it’s an important point about an often-used word.

In many essays I encounter sentences such as:

Recent research shows…


According to a recent study…

While there is nothing wrong with them grammatically, there is a problem of reference – when exactly was ‘recently’? This is a particularly pertinent question for articles, papers and books to be published, disregarding the time it takes to get to print, what is someone in the future supposed to make of ‘recently’?

There is a very simple way to fix this, you just need to remind the reader that they may or may not be reading a contemporary source. For example, the sentences above can be altered like this:

Recent research (2012-2013) shows…


According to a recent study (at the time of writing)…

Either of these will remind the reader that you’re writing the piece from your perspective (in the past) not their perspective in the present. These two times may be a very short or a very long distance apart, so they need to know how to accurately interpret phrases like ‘recently’ and ‘in current research’.


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My Proofreading Mission Statement

I am very aware that anyone who has written a thesis, a dissertation, or a journal article has worked long and hard on their work (doubly so if they are a non-native speaker of English) and therefore is very attached to it. I also know that deep down everyone wants me to say “your work is perfect and has no errors”. Unfortunately, this is never the case and I inevitably have to correct something. Therefore I do not want this process of correction to feel like a ‘hack-and-slash’; I don’t want to butcher people’s work; I want to nurture it. I don’t want people to get their work back and think “this doesn’t sound like me, I didn’t write this”, I want them to think “this is my work, but even better”. Therefore I work very hard to keep the work in the original style of the writer. I try not to replace words just on my personal judgement of ‘how I would have written it’ but only where the word will correct/improve the piece (unless I have been specifically told by a client “I feel I use the same word too often; can you make my writing less repetitive?”). If I can make a sentence better simply by rearranging the components rather than adding/deleting words, then I will. Likewise, if my client likes to use long, complex sentences I won’t split them up into smaller sentences unless they are so long and complex they impair the reader’s comprehension, and ditto those who use many short sentences; I won’t join them together unless the stop-start nature is impairing the reader’s understanding of the wider point.

Ultimately, there are two people I want to please with any given piece: The original writer and the ultimate reader(s). Therefore I aim to keep the work as true as possible to the original whilst improving its accessibility so it can get as wide an audience as possible.

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Tips and Tricks 12: Check your Proper Nouns

As most of you probably know, proper nouns are names of things, like England, Hannah, Liberal Democrats, King George etc. For my three examples, these words are likely to be in the Microsoft Word dictionary, so should not need double checking, as typos such as ‘Hanah’ would be flagged. The real danger is when you’re using less common proper nouns, such as ‘Ofsted’ or ‘Nagpur’. Both of these are real examples I have found misspelt in people’s work. Ofsted, misspelt as ‘Ofstead’ was in a document of my own, and Nagpur as ‘Napur’ in my partner’s final project.

If your document has a lot of references, and some of the authors have uncommon surnames, this is very likely to be a problem.

My best tip is to simply type a list of your uncommon proper nouns, spelt correctly, and add them to your Word dictionary, by right clicking (or going into spell check) and clicking ‘add to dictionary’. A quick Google search should tell you the correct spelling of terms you’re not sure of. For text in a document made in a programme without an inbuilt spellcheck, paste your text into word first to iron out any problems.