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Planning is an essential part of writing a successful assignment and ensuring you reach your full potential. Key benefits to a clear plan are that it:
At the start of writing your assignments, it is helpful to create a schedule to help organise your time and break the assignment process up into manageable chunks. Your schedule should include:
What type of assignment is it?
It’s crucial to understand what type of assignment you are being asked to produce – is it an essay, a literature review, a report, annotated bibliography, or a piece of reflective writing? Each type of assignment has different conventions and will have different requirements to be successful.
To find a definition of your assignment type, search our glossary.
Understanding the title
Break down your question to make sure you understand what is being asked of you and what your focus should be.
Questions can usually be split into three sections:
Let’s look at an example:
The green topic words give us our focus – these can be used as key search terms in Library Search as a way of kickstarting your research on the topic. The red term acts as a restriction – if we started to write about how Batman’s actions had impacted crimes in neighbouring cities, or on a national scale, this would fall outside of the boundaries of the question, and therefore would not gain any marks in this particular assignment.
Question the question
Once you understand the assignment type and have analysed the question, there are a few more questions you should ask:
Finally, there are a few practical considerations before you start your essay plan:
It’s useful to know these from the start to save time making changes later in the process.
Prior knowledge and resources
As you start to plan your answer, the first step should be to consider what you already know about the topic. Think about what has been covered in your lectures/seminar/labs/reading – you may already have quite a lot of relevant information to help you. Likewise, check to see if there are any online reading lists available as these are a very useful starting point.
From here you should have a good idea of what aspects of the question you will need to research in greater detail and where to focus your reading.
When you are reading, your note taking should be an active process. This means engaging with the text rather than just being a passive reader mindlessly highlighting large chunks of text. Here are some key tips to make sure you are an active reader/note-taker:
Throughout this process you should try to reflect on your position in relation to the question and start thinking about what your conclusion might be. This is especially important for questions that are looking for you to give your verdict or opinion on a topic/debate. To help support this it can be useful to try and sum up your argument in one or two short sentences; this helps to ensure that your argument is clear and will help keep your response well-structured and coherent once you start writing.
Now that you’ve completed your reading, it’s time to structure your writing:
Introduction (about 10% of the total word count)
|Theme 1 (about 30% of the word count)
|Theme 2 (about 30% of the word count)
|Theme 3 (about 20% of the word count)
|Conclusion (about 10% of the word count)|
Alternatively, if you were contrasting two theories it might look like this:
General introduction to theory A and B (about 10% of the word count)
Theory A (about 30% of the word count)
Theory B (about 30% of the word count)
|Synthesis section comparing relative strengths and weaknesses of both theories (about 20% of the word count)|
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to structure your writing and it’s likely that you will need to adapt your plan for each assignment depending on what is required. However, remember that a plan should always help to organise your content so that your response is clear, coherent and well-structured.
In the same way that essays have a clear structure (introduction, main body, conclusion), the paragraphs within your essay should also follow a pattern. Considering how you structure your paragraphs is important as it helps to improve the clarity of your writing by presenting your chosen evidence and subsequent critical response in a clear and effective way.
Paragraphs should be TIED together:
Let’s look at this in an example:
"As noted by Alexander (2017), talk has always been an essential component of teaching, and, consequently, learning. Evidence has demonstrated that talking about prose can enhance written responses to texts through increasing student confidence about qualities such as character, theme, and motifs (Coultas, 2006). Despite this however, the most recent version of the National Curriculum has hugely decreased the role of speaking and listening; this includes even going so far as to remove speaking and listening from formal assessment in GCSE specifications. Furthermore, as noted by Yandell (2013), this has included moving the focus of talk as a collaborative experience to only being on the speaker, thus relegating listening as a key skill. Parallel to this, the types of talk discussed within the classroom has considerably narrowed, to the extent that what students now understand as spoken English, is little more than public speaking. Consequently, teachers are now faced with the responsibility of instilling the foundational skills of speaking and listening in students at an earlier age, to ensure that they have the necessary skills to navigate the complex social world.
Linking your ideas
Signposting language is also a key part of academic writing. Signposts are words or phrases that show a link between two ideas and can also be used to signal transition in your writing. This helps to make your writing more coherent and avoids any jarring changes of topic that leave your reader struggling to understand the connection between two paragraphs. Likewise, you can use signposting to develop your argument by identifying ideas that support or contrast one another, or ideas/findings that have built upon the outcomes of prior work. Ultimately, signposting helps to show the reader the structure of your argument and the direction of your response.
In terms of your planning and structuring, you should think carefully about to use signposting language to link the ideas between your paragraphs, signal key transitions develop your argument. Some examples are included below:
To reference other parts of your essay
To introduce a supporting point
To introduce a contrasting point
To introduce reason/outcomes
To introduce a conclusion