Tips for writing assignments

Writing is a task that no two people do the same way.
However, there are some logical steps that every writer seems to follow in the creation of a paper. The process described here outlines those basic steps.

Step 01. Analyze and define the topic or question:
• Analyze the topic or question if it is already set – what EXACTLY is the lecturer asking you to do?

• If answering a set question, use the Subject-Angle-Process method of analysis.

• If writing on a general topic, consider making it into a question as a specific question is easier to research and write on than a general topic.

Step 02. Identify some key ideas:
• Look at course outlines, lecture notes, tutorial/seminar readings to identify key themes of the course.

• Use brainstorming or mind-mapping techniques to identify key ideas.

Step 03. The first literature search:
• Based on the topic and the brainstorming session, identify some KEYWORDS with which to search library catalogues, abstracts and databases for material.

• Pay particular attention to journals in the general field – skim back issues.

• Cover the key writers in the field – how can you identify these?

• Ask your lecturer/tutor to recommend articles, books.

Step 04. Read:
• Initially, it may be useful to go over the seminar/recommended readings on the topic or set question before looking at the materials discovered during independent research.

• Read to obtain an overview of what people are writing on the topic: where are the debates within this topic? What are the key issues of these debates? Are there any key theorists writing on the topic? What evidence is being used to justify each position or interpretation of the topic?

• Take careful notes as you read.

Step 05. Formulate your argument in relation to the topic:
• Try to express your argument or position in one clear sentence, e.g., “It is argued that . . .”.

• The argument requires supporting evidence and ideas.

• Next, consider what things you need to do to persuade the reader of your position. Will you need to define key terms, compare and contrast, critically evaluate the literature, provide background context, analyze a case study, and so on? Once you have thought of the things you will do, this is called the structure of argument and it provides a potential outline of the main sections of the essay.

Step 06. Develop the preliminary outline of the essay:
• The first division of your topic into parts represents your view of what is important in these debates: this is your preliminary analysis.

• Keeping the required length of the essay in mind, transfer key ideas and supporting ideas from the brainstorm session to a linear structure (outline). This outline is the bare bones of the essay.

• Prepare a more detailed outline – with a section and sub-section plan.

• Expand or contract the outline to suit the length required – add or delete main points, supporting points, the evidence you will use to explain and support them, potential responses to counterarguments or challenges to your position.

• Remember: you may need to read more in order to flesh out your ideas.

Step 07. Write the first draft - for yourself:
• The purpose of this draft is to work out what you think about the topic, in relation to what you have read.

• Try to write it all in one go: BODY, CONCLUSION then INTRODUCTION last? Which order do you prefer?

Step 08. Do some more focused reading:
• Identify where you need more information.

• Widen/extend/narrow your literature search for more material.

• Find examples to support your main points.

Step 09. Take a break:
• Put some critical distance and time between yourself and your work.

Step 10. Revise first draft, complete second draft - for your reader:
• Give this draft to someone else for comments and feedback, for example, a friend, your partner, a fellow student, or an ASLC adviser. Take note of their comments.

Step 11. Edit
• Use a checklist for editing the final draft, which incorporates formatting requirements as well as things you know you often have problems with, e.g., referencing, expression, etc.

Step 12. Hand it in and reward yourself!
• Go to a movie

• Eat out

• Spend the day watching television

• Buy a CD

• Relax

• Go swimming

• Head off to Sydney

• Write another one : )

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