3.7.1 Technical considerations
Nowadays most people use a word processing package to write essays while some people may use a typewriter. However, if you don't have access to either of these you will need to hand-write your essay. Should this be the case, the ease of reading depends on the quality of your handwriting . It is only fair to your tutor to try to make your writing as legible as possible. This will take time and care. But when you have spent a long time putting an essay together, it is a waste if what you say is misunderstood just because your writing is misread. It is also prudent to take care. It would be an angel of a tutor who was not a bit impatient at having to spend ages trying to make out your handwriting. If it is really dreadful you will have to get someone to tell you which letters are hardest to read and practise straightening them out, rounding them more, or whatever. Having said that, most tutors have resigned themselves, in the course of duty, to becoming expert at deciphering all kinds of scrawl. They will usually do their best not to be too influenced by it. (Actually, a lot of students complain that they can't read their tutors’ scribbled comments on their essays, so this is not a one-way street.)
When using a word processing package, it is best to use a font like Times New Roman which is sober and easy to read. Set the font size to 11 or 12 points and use double line spacing. You should also make sure that there are generous margins – the default settings are usually sufficient. If you are writing by hand, your essay is easier to read if it is set out neatly on the page. You should use lined A4 paper and leave generous margins for your tutor to write comments. Write on one side of the paper only – this makes it much easier to cross-refer from one section of the essay to another. Make sure you leave spaces between paragraphs. This is all straightforward stuff, but the point is that you should ‘stand back’ from your finished essay and look at it as an ‘object’ you have created. Does it look inviting to read? It is surprising how many essays have words squashed onto every square centimetre of the page. Be ‘page-proud’ and generous with space. Unless your essays look as if you care, why should anyone else?
Grammar, punctuation and spelling
As we have seen, these contribute enormously to ease of reading. The whole point of punctuation is to help the reader approach your words in the right way, and the rules of grammar are what enable the reader to construct the sense intended by the writer. Mistakes in either make the reader stop to work out what is being said. Poor spelling can also cause frequent interruptions. Meanwhile, the reader ‘loses’ the thread of your meaning. None of these abilities is easy to improve quickly, and all fall beyond the scope of this book. But if you think you are particularly weak in them you should seek help. Take comfort from the thought that your tutor will usually try to ‘read through’ to your intended meaning, and will also try to help you improve.