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Writing a Coursework

Being a student is hard work. It's even harder if you're like many of our students, returning to school after a hiatus. Among the skills it takes to succeed, communication skills are paramount, both for coursework and for work in the information professions. If your message, no matter how brilliant, has grammatical errors and typos, you lose credibility. If it is so poorly structured that the meaning is obscured, your audience may ignore or even reject it. You don't want that audience to be instructors, employers, or—ultimately—information consumers.

Fortunately, the ability to communicate clearly is merely a matter of becoming aware of problems and developing better habits. Tips for coursework started many years ago as brief class handouts that summarized the errors we were finding repeatedly in student papers. The handouts grew as we realized some students were struggling because they had forgotten (or never learned) how to organize their readings, cite their sources, edit their writing, work in groups, or make class presentations. Tips are, in fact, totally inspired by my students, because every part of it is drawn directly from student problems.

The tips themselves are based on my experience as an instructor for more than 20 years and as a professional editor for more than 30 years. We have verified this advice with the APA style manual and with dozens of other style manuals, books, and Web sites on writing and editing. Please note that Tips for coursework is not intended to replace major published style manuals or to supersede the requirements of your particular instructor or employer. We have tried to keep the advice current and succinct, with a dash of humor to make it more palatable.

This revision contains new sections on how to avoid plagiarizing, check references, and deal with exceptions to style rules. Other changes include recommendation of APA as the primary style manual and expanded tips on evaluating sources, collecting citation data for electronic sources, and copy editing.

We thank my students and faculty colleagues for their constructive feedback and, as always, welcome ideas for further additions and corrections. Many people have asked to use Tips for coursework. We gladly make it available to anyone who wants it, but do request author credit for redistribution. Parts may be altered for local use and credited with the phrase "adapted from." Fundamentally, people who communicate well do well in the information professions. Hope these tips help you get through the trials and triumphs of your coursework and continue into your professional work.


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