Mark: 4 simple tips for better assignment writing
Having worked as a Student Relationship Officer, Lecturer, Marker, Tutor and Learning Advisor, it’s fair to say Mark Emmerson knows a thing or two about university study! His own academic career includes one Bachelor’s degree, an Honours degree, one Diploma, a Masters and a PhD. Currently working as an Associate Lecturer and Learning Advisor, Mark is passionate about helping students to develop and apply strong academic skills that can benefit them in their career.
So, you’ve analysed your assessment task sheet and researched some quality sources, and now it’s time to get writing. But hang on a minute — where do you start? What comes first? How can you structure your ideas for maximum effect?
Great assignments, whether they be reports, oral presentations or essays, all have one thing in common … a great flow from start to finish. When a student has taken the time to gather their thoughts and construct a strong plan for their writing, the result is a logical, coherent piece that is often a pleasure to read. Very few people can jump straight in and start writing, though; most will need to put their ideas down on paper and move them around several times to find a structure that will best convey their argument to the reader.
The following advice will help you to improve your academic writing and present your best work.
A great place to start is with a simple brainstorm. You might use sticky notes or a whiteboard or even just pen and paper. Write down some of the most common ideas or views on your assignment topic, then start to look for alternative views that are presented in some of your readings or research. Academics will often come at a topic from many different angles, so your brainstorming time is your chance to consider all these different viewpoints and decide how you would like to approach the problem within your own assignment.
Start to think about what evidence exists for each different position on the topic and how this might help you to support your argument. A lot of the ideas you generate during your brainstorm may end up being irrelevant to your assignment, but you won’t know this until you get all your thoughts on paper and start to evaluate them against one another.
Brainstorming helps you to unpack your thoughts and find your argument.
2. Find your argument
Brainstorming helps you to unpack your thoughts and find your argument, which is the seed of your whole assignment. By taking many different perspectives into consideration, you’ll get an idea of which view you feel is the strongest stance you can take on the topic and how much evidence there may be to support your perspective. Once you’ve found your argument and gathered together any ideas from your brainstorming that support this stance, you can conduct more specific research and move into more detailed planning to strengthen your assignment.
3. Order your ideas
The order of your ideas is crucial to the flow of your assignment, so start working out a rough structure for your writing. You may like to use post-it notes with all your ideas on them so that you can easily move them around and see what ideas are related to one another. Start at the top, with a clear argument. Remember, your argument shouldn’t be you just re-stating the topic of the assignment. You need to take a stance and then try to convince the reader of its validity. You do that by guiding your reader through a series of logically constructed paragraphs to a strong conclusion.
Put your big ideas in order, then step back and evaluate.
Put your big ideas in order, then step back and evaluate whether they flow logically and link together well. If not, readjust the order of your ideas until you have a strong plan. Keep in mind that during this process you may find that some of your key points don’t fit within your argument as well as you thought they would. If this happens, you may need to go back to your brainstorm for other ideas that support your stance and that will flow more logically.
4. Follow a formula
No matter what type of assignment you’re writing, there’s going to be a generic formula to follow. For example, when writing an essay, you have your introduction, body and conclusion. If you’re writing a report, it has its own different elements, such as an abstract, contents pages, recommendations etc. Make sure you use standard templates and understand the formula for the type of assignment you’re preparing. The USQ Library has a lot of helpful resources about assignment structure and if you’re unsure which is most appropriate for your assignment, you can always speak to your lecturer and ask for further clarification.
Taking the time to plan your assignment is one of the most crucial steps towards success. A strong and logical plan will help your writing to flow more easily and give you a framework to come back to if you feel that your assignment has gotten off track.
Taking the time to plan your assignment is one of the most crucial steps towards success.
But planning is just one component of preparing a great assignment. For tips on task analysis, conducting quality research, proper referencing techniques and making the most of assignment feedback, be sure to check out my full webinar ‘How to write better assessment pieces’. You can also find assignment support online from The Learning Centre or under the Assignment tag on Social Hub.
At time of publication, Mark was employed as a staff member of USQ.