I proofread and comment on autism essays for the MA and PGCert autism students at Sheffield Hallam university (SHU) and I have found over the years that I write similar comments each year to different students. I thought if I log them here then I can share this with future students so those who cannot afford a proofreader can check their own or each others.
Here are some of the common things I notice where extra marks could be earned.
Overuse of quotes
You do not get marks for other people’s work. Use quotes sparingly, instead reword and reference the author so that you are not plagiarising. Quotes are useful when there is something special about how the person has worded it: maybe it is a really succinct definition of autism; or perhaps it is someone talking about their lived experience and using their own words seems more appropriate. As a general rule use your own words.
Underuse of critique
This obviously depends on what you are writing but certainly if you are writing an academic essay about autism you ought to be critical when referencing the work of some of the main autism researchers. Do not just accept theories or the findings of research even if they are well known and embedded in society. Be critical of practice too where necessary. We have had nearly a century of bad autism research, harmful interventions and autistic people are still leading unnecessarily difficult lives. The general population believe we lack empathy and emotions and that it is ok to train us to behave like non autistic people even though this sometimes may drive us to suicide. It is important to acknowledge this history of bad research. If you are doing the courses at SHU you will probably find it is in your marking criteria that you need to critique.
Overuse of secondary citations
Try and avoid secondary citations, instead look up the original author and read their work for yourself then use their work as the reference. (By the way, most academics do not read every word – skim reading or getting the gist of a paper/book is a useful academic skill and one some autistic people may find particularly challenging as we love the details). Use secondary citations when you really cannot access the original reference.
Beware of subconscious bias
Usually authors are referred to by their last names in academic writing. Sometimes people use first names too and I have noticed there is some (probably subconscious) bias in when they choose to do so. I see autistic authors referred to with both names more often than non autistic authors – especially when the reference is about their lived experience. I think consistency is important so I point this out where I see it.
Include the autistic voice
If you are writing about autism you need to refer to more than academic literature as sadly academia is not accessible to many autistic people. Sure there are plenty of autistic academics but many of them have to hide in the closet and they are not representative of autistic people on the whole. So I recommend the inclusion of other forms of communication – blogs, vlogs, podcasts have loads of valuable information. Social media is a good place to find autistic people (I have even referenced tweets in the past).
Here is a fab resource for finding autistic blogs – it has a search function too so you can find a blog post about pretty much and topic relating to autism
Check the marking criteria
I have read some fab essays about autism that had nothing to do with the learning objectives and so would not have got a pass mark. So sad when you know people will have spent such a lot of time on them and it is a great piece of writing.
I don’t intend to point out common referencing mistakes as there are too many but I will let you know my favourite referencing website – it is just so simple and easy to use with handy examples:
If you cannot find what you need in there then google is your best friend. You will also find that there are sometimes multiple ways of referencing the same thing – don’t stress about that. It’s just how it is and either way will likely be fine.
Good luck with your essay writing
Caveat: These are just my views as an ex student and current helper on the autism courses at SHU – I do not work for SHU and the marking criteria changes sometimes.