How can we help you learn?

It is important that you go through your assignment to make sure you have the correct content and structure.

Check that your writing is clear and look for mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation.

The format of your work is also very important. When you have worked hard to develop your ideas and present them, you don’t want anything to distract your tutor from what you have written. Make sure that you have followed the correct formatting style. The requirements are usually set out in your assignment guidelines or marking guide.

 General Tips

  • Try to leave at least 24 hours after you have finished writing your first draft before you start revising, editing and proofreading. This means that you can look at it with fresh eyes and a fresh mind.
  • Leave yourself enough time. Rushing to finish an assignment often results in errors and a lack of time for proofreading.
  • Give your assignment to a friend to look at. This has to be someone you will listen to. Remember, they are critiquing your work, not you.
  • Read your work aloud slowly. This process forces you to say each word and also lets you hear how the words sound together. Often your ear will hear what your eyes did not see. When you read silently or too quickly you may miss errors or make unconscious corrections.
  • Find a quiet place to revise, edit and proofread as you need to concentrate. If possible, do your revising, editing and proofreading in several short blocks of time rather than all at once, as otherwise your concentration is likely to decrease.
  • If you are short on time, prioritise what to revise, edit and proofread to be sure that the most important sections are completed.


Man having an idea


Check the question and marking guide again after you’ve completed your assessment. Make sure you’ve answered all parts of the question and that you’ve used keywords from the question to signpost for the marker which specific parts you’re answering. Make sure all the information you’ve quoted, paraphrased or summarised is cited correctly.


Make sure that each paragraph in the body of your assessment deals with only one main idea and that its main idea is clearly expressed in its topic sentence.


Don’t rely entirely on spell check as it has a limited dictionary, so some words that you have spelled correctly may be picked up as incorrect. Also, spell check will not pick up misspellings that are valid words. For example, if you type “form” instead of “from” spell check will not pick up the error. Use a dictionary to check the spelling if you are not sure.  Check out our Spelling and Punctuation page for more information.


Similarly, don’t rely entirely on your computer’s grammar check as it usually works with a limited number of rules; it can’t identify every error. Reading aloud to yourself and checking whether sentences sound right can help correct most grammatical errors


Punctuation should make it easier for people to understand what you have written. Students sometimes struggle to use the following punctuation effectively:

Colons (:) are mainly used to:

  • Introduce a list (e.g. This recipe requires several simple ingredients: eggs, butter, flour and milk).
  • Introduce a statement that explains or clarifies a previous statement in the same sentence (e.g. There was only one builder who could do a decent job of it: Bill Fudd from Waimangu).

Semicolons (;) are mainly used to:

  • Link two complete sentences which are closely related in meaning and turn them into one sentence (e.g., The rap group from Auckland were the winners; they were polished, energetic and entertaining).
  • Separate elements in a long or complicated list preceded by a colon (e.g., There are three main parts of an essay: the introduction, which introduces the topic and posits a thesis statement; the body, which is the bulk of the writing where the main ideas are organised into separate paragraphs; and the conclusion, which restates the main argument and shows how
    the main ideas link together).

Apostrophes (‘) are used to show:

  • Ownership or possession – when something belongs to someone. The apostrophe is placed directly after the owner’s name before the s (e.g., John’s shoes or Elvis’s voice), which is known as the singular possessive. When there is more than one owner, the apostrophe is placed directly after the owners’ names after the s (e.g., the aunties’ gift or the Morris’ house), which is known as the plural possessive. Exceptions: Possessive pronouns such as yours, hers, its, ours, theirs do not have apostrophes.
  • That letters have been missed out of words (e.g., it’s my birthday, rockin’ roun’ the clock., I’m goin’ home). Because contractions like these are not acceptable in academic writing, avoid these in your assignments.

Try these editing and proofreading techniques!

Print it out

Research shows that you will read more accurately if you edit and proofread your work on paper rather than on screen. Increase the spacing (1.5 is ideal) to make it easier to read and mark, and if your assignment is more than a few pages long, print on one side of the paper only. (Don’t forget to reset the spacing and any other formatting changes if necessary before you submit!)

Work together

Work with a buddy - two sets of eyes are better than one. Ask someone else to read your work out loud. Can they read it clearly without hesitation or confusing, run-on sentences? If they struggle, then you need to review your work for sentence length, correct punctuation and grammar.

Read out loud

You can often hear mistakes more easily than you can see them. If you can’t get someone else to read it, do this yourself. Listen to yourself as you read, or better yet, record yourself: so that you can playback to check for errors.

Stay on track

It is easy for concentration to wander, and your eye to skip ahead and slip down the page. Use a ruler under each line as you read, so that you focus your attention on that line alone.

Mark mistakes

Mark mistakes clearly. Some writers prefer to use red pen; others use pencil. You will find what works best for you. A highlighter is also useful to make sure you see all the errors when you make the changes later.


Review. Repair. Repeat. It’s unlikely you can catch everything in one review, so you should expect to make several drafts. Make your changes after each review, then print a fresh, updated copy for the next draft.

Out of order

Reading sections of your work out of order can help to overcome your familiarity, making it more likely you will spot errors. A handy proofreading tip is to read a paragraph at a time, starting with the last paragraph. This takes “logic” out of the equation to catch content problems or duplicated words. You can also read one sentence at a time until you reach the beginning.

Record it

If you are new to studying, you might find it helpful to keep a note of the types of mistakes you have made. You can use this to understand what you need to focus on for your next assignment.

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The material contained on this page was created and contributed by Ara Institute of Canterbury Ltd.