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Writing for the Arts

Writing skills

Firstly, check your assessment criteria to establish what writing format isIllustration of a journal, sketchbook and video expected: essay, report, table, video commentary, PowerPoint with audio, sketchbook with commentary and the expected word count.

Is the writing:


Formative (explaining early ideas)?


Summative (a final piece of writing for submission)?


This might influence the style and structure in terms of informality and inclusion of other materials such as drawings and sketches. Act as if you have an incomplete final report and try to have some finished sections rather than just a rough outline communicating to the tutors what may be expected later. Bear in mind the grade may reflect the unfinished nature of the piece. Ideally do not leave your report explaining your work until the end. Explaining your ongoing thinking can contribute to a better final grade.

In formal writing, you can structure each main point you wish to make using paragraphs:

Use a paragraph structure

It is useful to use a paragraph structure such as PEEL.

Element What to do

What is the key focus of this section?

  • Write a sentence that indicates the main point or theme of the paragraph.
  • Add definitions and keywords.

What evidence backs up this point

  • Include evidence that expands on your main point from your reading - this could be from a textbook journal article or another academic source.
  • Remember to reference accurately.

What is your stance in relation to this perspective?

  1. Evaluate the evidence - what are the strengths or weaknesses? How is the evidence relevant to your argument?
  2. To what extent does the evidence support the theme you've identified?

How does this point link back to the purpose of your essay?

  • Use signposting language to link the paragraph back to the overall argument or perspective of your essay.
  • You should also link to the next paragraphs ideas, making it easy for the reader to follow your points.

Reflection and the creative processIllustration of student sat at a table, reading

As a student studying arts, creative and design subjects you will be expected to engage in reflective writing. This can be puzzling to students who just want to practise their skills but think of it as keeping a journal and a personal recounting of the process you go through to bring any idea to a full design or finished piece or object.

The journal notes you make should focus upon ideation, design issues and the creative process itself: What is meant by these terms?

Here are some useful questions to ask yourself to get you started:

  • Where do you get ideas from?Lightbulb

  • How do you create and generate ideas?

  • How do you judge when the number of ideas is sufficient?

  • How do you sift through ideas to assess which ones are worth taking further?

  • When do you know you have enough ideas or a winning idea to develop further? Can you explain why this idea is worth developing? How is it new, original or interesting?

  • What criteria do you use to decide on what ideas to use and which to reject?

  • What design ideas did you decide not to use and why?Person looking at a small rocket with a magnifying glass

  • What influences have inspired you or had an impact on your design?

  • Are your design ideas developed with an audience or specific user in mind? If so, how has that influenced your design at different stages?

  • If you have taken part in a critical group, what ideas have you developed or rejected and why?

  • How has feedback had an influence on your emerging design?

  • Can you form an explanatory paragraph about what you want your design to communicate? Imagine you are writing a commentary for an exhibition. What would you say about your work?

  • How have your materials and your making skills influenced the design?

  • Did you develop a number of prototypes, sketches or models to refine the idea? Can you explain your thinking behind the acceptance and rejection of those separate stages of the journey to get to the end point of a finished design?

Inside a bookIf you think about the process you have gone through from first ideas to the end point how would you describe the different stages of the process?

  • How did you log or map this process during the different stages? Hopefully you have a diary of journal to look back over.
  • What seem to be the key decision points, setbacks or moments when you had great insights or found solutions?
  • Does your work refer to any previous references such as  other works, schools of thought or movements  in your field?
  • How have you incorporated any theoretical perspectives and influences and made sense of any readings that have informed your work?
  • Have you subverted any known processes or gone against any rules of making?

There may have been ups and downs in the process.  It can be useful to generate lots of ideas and then select the best idea to move forward with. Designs may take different paths; some may lead to dead ends, problems, issues with production or manipulating materials to achieve a finished design.

It can be helpful to log the design journey as it unfurls; it can be very challenging to try to remember facts and decisions after the event. Include drawings and explanatory text.