Writing strategies

Q: Faced with an essay or piece of coursework, what are some strategies that I can use to improve my grade?

Rule number 1: allow sufficient time.  If you’re going to do this yourself, there’s no shortcut to a good piece of work.

So first, find out when the essay or coursework is due to be handed in and make a plan of how you’re going to tackle it.

While this may seem like a given and perhaps how it applies to the writing process may not be immediately obvious, it’s where too many students fall down and fail to achieve the grade they could have, had they given it more thought at the outset.  Writing isn’t a product, it’s a process.  The quality of the work that you produce, and ultimately your grade, will be reflective of the time and effort you put in.

  • Some pre-writing around the subject will really help you to organise your thoughts and be more productive when you come to working on the assignment itself.
  • It is essential that you schedule several blocks of time to tackle your assignment rather than one large block.  Otherwise you’ll end up bored and demotivated.  Taking a break and returning to the subject helps you generate new ideas as you look at what you have written with a fresh pair of eyes.
  • Think about your assignment not just in terms of topic but also audience, genre, style, research, opportunity and purpose.
  • Even when you have a question set for you, consider the broader topic and try to propose a statement of where you stand in terms of answering the question.

Considering your audience, ask yourself the following:

  • Who is the audience that you’re writing for?
  • Will your audience be interested in the topic you’re writing about? Why?
  • Should your audience be interested in the topic you’re writing about? Why?
  • What will your audience already know about the topic?
  • What do they need to know about the topic?
  • Have your audience had any experience that may have helped them form a view about this topic?
  • What do you want your audience to do as a result of your writing?

Considering the purpose of the assignment, are you trying to:

  • Summarise the important aspects of a topic in a condensed way?
  • Argue or persuade for a particular view in relation to the topic?
  • Tell a story or recount events in relation to the topic?
  • Evaluate the worthiness of a topic or something relating to it?
  • Analyse a topic, breaking it down into parts and looking at the relationship between those parts?
  • Respond to a particular view on the topic, raised by another?
  • Examine or investigate a topic in order to find out more facts not generally known?
  • Describe your observations in relation to an event, person, place, image or object connected to the topic?

All of the above are writing strategies and are useful when considering your approach to an assignment.

At the outset, don’t worry about getting things down in the right order.  If you’re stuck for what to say, start on any aspect of the topic you like, and just write freely about that, without introduction or structure.  All the polishing and editing, as well as correcting grammar and spelling, comes later.