This column is here to help the students of NUI Galway with all aspects of academic writing. Writing for academic purposes is an essential student skill, yet for many, it is a daunting task. Run in conjunction with the Academic Writing Centre (AWC) at the James Hardiman Library, the column will focus on a different aspect of the writing process every issue, giving advice, sharing ideas and hopefully easing the burden of assignments. You can find me in the AWC every Tuesday and Thursday from 11-1 for one-to-one tutoring.
The Writing Process – Preparing and Planning
In the previous issue we began to explore the concept of writing as a process. It may have come as a surprise to some that the process starts before you ever begin to write. However, this is a crucial aspect of becoming a proficient academic writer. Learning to analyse the task ahead of you and subsequently focus your research and writing is essential, making the writing process easier down the line.
What comes next is the preparation and planning of your essay. While it may be possible to simply start writing at this stage without planning ahead, more often than not this will lead to an incoherent and unbalanced paper. To avoid this, it’s important to figure out beforehand what you want your essay to say and how you want to say it.
Much of the ideas behind our essays will have come from information we have received in lectures and from the ideas and debates we have encountered in our research of the academic literature. What is most important however, especially in an assignment that calls for analysis or argument, is what we think about those ideas. As well as showing an understanding of the literature, we need to show an opinion on the literature. Lecturers will often seek original thought or novel interpretations.
This understandably can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re still trying to get your head around a new concept. So how do you make an essay your own? How do you form your own ideas about a topic so many others have discussed before? How do write an entire essay on it? Having begun your research, it’s essential to start making sense of it. There are many different methods of tackling a topic, breaking it down and deciding your opinion on it, but generally they can come under the same heading: Brainstorming.
Some Brainstorming Techniques:
- Free Writing: Free writing is essentially writing without restriction. It is an excellent and simple way to get ideas flowing and to ease you into writing. Set yourself some time, say five minutes, to freely write whatever comes into your mind about the topic at hand. Do not pay attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation or even if what you are writing makes sense. Just simply write! When the five minutes is up, you stop and read what you wrote. Then you reread and evaluate the ideas you have generated. From there you can cut out the bad ones, focus in on the good ones and build the body of your essay from that foundation.
- Spider Diagrams and Mind Maps: Most of us are familiar with the concept of a mind map, but perhaps we don’t appreciate their usefulness. In the centre of the page, write down the essay title, or what the paper is broadly about. From there, branch off into themes or subsections relating to that topic. Branch off from each section again, perhaps noting a particular author or paper you read or an idea that struck you when thought about that topic. Every branch should lead back and relate to the core idea at the centre of the page, and therefore the diagram will act as a visual representation of the relationships between the ideas.
Once you have brainstormed, you should find yourself with a clearer idea of the direction of your essay. This is the essential building block to one of the most crucial aspects of your paper: The Thesis Statement.
A thesis statement is a concise summary of the key claim or point of your essay. Any analytical, explanatory or argumentative essay should contain a thesis statement. It should be specific, covering only what you will discuss in your paper and should be backed up with evidence gathered from your research throughout the essay. Ideally, the statement appears within the introductory paragraph so as to give the reader an indication of the content of the essay.
Naturally, the specifics of your essay may change as you write, and so you may need to review your thesis statement to ensure it reflects exactly what you have discussed in the paper. However, having a thesis statement is also an excellent way of grounding an essay and keeping all the content within it relevant to an overall goal.
By Aoife O’Donoghue
Photo credit Photo credit GoToVan