24Getting an "A" in Writing

by Danny K. Howard, EAP Associate Director

In the Western system of grades, an “A” is the top grade you can get. An “A” means excellent, and teachers only give this grade when students do outstanding work. When you come to NIC and write papers, you might wonder what you can do to get a higher grade. Well...in this article I will explain 4 things that you can do to help you get better grades when you write for teachers. The advice can be used for any level! Let’s begin...

Step 1. Choose an interesting topic and narrow it down!!

Many times teachers will give you a choice of topics. If this is true, it is your job to choose a great one. For example, look at the following topics below and tell me which is the least/most interesting:

  1. Vacations
  2. Summer vacation
  3. My summer vacation in Nashville, Tennessee
  4. My vacation

Of course, choice a. is the least interesting and too general. It is better to choose a specific topic like c. And when you choose a topic always write about something you are very interested in. Maybe 50% of your writing topics will be on topics you choose, so always choose something you really want to share.

Step 2. Plan before your write.

This is soooooo important! However, students sometimes forget this very important step. If you want to get a good grade, you have to have a successful plan to get there. Below is a sample of two types of outlines that you will learn about at NIC: a circle outline & a simple standard one.

Circle Outline

Standard Outline

My summer vacation in Nashville was fantastic.

  1. The people
    1. my kind homestay family
    2. southern hospitality
  2. The places we visited
    1. The Grand Old Opry
    2. Ryman Auditorium
  3. The food
    1. typical southern meal

By the way, always show your teacher your outline before you write. If you don’t you might waste a lot of valuable time & effort!

Step 3. Write really specific information.

This is another key point. Many students always use very general information when they write a paper. But the key to getting an “A” in writing is to fill your paper with lots of specific information to make the paper interesting. Look at the examples below and tell me which one is better:

The food there was also very good. Southern food has a good taste. I ate chicken and mashed potatoes. They were good. I liked the food. Southern food has more taste than Japanese food. 


The food was also very good. Southern food has a lot of rich flavor. Many foods I ate were prepared with a lot of spices, which made them tasty. For example, my host mother’s fried chicken was so brown and crispy. It crunched in my mouth when I ate it. And her mashed potatoes melted in my mouth and had a buttery peppery taste to them. Moreover, the cornbread steamed when I opened it. The rich corn flavor was in every bite.

As you can see, the second sample is much better. The first one is tooooooo general!! Teachers like specific writing. So do that to get an “A”!

4. Proofread what you write!

This one is pretty simple. Don’t give your teacher a paper with lots of spelling and grammar mistakes. Teachers know the difference between mistakes and errors. Do you? Let me explain.

Errors are news mistakes that you make in writing. Teachers can understand these.

Mistakes are ones that you should know not to do.

Spelling mistakes are never acceptable because you can always check your dicitonary to check the spelling!

NOTE: Be Sure to See My “Decreasing Mistakes in English (8/15/2004)” article in the Study Tips.

These are just a few things that you must do when you write. If you follow these 4 steps, you are going to earn a much better grade on your writing. If you follow them really well, you are likely to get an “A”!!!