Writing skills

Enjoy the process

There is such a lot of writing to do at university that it is worth finding the point of enjoyment in writing as a process. This is easier if:

  1. You give yourself enough time to write up your work so that you are not always rushing to meet deadlines.
  2. You break writing tasks down into several stages with their own deadlines. This is easier than trying to write the perfect essay or report first time.
  3. You regard writing as a craft. Write several drafts. Aim to make each successive draft better than the previous one.
  4. Familiarise yourself with the style and conventions of your subject. Take pride in producing a piece of writing that is good by the standards of your own subject.

Define the task

Spend time working out exactly what is required by the assignment title. The title will usually include a question that you must answer. Think through:

  • Why was this particular title or assignment set?
  • What are your tutors expecting that you will research?
  • What issues do they intend you to cover?
  • What theories, research and evidence do they expect you to refer to?
  • What recent research or articles have been published on this subject?
  • What methodologies are your tutors expecting you to use to demonstrate that you understand how to apply these?

Plan the assignment tasks

  • Use the word limit and the assignment title to guide you in how much you need to read of each book and article recommended.
  • Make a list of all the steps you need to take in order to finish the writing task. Work out how long each will take you. Each step will probably take longer than you think so plan for this.
  • Write each task into your diary so you know when it will be done.

Make an outline plan for your writing

It takes time to rewrite each draft of your writing. The more you have to change, the longer it will take. This makes it worthwhile to develop a detailed outline of your writing, you can then reorganise the plan, and progressively build on this until you complete your final draft.

Stages of the writing process

These will vary but the following steps offer a basic outline:

  • Work out what your conclusion is and write it down.
  • Brainstorm initial ideas.
  • Organise these into headings with main points underneath.
  • Organise these headings-and-points into the best order.
  • Write in other headings that will structure your writing, depending on the nature of the assignment (such as introduction, conclusion, references, abstract, methodology, results, etc).
  • Allocate a word limit for each point - check whether you have enough or too many points for the word limit you have allocated.
  • Select the strongest points and save the rest elsewhere.
  • Write up your points - you may find it easier to start with the conclusion.
  • Read through and fine tune - check it makes sense, check one point seems to lead naturally to the next.
  • Leave the writing for a day - read and fine tune again
  • Print out and read aloud - look for typing errors and other mistakes: correct these.

You will develop your own strategies and find short-cuts as the process becomes more familiar to you. For example, some people find that they develop their ideas as they write whereas other people cannot write until they have worked out what they need to say.

For more advice, see essay writing.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation

Universities usually assume that you can already cope with grammar, punctuation and spelling. If you need to improve these, see student support services early on as these take time to develop. It is well worth improving these technical writing skills alongside your degree as they will be taken into consideration by many employers.

This content has been written by Bryan Greetham, author of How to Write Better Essays.