Learning

Part 2: Essay Writing Process

Understanding the Writing Process
Dr. Mary Deane

Welcome to the second part of the ‘Understanding the Writing Process’, this article will look at the final parts of the five-stage process, Practicing, Peer Review and Polishing. It you haven’t already, check out Part 1: Essay Writing Process.

3. Practicing
The most time-consuming part of the writing process is when you really get down to drafting. Personally, I am most effective at drafting in the morning, and I cannot concentrate for longer than an hour at a time. I NEED to have coffee, and I like to have music that puts me in a good mood. When you’re drafting, stick to your plan to an extent, but be prepared to re-work the plan if you get a brainwave!

Keep an eye on your impending deadline. Drafting should be done well before you need to submit. SO many people submit a draft for assessment. If you take time to get feedback first and revise your work, you will obtain a higher grade than your initial draft could ever merit.

4. Peer review
Once you have a draft, you need to seek some feedback to support your revising work. It’s best to line up a friend, partner, colleague, or ANYone, in advance, and ask him or her to protect time to read your work and speak with you about it.  This will also help you produce the draft early, giving you time to get the distance you need on your work that will help you see it more clearly, and enable you to see the weaknesses for yourself.

When you respond to feedback from someone else, you don’t need to follow all the advice. The work is your own, and you must feel confidence and confident about both the content and the organisation of ideas.

Here are some tips to help your focus your revising work:

  1. What was your assignment brief? Has this been fulfilled?
  2. What is your main argument? Is this crystal clear?
  3. What is your evidence supporting your argument? Is this convincing, and documented using the recommended referencing style?
  4. How have you organised your ideas? Could your reader follow the line of argument easily?

5. Polishing
The final phase of the writing process is editing.  This involves either reading your own work aloud, and listening to the flow (or lack of this), or, ask a friend to proofread your essay and let you know where it is expressed awkwardly.

At this late stage, you should only be making small changes, checking the font, pagination, presentation, and other minor issues that contribute to an impression of professionalism.

Submit!
Aim to have your essay ready to submit in advance of the deadline. This gives you a ‘buffer zone’ in case you are ill, lacking motivation, or enjoying yourself too much to stick to the timeframe of production you had planned.

Celebrate
I believe that the key to success in academic writing is the way you feel about it. I recommend the process approach to you because in my experience, it enhances writers’ motivation to get down to work, stay focused, and finish with the least possible stress.

The process should not end with an exhausted handing in or online submission, and a feeling of flatness – but with happy relief that you have managed the process in the best way you can, and that you have a moment of freedom – before the next deadline looms.

So, enjoy the feeling of being in control of your writing, and enjoy yourself, when you come gracefully to the end of the writing road for a particular piece of work.

Part 1: Essay Writing Process

Understanding the Writing Process
Dr. Mary Deane

Welcome to part one of the ‘Understanding the Writing Process’, this article will look at the first two parts of the five-stage process, Preparing and Planning.

My favorite way to tackle the challenge of essay writing is to ‘chunk it’. This means to chop up the tasks involved in writing into a process.

Taking a process approach to writing means that we can concentrate on one task at a time. It also lets us manage our time by scheduling in ‘chunks’ of activity at the times we are free, and most on the ball.

1. Preparing

This opening phase is the MOST important. It is also the easiest!

In the preparatory stage, we start mulling over ideas. The most relaxing way to get ourselves thinking is to have a chat with a friend or colleague over a cuppa, and just share the gems of ideas we have about the task in hand.

A key part of preparation is to find out what we need to produce. This means gathering the assignment brief, marking criteria, guidelines, referencing requirements, recommended reading list, notes from classes, etc!

It takes time to sift through this mass of information. Do it with some music on, in a nice cafe, or with friends. Ease yourself into thinking about your essay by reviewing the material you already have to hand.

2. Planning

Find yourself a strategy for planning essays. There are lots of different approaches you can try, and keep experimenting until you crack it! For instance, you may enjoy mind mapping [see article on mind mapping].

You may prefer to give yourself sub-headers and then jot down ideas for each section using bullet points. Or, you may like to chat about your ideas with a friend, and record the conversation, then listen back and organise the ideas using whatever form of words or images that comes naturally to you.

Most essays have these key elements:

Introduction: Main argument, structure of the essay, context of the topic, key literature on the topic

Main body: Divided into sections (depending on the task you have been set), with well-organised paragraphs that make a clear point, supply evidence or an example (cited using the recommended referencing style), and an explanation that unpacks your point, critiques the evidence if relevant, and conveys your own critical thinking.

