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Writing Guide: The First Thing

This guide covers: understanding the essay question; searching databases and organising research; the writing process: critical thinking and note-taking; referencing and citing in text, and using academic language.

Why are you writing an essay?

Essays aren't meant to see how much you know, but to give you a chance to expand your knowledge.  They force you to do some independant learning, by giving you a topic and making you "fill in the blanks" using your own research and synthesis.

To help you prepare for your essay and use it to learn:

ASK:  What is this essay supposed to do?

  • What should I be learning as a result of doing this essay (your Learning Outcomes in the Subject Guide can help with this, as can the marking ruberic you should get with the assignment)
  • How can I use the essay to show what I've learnt?

Take what you have learnt in class, let the research consolidate, expand and change your understanding, then use your essay to show you have aimed for deep knowledge.

By the time you have finished your essay you should:

  • Know something that was never mentioned in class or your readings - and be able to argue with someone else about it.
  • Change your mind about something.  Let the research convince you that something you "felt" was black-and-white might have shades of grey.
  • Be able to show a deeper understanding of the topic than you could get simply by listening to your lectures.

Think: Who is going to read it?

Think about who is going to be reading your essay.

You should write for your marker:

  • Use appropriate academic discourse
  • Write clearly - Clarity is the King of Academic Writing (and your marker doesn't want to waste time trying to figure out what your point is)
  • Write with purpose - Purpose is the Queen of Academic writing (everything you write in the essay should go towards achieving some end - what is the point you are trying to make, how is that going to prove your answer to the question?)

Think about:

  • What does your marker want to know about you
  • What can you show them in your essay?

BUT!

You should also write for the 'stranger':

  • Would someone who has never attended your classes or read your textbooks be able to understand it?
  • Don't shy away from appropriate language (jargon), but don't assume prior knowledge on the part of your reader.

Teach Yourself Autonomy

Learner Autonomy is all about being the project manager of your own learning.

You are the person running your "learning process" - lecturers, tutors, learning advisors and librarians are all members of your support team, and you need to figure out how to use them wisely to get the help you need to learn effectively.

You need to:

  • Look at your lectures like a teacher - "what should I be learning?"
  • Look at your research like a librarian - "what kind of information should I be finding?"
  • Look at your studies like a learning advisor - "what activities should I be doing to make this work better?"
  • Look at your assignments like a marker - "what should I be proving?"

Then:

  • Choose activities that will help you learn
  • Find resources that will take you beyond what you are given in class
  • Ask your support team for advise and assistance
  • Write assignments that showcase ("prove") what you have learned

And:

  • Remember that an essay is a learning activity - you are supposed to learn something from your assignment.
  • Use advance organisers and reflective practices for an essay just as you would for any other learning activity.

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