Planning and organising your essay

R20- 0712 JAPA10030 ASYNC Only


(Embed text) In the last session, you were introduced to techniques on how to plan a search, identify keywords and find information from different sources. You also looked at how to evaluate information and information sources. In this session we want you to consider how you approach writing, and in particular focus upon how you can transfer your thinking into your writing.

Through engaging with this support, you will be able to:

  • Recognise academic writing
  • Structure an essay
  • Construct your evidence

(Embed Academic writing 1.0) Introduction to academic writing — podcast

Listen to Charlotte from the Teaching and Learning team give a short introduction about what an academic essay is, and what it should do.

(Embed Academic Writing 2.5) Using RAFT: Getting prepared to write

Before getting started with any academic task it is important to make sure you fully understand what you need to do. Carefully read the assignment information given to you and keep returning to it as you progress with your task; this will help keep you on track. RAFT is a strategy which is designed to help you understand your task and what you need to do. It concentrates on four key elements you should consider before starting an academic assignment:

1. Role: Ask yourself: What is your role as a writer? What do you need to do in order to make sure the reader understands your argument?

2. Audience: Ask yourself: Who is reading your work? How can you make sure that you demonstrate the necessary skills to them? How can you make your argument clear?

3. Format(s): Different types of academic writing have different aims and you may need to demonstrate different skills in each. Different types of writing also have different conventions which you will need to follow.

4. Topic: Break down the question or assignment brief to make sure you understand what you are being asked about and cover all the relevant areas (see breaking down the question section for more detail).

In the sections below will take you through some of these steps.

(embed text) Activity: what is academic writing?

  1. Think about the following questions:
  • What are the characteristics of academic writing?
  • What sets it apart from other types of writing?

Tip: Think about the conventions that are required in academic writing; how do we know it is academic? What are the clues?

2. Add your thoughts to the Jamboard, by writing them down on ‘post-it notes’ — see the Jamboard for instructions.

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After adding your own thoughts, read what other students have shared in the Jamboard, and consider if their thoughts help you to further understand what academic writing might look like.

There a lot of different characteristics to be aware of, however, it is important to remember that different types of writing will use a different mix of these. Not every type of academic writing is structured in the same way because different types of written work have different aims, which influence the content you are expected to include. You can find out more in our blog post about the conventions of academic writing and how they apply to different types of academic writing.

Breaking down the question

(Embed text) Once you are clear on what is expected of you, you can turn your attention to understanding what you are being asked about. Assignment or exam questions follow a recognisable format and often include certain types of key words which indicate how you should answer a question, what you should cover and what is/isn’t relevant.

When you have your assignment brief, you need to read and analyse your assignment question very carefully to gain a clear understanding of what you are being asked to do. This is an important step and is often reflected in the marking criteria, to find out whether you have demonstrated depth and breadth of the context of the question.

An assignment question can be broken down into different parts:

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Columns of words describing instruction, topic and limiting words
Instruction, topic and limiting words

(embed text) Activity: Using our original example question below, identify the different words:

‘Compare and contrast depictions of warriors in contemporary Japanese popular culture’

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1. Identify the instruction words, topic words and limiting words in this assignment question. Add them to post-it notes on page two of the Jamboard:

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(Embed text) After adding your own thoughts, read what other students have shared in the Jamboard, and consider if their thoughts help you to further identify and understand the different words.

(Embed text) When you receive your assignment question take some time to read it and analyse what you have to do. Take notice of instruction words, topic words and limiting words which signal what is expected of you.

Planning your academic writing

(Embed text) Now that you have broken down the question, and should have an understanding of what you are being asked to do, the concepts and issues you need to focus on, and the scope of your assignment brief. The next step is to think about how you will go about answering it.

(Embed Academic Writing 2.4 Planning your academic writing) (ONLY THE FIRST PARAGRAPH HERE)
Academic writing requires you to demonstrate a wide range of skills; from synthesizing information across a wide range of different sources to showing an in-depth and critical understanding of the evidence. In order to meet these requirements your writing needs be intentional, with every element included playing a role in your argument. So, don’t be surprised if the planning process takes a while — this is not wasted time. Creating a detailed plan before you start may seem counterproductive when you want to get on with your writing, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run. If your piece of writing is planned well and you know what you want to say, it will take less time for you to write it and you will spend less time editing your draft.

