Return to MAIN (index) page Return to ASPECTS of LEARNING page Writing Assignments - A "how to" guide


First of all - there is more than one way to skin a cat - and likewise more than one way to set about writing essays, depending on your preferred learning style. However, most people would recommend that you spend some time PLANNING your essay - rather than just sitting down with a blank piece of paper and waiting for "inspiration".



So, will you sit down with a blank piece of paper - or work directly on the screen?  Much as I am a keen advocate of new technologies, I realise that many people still find it advantageous to do their planning on paper.  You may find it easier to scribble ideas down quickly on paper - and to group ideas under common themes on separate pieces of paper - which you can then rearrange physically into an appropriate order.  It is your choice.  You will know what suits you best.



Get it clear in your own mind what the assignment is about.  Read through the ASSIGNMENT BRIEF.  It is advisable to check the assessment criteria (if any are given) so that you know what the markers are looking for and what you need to demonstrate.



CLICK HERE for "Key Definitions"



Once you have established the MAIN SUBJECT, what are the SUB-TOPICS or themes associated with it.  These can vary according to what you are writing about.  They will often suggest the STRUCTURE of what you are writing.





  • Ancient past - recent past - present circumstance - prospects for the future.

  • Introduction - points in favour - points against - recommendations.

  • Introduce a theory - how does it work in practice - examine implications - suggest modifications to theory.

  • Describe an event - relate it to theory - analyse event in relation to theory - how might event be improved.

  • Describe event - evaluate from tutor perspective - evaluate from student perspective - evaluate from organisational perspective - conclude.


At this stage you could write NOTES about each sub-topic (collecting together what you know about it or want to say about it).  This might uncover a few weaknesses in your knowledge or understanding so may require a bit of extra research.  At this stage you will also be able to establish what "weighting" to give each section.



Remember the assessment criteria.  Make sure you have done what the assignment asked you to do.  Have you put in enough description (if that is what was required)?  Have you done enough analysis? etc.



(You might consider this next bit a bit too "fussy" - but it can help some people.)

At this stage you might want to "allocate your word-count".  Deciding HOW MANY WORDS each section might contain can prevent you "rambling on" - and you might be surprised how much you are managing to write.  It is also a good way to motivate yourself.  An essay of 2500 words can sound daunting - until you break it into 5 sections - and if each section is broken down into even smaller sub-sections then the task becomes much more manageable.



"How do you eat an elephant?"

"One mouthful at a time."

(Unless you are vegetarian, of course.)


All of the above planning could be done using Mindmapping.

CLICK HERE for more on Mindmapping.



When you actually begin writing - whether it's on screen or still on paper - it's a good idea just to "get your ideas down" without being too fussy about how you are expressing them (in the first instance).  You can go back afterwards and re-phrase things better.  And you may find that you have to "leave bits out" - and that would be a shame if you had spent ages carefully crafting how you expressed that particular point.



Incidentally, there is no need to "start at the beginning" - as long as you have a reasonable overview in your mind of what you are going to say.  You may find it preferable to start with the section you feel most comfortable with - because that can help to build your confidence.  (Or you may be a glutton for punishment and decide to get the "worst bit" out of the way first.)  Usually it is sensible to write your "conclusion" last - but it can also be a good idea to leave your introduction until near the end, too.



When you have finished writing, read through the essay in its entirety to make sure it "flows".  Now that everything you want to say has been said - this is the time to go back over your essay and check that it "sounds right".  By reading your essay aloud - slowly - you should discover any grammatical oddities.  Then you need to do a thorough check of spellings etc.  If you know you struggle with punctuation and spelling, there is no harm in getting someone who is "good at that sort of thing" to read through your essay.  Preferably you should do this together - because then they can explain any difficulties you may have - which is all part of the learning process.



Finally - depending on requirements - you may need to add a contents page, a reference list, a bibliography.  You will almost definitely need to add a title page.  It is a good idea to number your pages.



 Check whether you have met any presentation criteria (margin sizes, line-spacing, font style, etc.) then print off your work.  You may also need to attach "official paperwork" (from your learning institution, awarding body, etc.)  Place the whole thing in a suitable binder.


  Sit back - have a glass of wine (or gin!) - eat chocolate - relax.