What is good writing?
What is good writing?

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

What is good writing?

2.5.6 Essay presentation

Both Philip and Hansa presented their essays neatly, with no crossings out or obvious slips of the pen or type. And they make very few spelling mistakes. Philip puts ‘wifes’ for wives, ‘citys’ for cities and ‘carreer’ for career, and Hansa ‘sparcity’ for sparsity.


People often worry about how important it is to spell correctly. Do you lose marks for bad spelling?

In principle, no you don't. You shouldn't actually lose marks. But it is hard for a marker not to be influenced by very weak spelling (or grammar, or punctuation). It detracts from the general impression your essay creates.

If you are really poor at spelling, don't worry that it will prevent you making progress. But don't be entirely relaxed about it either. You should make the effort to look words up in the dictionary when you are not sure about them. And it is a good idea to make a list of the words you often get wrong and try to learn them. However, it isn't worth trying to memorise great long lists of them. In general, the more you read and write the more you will develop a sense of when a word ‘looks right’ and when it doesn't.

If you use a word-processor for your writing it can be a great help in improving your spelling. You just instruct it to do a ‘spell check’ and then make a point of looking out for the mistakes you make regularly, so that you can try to memorise the correct versions.

It is important to present your essay well. Otherwise, it suggests that you don't care enough about your work to read it through and make corrections before handing it to someone else to read. And your tutor is bound to find it harder to make sense of what you are trying to say if there are too many mistakes in it. Tutors usually make allowances for the occasional blunder, but, if you want your writing to have its full impact, you must read it through carefully and correct any errors that you spot.

Key points

The way you write is as important as what you say. So when you are writing you must try to:

  • use properly formed and mainly simple sentences

  • punctuate them in a way that makes your meaning clear

  • pay attention to grammar, making all parts of sentences consistent

  • be precise about the particular words and phrases you use

  • address your reader appropriately

  • present your work with care, reading it through to correct spelling and other mistakes.

We have seen that, although there are good things in Philip's writing, there are quite a number of ways it could be improved.

Activity 3

To test yourself out on the points we have talked about, go back to Philip's second paragraph, starting from ‘The country was no place…’ and put in some punctuation and any other alterations that make it read more easily.

Here is my attempt, with the reasons for the changes I made given below. (New words appear in red.)


  • Now’ interrupts the flow of ‘no place to exercise these new skills’, so I moved it to earlier in the sentence.

  • When Philip wants to identify which ‘new skills’ he is referring to, he can either say ‘these new skills’, or ‘the new skills they had been taught’ – he doesn't need both, and it sounds awkward.

  • Start a new sentence after ‘taught’.

  • Comma after ‘thing’ because it's a preparatory phrase before the main sentence starts. No need for ‘at that time’ because he has already said ’now’ in the previous sentence. But my square brackets indicate that this sentence should really come out altogether – Ellis does not say this.

  • New sentence at ‘Few’; ‘crowds of people’ isn't quite right for gatherings of people of this rank – ‘in society’ or ‘socially’ captures it better.

  • No need for ‘but’ – just start another sentence at ‘Most’.

  • What the demands of propriety imposed on women were ‘requirements’ not ‘meanings’. ‘Women's’ instead of ‘their’, since readers might be losing track of who ‘they’ are by now.

  • New sentence at ‘Any error’. And ‘could’ is better than ‘would’, since not every error might be spotted.

  • New sentence at ‘So’. Doesn't need both ‘so’ and ‘therefore’. Needs the plural ‘women’. Doesn't need ‘urban’ and ‘city’. Good to put a comma after ‘living’, and after ‘period’ – since ‘if only for a short period’ is a side point.

The rest we've already discussed.

How do these compare with your improvements? It doesn't matter if yours are different. Many of these changes are more a matter of taste and judgement than ‘right and wrong’. The main point of the exercise was to focus your attention on the details. Your aim is to achieve directness, simplicity and a nice flow to what you write. You will gradually develop a feel for what works best and when, and your tutor will probably have plenty of suggestions to make.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus