How To Prepare A Personal Statement

Preparing a personal statement

When applying for University or some colleges, you will be required to write a personal statement as part of your UCAS (University and Colleges Admissions Service) admission. This is a piece of writing specifically related to you and your individual motivations, and will be used by the institutions you are applying to in order to assist them in deciding whether or not to offer you a place.

It should be very specifically regarding you, your character and past achievements, and addressing why you think that you should be offered a place. Remember, not all courses require an interview, so this may be your only opportunity to prove why you should be offered a place.

The things to focus on when answering these questions:
  1. Why are you applying for this course?
  2. What is it that interests you about the course?
  3. Show that you understand what it takes to study this course and what it will entail.
  4. What qualifications, achievements (not just academic, these could include sports, hobbies, interests, etc.), skills and experience do you have that are relevant to the course?
  5. Why should they offer you a place on that particular course? (Try to show why they should offer you a place over someone else with the same qualifications and experience).
  6. Do your current/previous studies relate to the course in any way? (Explain why this will be beneficial).
  7. Have you been involved in anything that shows you have interest in the course’s field? (Eg. Work experience, jobs, placements or volunteering)
  8. What do you plan to do in the future and how will this course benefit your future plans?
Below are some further important things to focus on:
  • Your personal statement can include up to 4000 characters of text, but this is subject to change. Check the criteria for the start date which you are applying for.
  • A good idea is to look at the ‘Course Descriptions’ online (either on the UCAS website or individual University/college websites) to see what kind of things they look for in an applicant (the qualities, skills, experience, etc.)
  • Remember that you will be using the same personal statement to apply for each institute, so make sure it is generic to the COURSE for which you are applying to, not the institutes themselves. If you have applied for a variety of courses, try to make your personal statement more generic, focusing on common themes (skills, qualities or experience that could be valued in all fields).
  • Try to avoid using the word ‘I’, as it can become quite boring for the reader to see many personal statements at once and for them all to be stating ‘I did this…’, ‘I did that…’, ‘I am good at…’, etc. Try to make yours stand out from the crowd, as this will enable you to make more of an impression and may increase your chances of being offered a place.
  • Ensure your writing is completed to a high standard of English, with the correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. It should also flow well, with each paragraph linking into the next.
  • Do not exaggerate or lie – the institute may either find out the truth or call you out on it one day.
  • Using relevant quotes can be a nice addition to your statement, but make sure it is not one that many other people will also use, also be sure to write it correctly with the correct referencing.
  • It is a good idea to get your personal statement checked by several other people. Be prepared to write a few drafts until you are happy with it.
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Using Sources In Your Work

Citations, footnotes and endnotes

The three types of sourcing this article will look at are citations, footnotes and endnotes. Citations are in-text references, whilst footnotes and endnotes are references given at the end of a page or piece of work, using a numbering system with footnote or endnote markers. Your writing should be finished with a full reference list at the end, done in whatever style you have been asked to use, such as the Harvard referencing system.

Using citations

Citations are a useful way of letting your reader know what information you have gathered from a specific source. For example, if you are talking about a specific person’s research within your paragraph, or comparing two sources, it is a good idea to include names and dates next to the information you have gathered from them so as not to confuse your reader or be appearing to plagiarize.

If you are following the Harvard referencing system, you will need to put the author’s name(s) followed by the date in a box. If there are multiple authors, you can use the first author’s name followed by the Latin ‘et al’ as a shortened version for your in-text referencing. However, in the final reference list, you will still have to include the full list of names of the authors. Here are some example of citations:

  • Naidoo and Wills (2000) discussed five approaches to promoting health.
  • Patient-centered care empowers patients to take care of their own health (Rogers et al, 2005)
Footnotes and endnotes

A common place to find footnotes is with online articles, whilst endnotes can be seen on websites such as Wikipedia. On Microsoft Word, there is an option to insert a footnote or endnote, where you can decide where you want the footnotes and endnotes to appear, as well as what you want to use as the markers (such as numbers, letters, Roman numerals, etc.). Below is an example of how a footnote or endnote marker could be used:

  • There are five approaches to promoting health¹ that are important to consider.

Correct use of citations, footnotes and endnotes is an important thing to learn, especially when completing academic writing work. There are many other specific guides that can be found online to inform you of correct and incorrect use of sources within your work if you need more help. If you are attending an academic institute, they will often provide their own guide. It is also important to find out whether or not the reader/marker wants you to use these in your work.

  1. Naidoo, J. and Wills, J. (2000). Health promotion: foundations for practice. 2nd Edition. Edinburgh: Baillière Tindall.



