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Writing Effectively

Description of this Guide

In this guide we shall examine the various aspects involved in academic writing. The guide is roughly divided into the process and product aspects of writing with each of these sections dealing with the skills needed to produce written text suitable for a variety of purposes in higher education.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Analyse the language of essay titles and questions in examinations

  2. Select relevant information from reading to make notes

  3. Summarise information

  4. Manipulate language to produce cohesive text

  5. Understand the structure of a paragraph

  6. Cite references effectively and appropriately

  7. Manage the whole writing process.


  1. Introduction to Writing Effectively

    1. Never mind the quality, feel the width!

    2. What is an essay?

  1. Elements of the Writing Process

    1. Cracking the code

      1. Myths about essay titles and cracking the code

    2. Essay title instruction words

      1. A short summary

    3. Organising the content – strategies for note-taking and organisation

      1. How to improve your efficiency: gathering and organising information

      2. Using mindmaps when collecting information

      3. Using lists when collecting information

      4. Using index cards to organise information

      5. Using information grids/matrixes to organise information

      6. A short summary

  1. Aspects of the Written Product

    1. The paragraph structure

    2. Linking Ideas – keeping your essay coherent

      1. Using similar words to link ideas

      2. Using signal words to link your arguments

    3. Drafting and editing tips

    4. Constructing an argument

  1. How do I Know if I have Writer’s Block?

    1. Tips and strategies for overcoming ‘The Blank Page Syndrome’

      1. The thinker’s warm-up for writing success

  1. What is Plagiarism?

    1. Ways to Avoid Plagiarism

  1. Strategies for Proof-Reading or How to Spot Your Own Errors

    1. A Time Management Issue

    2. Spotting your own Errors – What tools do I need?

    3. Tips for Managing the Proof-reading Process - or how to learn from your mistakes

    4. Your Check List

Writing Effectively

1.0 Introduction to Writing Effectively

If you want to improve your marks, you are going to have to consider doing something slightly different.

Just stop and think about two aspects of how you organise your essay writing. First, how you organise your writing, and second, how you organise your thoughts:

  1. Thinking about how you organise yourself while writing may change the way you go about the whole writing process.

Yes or No



I always have a framework for my essay before I start writing.

Some people need the whole picture before they start writing. You may want to have a plan before you start writing. This will give you a good framework to work from. If however, you are a mixture of 1 and 5 think about developing a little more of 2. You don’t want to get stuck at this phase, get writing to release your block.


I just start writing and then the ideas start to flow.

You may just need a hint of an idea and then the writing process kick- starts you and the ideas start to flow. If you do this, let your writing flow until you get some ideas, but you must stop early on and get a plan that gives your work a structure otherwise it could just ramble. Think about joining this with 4.


I can’t start writing until I have all the information.

See 1 and 2 above – be careful you don’t drop into method 5 below. Go to section 2.1.


Once I have a plan I can read and start writing the parts I know.

This is good, it takes the pressure off you having to have the whole thing in your head. However, make sure you know where in your structure the parts you are writing will fit.


I just can’t get started and keep reading and reading.

See 1,2,4. Go to section 2.3 and 4.0.


I am happy to go back and edit as I am writing or edit in one go at the end.

This is good – do edit. This is also ‘time out’. All good writers edit, poor writers don’t. It is your preference if you edit during or at the end of your essay. At the end of a series of paragraphs or a section is often very good. Think about how you do this now and if you think it is effective. Go to section 6.0.


I rarely edit my work because it takes me so long to write it, I don’t have time.

Do try and incorporate editing as part of your writing process. It is ‘time out’ to let you think about what you’ve written –you may want to move a section or perfect your writing style. Go to section 6.0.

  1. Thinking about how you organise your thoughts and how you structure your writing may change the way you manage the writing product itself.

Yes or No



I’m never sure of the style I need to write in.

Check with your tutor, they may stipulate a style. If not, as you read you will begin to realise the style for your subject area. Generally however, you need to write objectively (not using ‘I’) and any claims you make must be supported by evidence from research or text books that refer to research.


My tutor says that my writing doesn’t ‘flow’ properly.

You need to understand how paragraphs work – see section 3. Each paragraph develops an idea and each of the ideas should flow together to produce an ‘argument’ for your text.


My spelling is awful and it can give me a mental block when I am writing.

Quite a few people have problems with spelling, however using a word processor will allow you to spot most of your errors – make sure you use this. You may also ask a friend to quickly read your essay for spelling errors that may have been missed. This is part of your proof reading process that you should do at the end of your work.


My sentences can be very long (or too short), but I don’t know how to change that.

There is a danger that inexperienced writers write long sentences when they would do be better with several shorter ones. Always read your work out loud according to your punctuation. If you pause and there is no comma or full stop check to see what is needed.


My essays are returned with comments on my grammar.

Improving your grammar comes with practice. Word processors can also pick up strange grammatical structure (not all), so check it out, but you may decide to keep a structure if you feel it is right – the grammar checker is not particularly good for academic English.

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