Writing tip of the week

by Harriet Castor

When you’re starting work on an essay or assignment, analyse the question first. Unpack it like a suitcase, imagining that each word needs to be unfolded and examined carefully. 

 Then, have a brainstorming session. This can be done in all sorts of ways, but here’s the method I like best:

  • ·      Take a piece of paper (bigger is better).
  • ·      Write the essay question in the centre.
  • ·      Branching off from it, write down everything that comes to mind      connected to the question.
  • ·      You could be jotting down ideas, new questions, single words, names      of authors or works that might be relevant – anything that comes to mind!
  • ·      You might circle a word or phrase in the question and ask what it      means… e.g. if you’ve been asked to examine the ‘uses of dialogue’ in a      play, how many different kinds of use might there be? Are you sure      precisely what dialogue means? (If not, look it up in a dictionary.)
  • ·      Note down things you don’t know too – things you need to find out      about.

Now look at what you’ve written. You probably already have some ideas that could become ‘points’ in your argument. Are any of these points/ideas connected? If so, they could follow on from one another in your essay. This is the beginning of your planning process.

Keep both the essay question and your brainstorm map beside you when you read and make notes. You will be able to see whether new information from your reading fits in with one of the ideas you’ve already had, or whether you need to add a whole new section to your brainstorm map.

For a confidential one-to-one session with me to work on your writing skills, email Harriet.Castor@uwe.ac.uk.

I’m at Frenchay on Wednesdays and St Matthias on Thursdays.


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