Writing tips

by Maria McCann

Hello! I’ve taken over from Harriet Castor as your RLF Fellow, here to provide confidential one-to-one help with writing tasks, plus writing tips throughout the year. This offering deals with common pitfalls when beginning an assignment and is mainly aimed at students new to university.

One of the most common is failing to understand the task set, for example summarising when you are required to interpret.   All right, all right, you say, you’ve heard this before, but the crucial point is: check terms before you start planning. Few things are as demotivating as putting in effort, only to have to ditch the whole thing and start over.

If checking in a reference source, make sure it’s subject-specific. Many terms (e.g. image) have more precise meanings when used in an academic context.

Given the choice of two tasks, don’t assume that the longer title will be more difficult. A long title usually means the tutor is defining or limiting the task; it is, in fact, a way of helping you.

With a question in two parts, there’s a tendency for students to underplay or even ignore the second part. This ‘blindness’ increases under time pressure.  Highlighting both parts helps to keep them in mind.  Better still, allot word limits for each part in advance and stick to them.

With an extract, your tutor will have given thought to selecting this, in particular to where it should start and finish. Don’t just plunge into the middle, even if you can see rewarding material there and the rest of the extract looks dry in comparison.  Think about why the beginning and end might have been included and what your tutor hopes you’ll find there.

Write the title in full at the top of every draft. Don’t let it slide into something vague like ‘Economics essay.’  Once you lose sight of the precise title, the work often begins to morph into something less focussed.

If you’d like to book a confidential one-to-one session with me to work on your writing skills, email me (using your UWE email account) at Maria.McCann@uwe.ac.uk. I’m in 3S201 on Frenchay on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

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