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Godzilla puppet dinosaur pointing at a map of Japan
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(Embed Academic writing 2.4 ) How to plan (Title and only this paragraph)

There are lots of different strategies and a variety of software out there which can assist you in planning your academic writing. Mind maps can be an excellent tool for starting for starting off the planning process, as they allow you to collect your ideas together visually. With all the information in front of you, you can start to make connections between different ideas to form a basic structure for your writing. Don’t be afraid to try different approaches as this will help you discover what works for you. You may prefer to write out a plan or create a mind map on paper, or use an online tool to help you collect your ideas. Free mind-mapping software, such as Freeplane can be downloaded to a computer or portable USB stick from the Freeplane website. If you’re on campus, you’ll find Mindview mind-mapping software on all university PCs.

(Embed text) For further support on planning your assignment, take a look at ‘What’s the big idea: Developing and organising your argument’

(Embed MLE online resource: What’s the big idea: Developing and organising your argument)

Structuring your essay

(Embed text) Writing the different sections of your essay
As we explored earlier, not all academic writing is structured the same, there are different types of academic assignment. One of the most common types of academic assignment is the academic essay. If you are asked to complete an academic essay, providing a response to a theoretical question, then you know that you will be expected to include an introduction, main body and conclusion.

(Embed text) We have created several in-depth blog posts to help you explore the purpose and what you should aim to achieve when Writing the introduction and Writing the conclusion.

(Embed text) ACTIVITY: Introductions and conclusions

  1. Think about the following questions:
  • What should an effective introduction do?
  • What should an effective conclusion do?

Tip: it might help to think about the differences in purpose between the introduction and conclusion

2. Add your answers to post-it notes on page three of the Jamboard:

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After adding your own thoughts, read what other students have shared in the Jamboard, and consider if their thoughts help you to further understand the differences, and purpose of introductions and conclusions.

Constructing a critical argument

(Embed text) In this section we are going to look at how you can write the main body of your essay. One thing which is common to all types of academic writing is that, in order to obtain high level marks, you will always need to demonstrate critical skills. Every point you make should be supported by evidence and your own analysis. Instead of simply describing what you have found in the literature, you will need to offer your own opinion on it, explaining its significance and how it supports your argument.

(Embed text ) Activity: Building a critical argument

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You can read more about how to use the Topic, Evidence, Analysis, Transition strategy to make sure your writing is critical in our blog post about Writing the main body.

(Embed Academic writing 2.4 Creating flow — Only the first paragraph)

When you are writing or editing a piece of academic work it is important to consider your reader. You want to take your reader on a journey, clearly signposting the movement between one section in your assignment and the next. This is how writers create a sense of “flow” in their writing. If you signpost effectively the journey will be easy for the reader — they will understand clearly what is happening at each stage in your argument and how you have arrived at your opinion.

Photo by Ravi Palwe on Unsplash

(Embed text) If your writing is not clearly signposted, linking each point to the next, then your reader will get lost. Signposting what you are doing at each point in your writing helps communicate to your reader how you have built your argument, with each section acting like a “brick” in your overall structure. For example, using sentences to help signpost such as, ‘The section below describes …’ helps to prepare the reader and help guide them. In the Power Point activity we mentioned transition sentences and how these should be used to connect the evidence to your analysis. For example, using sentences to connect your points or make clear a position, such as ‘A serious weakness with this argument, however, is that …’ help to signal where you are bringing in your opinion and analysis and make your writing flow better.

(Embed text) The more effort a reader needs to put into understanding where your writing is going, the less able they are to concentrate on and appreciate your core argument. If “the reader” in this scenario is the academic marking your work they may find themselves struggling to identify where you have met points in the assignment criteria.

(Embed Academic Writing 2.7) The Academic Phrasebank

(Embed Text) For further support on writing your essay, take a look at our online resource ‘Writing your essay’

(Embed MLE online resource: Writing your essay)

Hear from other students about writing

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