Naidoo, J. and Wills, J. (2000). Health promotion: foundations for practice. 2nd Edition. Edinburgh: Baillière Tindall.

Rogers, A., Kennedy, A., Nelson, E. and Robinson, A. (2005). Uncovering the limits of patient-centeredness: implementing a self-management trial for chronic illness. Qualitative Health Research, 15(2), 224-239. [Peer Reviewed Journal].

Preparing A Cover Letter

Preparing A Cover Letter

How to write a cover letter?

Cover letters are a piece of writing that you can include with your Curriculum Vitae (CV) or application form when applying for a job. Similar to the purpose of a personal statement in a University application, they provide you with the opportunity to let the company to which you are applying, get to know a bit more about you and what would make you suitable for the role.

In order to prepare a cover letter, you must research the position and company for which you are applying. This will ensure that your cover letter includes directed and relevant information, which will allow you to impress the reader with your knowledge. Try to make sure you find out information about what your role would include, what the company does, and other important information such as how well the company is doing and things they may be implementing to improve business. This will show the reader that you have a genuine and keen interest in becoming a member of their team, and will make you stand out from the other applicants.

Another point you may wish to research is the details of the person within the company who deals with the applications. As this will allow you to address your cover letter to that specific person, which will help to ensure it is not missed and also make a good impression.

Try to keep your cover letter brief, one side of A4 should suffice. Also, as with any piece of work, ensure you proofread your cover letter before sending it off. Nothing would be more off putting to an employer than spelling or grammar mistakes in your cover letter, as this would suggest to them that you will regularly make mistakes. Ensure that your work is typed in an easy-to-read font that does not draw attention from what you have written.

The steps in preparing a cover letter:

  1. A straight-forward opening that states exactly what the purpose of this letter is. For example, if applying for a role of human resources manager, you could write: “I would like to express my interest in being considered for the role of human resources manager”. Although brief, this clearly states your interest in the specific position. You could also include where you found out about the job (eg. a job search engine, an advert, or if referred by an individual it is advisable to include their name in this section).
  2. Trying not to repeat things too much from your CV, write a paragraph explaining why you are suitable for the role (eg. your qualifications and skills that are relevant to the requirements in the job advertisement).
  3. Expanding on your CV but still trying not to be too repetitive, emphasise what you could bring to the company if hired for this role.
  4. Reiterate how interested you are in the role and why you would be suitable for it, before stating that you would be keen on meeting with the employer for an interview.
  5. Sign off your letter in a formal manner, such as “Yours sincerely” or “Kind regards” and your name.

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Writing A Dissertation

Writing A Dissertation

How to write a dissertation?

Dissertations are generally written at University, and will make up the majority of your final degree grade. Although all dissertation briefs will be varied dependent on the institute they are being written for, the field that they are focusing on, and many other factors. Here are a few general tips for getting yourself started on writing your dissertation.

Choosing the right topic

Firstly, it is important to spend as much time as possible in deciding what topic you want to write about or what question you want to answer within your work. As this is likely to be a large piece of work that you will spend a significant amount of time researching and writing. You should choose something that not only fits the brief given to you, but that you also take an interest in. This will make the work more enjoyable to research and produce, and will hopefully benefit you in completing it with the possibility of addressing why you have such an interest in that particular topic.

The research

Secondly, the most important element of the process of preparing a dissertation is the research. You should spend the majority of your preparation time focusing on researching your topic. Before carrying out your research, it is advisable to have a clear picture in your mind of what you are setting out to find, as most topics will have a large number of pieces of research dedicated to them.

Planning and structuring

Thirdly, you need to plan your work. This is when you can determine what elements from your research surrounding the topic you want to write about and how you want to include them. Use your research to decide what content you want to include, and then decide how you want to structure this within your dissertation. Often the institute who has set the work will have provided you with a set of criteria regarding what they want included, information on how the work should be structured, and what criteria will achieve you the highest marks. It is always a good idea, especially with such a large piece of work, to write out a plan. This helps to prevent you from going off topic and will keep the work structured.

Writing your work

The fourth part of the process is the hardest part – writing the final piece of work. All dissertation briefs will be different, but usually they will require you to include a literature review and a research proposal. This is where your research will come into use. For the literature review, you will be able to discuss and analyse what research has been done on your chosen topic and what impact this may have had. For the research proposal, the purpose of this is to determine a gap in the knowledge on a specific topic and to suggest a piece of research that could be carried out. This must be written in great detail, discussing exactly how the research would be carried out. Try not to drift too far from your plan – keep it by your side when writing, this will make sure your work is going in the direction you intended.