Conclusion: Summary of main points in essay, clear statement of position in relation to the question or task you have been set.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2, covering Practicing, Peer Review and Polishing.

The abstract: The All-Important First Impression

We’ve all heard the phrase “first impressions count” and, whether it is for a job interview or even a first date, we all want to make a good impression. When writing an article, dissertation or thesis, your abstract provides the first impression of your work. Based on the brief description provided in the abstract, readers will determine whether or not they want to invest the time to read what you have written.

The main aim of the abstract is to provide a concise overview of your work. The length will vary depending on the guidelines of your university department or the particular journal to which you may be submitting an article. Some can be as short as 150 words while others may be 300 to 400 words.

The style of an abstract may vary depending on the discipline. However, typical components include the purpose, research design, methods, results, and conclusions of the study. The purpose of the study usually includes the reason(s) for the investigation and the objectives. It also situates the study within the wider field of research. The research design refers to the type of approach you are using for your study (e.g., case study, randomized controlled trial, ethnography). Your design should be chosen because it is the most appropriate for answering your particular research questions. The methods portion of the abstract provides the techniques (e.g., interviews, surveys, observations) you used for the study. Lastly, the abstract contains your results or your findings, along with what you have concluded from those findings.

Again, the perfect abstract will vary depending on the discipline. A hard science abstract will differ from one in the social sciences. Check with your university department for their specific guidelines for preparing abstracts. You may also find it useful to examine abstracts found in peer-reviewed journals within your subject-area. There will be some that stand out as excellent. Consider saving them to use as models for your own work to help ensure that your abstract provides a great first impression!

Study Groups: Are Two Heads Always Better Than One?

We’ve all heard the phrase “two heads are better than one.” However, when it comes to study groups, there are a few things you need to consider before forming or joining one.  First, you want to try to find out if potential group members will be responsible and prepared to contribute to group study efforts. Observe how your classmates contribute to class discussions and keep in mind any talks you’ve had with them in more informal settings, as some students feel more comfortable discussing topics outside of the classroom. Use these opportunities to learn more about your classmates and to determine how well you will get on. Be careful not to exclude potential group members solely based on the fact that they are different in some way. Differences are desirable and can potentially provide the group with an alternate perspective on some issues. Respect should be key among all group members. Also, size matters and smaller groups tend to work best so limit the number of participants to no more than six.

Each group member should have the ability to stay focused on the task at hand. It’s always tempting to engage in interesting conversations about life. However, you want to ensure that these conversations take place at an appropriate time. One way to handle this is to create a plan for what is to be accomplished at each session. Also, consider scheduling intervals for working and intervals for chatting. For example, work for two hours and then chat while having a snack or lunch for a designated period of time. You can develop a plan that works best for the group.

Many students enjoy and benefit from participating in study groups. Interacting with others can help you to process information from readings or class sessions.  For example, speaking with others about a concept and receiving feedback can help you to better understand and internalize that information. If you are able to explain a topic well to someone else, it demonstrates your understanding of the topic. Another benefit of study groups is that individual members may be able to help fill gaps in knowledge for others.  Some group members may understand a topic particularly well and they can share that knowledge with the rest of the members. Lastly, participating in a study group can be very motivating, especially if the group functions as a collaborative support network with the goal of helping all members succeed. If this is the case then two heads can definitely be better than one.

Positive Action! Extended Time on Tests for Students with Dyslexia

Positive Action is a governmental measure under the Equality Act 2010 that allows universities and other organizations to take action to alleviate disadvantage experienced by certain groups.  For example, those with learning difficulties may have reasonable provisions available to them based on their needs. Reasonable provisions could include a number of resources that support students with their studies. One provision that students may be entitled to is extended time for exams. The amount of extended time granted is dependent upon recommendations reported after having had a full diagnostic assessment completed by a psychologist or qualified specialist teacher. Contact your university disability office for more information about diagnostic assessments.  If you are a student at the University of Oxford, you can view available exam provisions here.

Provisions should not be viewed as a way of favoring students with learning difficulties over other students. They should, rather, be viewed as a way to provide a level playing field for students who are intelligent and capable, but due to neurocognitive (thinking and information processing) differences, have slower reading and writing speeds.

If you are a student with dyslexia or another learning difficulty, know that Positive Action was established to provide you with supports for your university studies. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and there is no shame in seeking the support that is available to you. Contact your university disability office for more information about extended time on tests and other available provisions.