Preparing to write
Know what your assignment is asking you to do
Plan your structure
Select good evidence
Thinking about how you are going to approach and prepare your writing is just as important as the act of writing itself.
When you’re given an assignment you need to make sure you understand what you’ve been asked to do, and that you know what the guidelines are. If you are unclear about what you have to do, check with your lecturer or tutor (see The best ways to study).
Use assignments to practice your academic communication. Even an assignment with a small mark allocation gives you a valuable opportunity to try your writing style or practice how to do a presentation.
Think about where you work best. You may also work better at certain times of the day, so make sure that you exploit these.
How do I start writing?
Sometimes it's hard to start writing. Seeing an empty page with a flashing cursor can cause your mind to go blank.
Some students find it beneficial to do something called freewriting or prewriting. Freewriting is where you give yourself a topic and a time limit and just write what you know about that topic. There are some useful resources on freewriting from Queen Mary’s University London.
In terms of your assignment it might be useful to try out a freewriting exercise with your assignment title for instance. Give yourself a set amount of time to just write what you know - it can help get your mind working and your thoughts in order. It can also shape your assignment structure.
Planning your assignment structure
Essays and reports are designed to inform the reader about a certain topic. You therefore need to make sure that you don’t confuse your reader by failing to plan a logical structure to your work.
Remember that your work should have an introduction, middle and conclusion. Your essay or report should flow from section to section. There should be logical links between each paragraph or section.
Put your arguments in order and consider whether they make sense. There are different ways to do this:
- bullet points and linear lists with headings and sub headings
- mind maps showing how topics link together
- key points on index cards so that they can be shuffled easily
Who is your audience?
Think about who you are writing for. While studying at College you will be writing for a specific audience, but when you graduate your audience might be very varied.
Your readership determines the style you adopt. Think about this when preparing your writing as it will affect the structure and the evidence that you use.
Adapt your writing to engage different audiences – it's a valuable skill.
Selecting your evidence
Re-read the notes you made during your research to help focus your mind. You will need to make sense of all the data and analyse it in your writing. You might not need all of it, so go through all the material and be brutal in rejecting unnecessary or irrelevant information.
Select the data or information sources that will help you best answer the question. It can be disappointing to discard material you have gathered, but your lecturer only wants to see material that is relevant. Pick out the material that best addresses the central themes of the question.
Tip: Read through your notes and highlight relevant material in green. Use red for any material that can be discarded and yellow for anything you are unsure of. Now you have a clearer idea of what you should include.