Proofreading and checking your work

The final thing you need to do is to proofread your work. As previously mentioned, proofreading is a very important part of producing any piece of academic work, but with a dissertation this is even more important. Due to it being such a large piece of work, it may be a good idea to either proofread in small sections at a time, or to outsource your proofreading to a willing friend or family member, or to use a professional proofreading company.

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Tips To Improve Your Vocabulary

Improving your vocabulary

Improving your vocabulary has become incredibly easy in recent years, with the introduction of many accessible and convenient ways to discover new words, like phone or laptop applications, online ‘word of the day’ websites, or even just using the ‘synonyms’ option on Microsoft Word. Below is a list of ideas you can use to improve the range of vocabulary that you use:

  • Applications (apps) on mobile phones, such as ones offering a word of the day option can encourage you to try alternative words to what you would normally use. There are also many dictionaries that you can download, some of which may also offer word of the day, or can just be used to look up words or synonyms.
  • You can find lots of different gimmicks that supply a word of the day, such as calendars, tissues, and toilet roll. Each time you are given a new word that you think could be useful to remember, write it down in a vocabulary journal.
  • Several websites offer a sign up word of the day section, where you will be emailed daily with a new word and its definition.
  • Many smartphones now have a feature where you can highlight a word and find its definition.
  • When reading books, it is a good idea to research any words that you do not know the meaning of in a dictionary or online. Firstly, this helps you to better understand your book, but it can also be useful for improving vocabulary in general. When there are words that you think you may find useful, note them down in a vocabulary journal.
  • The same can be done when reading newspapers, magazines, articles, etc., repeating the process of researching the word’s definition and writing it down.
  • Putting subtitles on when watching TV or movies can help you to actually acknowledge what words are being used, and you never know – some may come up that you have never heard of, which you can then look up.
  • A fun way to improve your vocabulary is to do crosswords. Either buy a book or do the ones that come free in the newspaper. When you have filled in all of the words that you can, start trying to find the others online or in a dictionary. Over time, you should start to find crosswords easier to complete as your range of vocabulary increases.
  • Synonyms are alternative words that can be used in place of a word you want to change. Synonyms can be found on Microsoft Word by typing a word, and then right-clicking on it and selecting ‘synonyms’. A good idea is to keep a list of synonyms for words you use regularly in your work to help improve your vocabulary.

Proofreading Academic Work

Proofreading Academic Work

Why Proofread?

Before submitting a piece of academic writing, it is always a good idea to take the time to read through your work and make sure that there are no mistakes in your spelling, punctuation, grammar, typography, use of language and formatting. Most academic work allows some marks to be awarded for correct language and structure.

Therefore by proofreading your work before you decide that it is complete, you are giving yourself the best possible chance of achieving the highest marks.

Proofreading is not necessarily about editing the content of your work and making changes to what you have written, but it is a task focused solely on the finer details. Proofreading involves checking over your work carefully, and is a task that takes time, concentration and attention to detail. It is for this reason that you should not leave proofreading until the last minute. In professional companies that publish work, such as magazines or medical journals, there are people employed specifically to proofread the material before it is released to avoid the embarrassment of mistakes being made.

Proofreading Tips

It is a good idea to start with a dictionary and thesaurus by your side when beginning to proofread. Or, if doing so on your laptop, you can use the ‘synonym’ option to help you when you feel that a word is not right. Proofreading can be a mundane task, so ensure that there are no distractions around you by turning your phone off and not using the Internet for any other purpose than to help you in your task of proofreading.

When proofreading your own work, you are often so familiar with the content that it is hard to disconnect your mind from focusing on what you think is written. In order to allow the language and format of the work, along with any mistakes, you need to allow this to be your focus. In order to help you focus, it may be beneficial to find a quiet, tidy space to carry out your proofreading as this will reduce the chances of you being distracted.

Another tip is to print off the work and proofread it on paper instead. It can be a lot easier to concentrate on the words that you are reading when they are on paper, and it will reduce the amount of time you have to spend looking at a screen. Then go through your work with a coloured pen or highlighter to mark any changes you need to make on the paper copy. This way, when you use it to edit your typed work, the parts you have changed will be easy to find.

In addition to this, some people like to take the time to read the work backwards. This can take a lot of time and be quite hard to get used to, but it will make any typography errors stand out as you are entirely focusing on the word, not its context.

Remember, that although you can use grammar and spell checking tools on your computer, these may not be reliable, and the only fool-proof way is to proofread your work yourself, or ask a friend or family member to do so for you if you are struggling to disconnect from the content.

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Making Your Writing More Persuasive

The purpose of persuasive writing?

Persuasive writing is fundamental to academic writing. As persuasive writing is used to put your arguments across to your reader in an engaging and compelling form, and thus convince them to agree with your line of thought. Moreover, persuasive writing may even be used to encourage the reader to do something or to take a positive action.

Knowing your audience

Your first consideration should be, do you know your audience. If you have a better idea of who your writing is aimed at and what it is you want to persuade them of, you are more likely to succeed. As if there is little chance in persuading your reader(s) to your specific view point, then it may be wise to pick a different topic if possible. Also be sure to write in a positive manner about what you are trying to persuade the reader of.

Researching your subject area

Secondly, ensure that you have carried out extensive research into the subject area that you are writing about, as being well informed will help you to write with ease. There is nothing more likely to make your writing unpersuasive than not knowing your topic in depth. Correct and relevant facts, figures, diagrams, pictures, can all help to put forward a persuasive argument. Let your reader know why they should listen to your ideas, whilst using the correct tone of voice. You also need to maintain this same, neutral tone of voice throughout your writing. No reader wants to feel like they are being ‘told’ how they should think and behave.

Using repetition

The third thing to think about when writing persuasively is that, unlike with normal writing, it is okay to be repetitive, as this reinforces the positives of the point you are trying to make.

Addressing objections

Fourthly, if you address objections to the point you are trying to persuade your reader of head on, they will be able to see that you have considered other points of view and looked at all sides of an argument before trying to persuade them of something.

Remaining consistent

The fifth thing to think about is that you must remain consistent in what you are saying and how you are saying it. This will enable the reader to build their trust in you, which increases the likelihood of your writing persuading them. Ensure that each paragraph within the main body follows the same pattern of writing. One example that could be used is PEEL – point, evidence, evaluate, link.

Start each paragraph by stating a point, and then back this up with evidence. Evaluating can be hard, but ensure that you assess what the point you have made means and refer to any counter evidence. This is where you can show your reader that you have looked at other points of view and present the reasons for why you have chosen to disagree with them. End the paragraph with a link to what will be discussed next. This will help with the structure and flow of your writing.

Make your writing personal

Lastly, it is important to make the writing personal, reaching out to the reader about their views on a topic. Making your writing more directed to the reader themselves will help you to be ultimately more persuasive.

Common Grammar Mistakes Continued

In the previous article, we looked at common grammar mistakes, including the misuse of certain words and commas. In this article, the focus will be on apostrophes.

Apostrophes are possibly the most commonly misused piece of punctuation. Often people put apostrophes in words when they are not needed, in the wrong place within a word, or forget to use them at all. The incorrect use of or lack of an apostrophe can completely change the meaning of a word, and could also make the word incomprehensible.

The first way in which apostrophes can be used is to replace a missing letter. This means that either two words or one long word can be shortened using an apostrophe. For example:

Do not = don’t
Will not = won’t
Cannot = Can’t
I have = I’ve
Would have = would’ve (people often confuse ‘would’ve’ for meaning ‘would of’, but in English grammar this is incorrect)
They have = they’ve
You have = you’ve
You are = you’re
It is = it’s (this can often be confusing and will be further explained, but as can be seen in this example, ‘it’s’ is a contraction and not possessive)

However, with respect to all of the above examples it is best not to use such contractions in academic writing, as it is less formal. ‘I cannot begin to understand the significance of apostrophes’ will be better received than ‘I can’t begin to understand the significance of apostrophes’ by the person reviewing your work. So when writing a formal piece of academic work it is best to write in the full form.

As mentioned above ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ go against the normal rules of grammar and apostrophe use, which can confuse even the most advanced of writers. ‘Its’ is often used as a possessive adjective and does not need an apostrophe in this case. For example:

The mouse scuttled into its hole

The second way in which apostrophes can be used is for possessive nouns. For example:

The cat’s bed
The school’s motto
Travis’s bookshop
The boy’s shoes
Alison’s car

However, when these are describing plurals, the apostrophe is placed at the end. For example:

The cats’ beds (beds belonging to two or more cats)
The schools’ mottos (the mottos of two or more schools)
Travises’ bookshops (two or more bookshops belonging to the Travis’)
The boys’ shoes (shoes belonging to two or more boys)
Alisons’ cars (cars belonging to two or more people named Alison)

It is important to remember that apostrophes must never be used to represent plurals (more than one of something). The following examples show an incorrect statement in red, and the correction in green:

TV’s for sale TVs for sale                                    TVs for sale
100’s of offers 100s of offers                            100s of offers
Apple’s grown here Apples grown here            Apples grown here
Discounted sofa’s Discounted sofas                Discounted sofas