How do I write …. [my essay, assignment, report for my boss … you name it!]

A blanket and really rather broad question – just what we are used to dealing with at university! Usually, I am asked in about weeks 2-5 as students struggle and grapple with their assignment topics. For some, this is the first semester at university after working for many years; the shock of being in the classroom alone may be overwhelming, let alone the additional skills they now need to master!

Sure, most students have a reasonable grasp of creating an outline. How many create an outline? Far too few, I’d wager. Some have the impression we can simply create an outline, fill it in, and this first draft is ‘done’. Huh. I try to dispel this myth by showing several manuscripts I’m currently working on, explaining how I’ve re-organised some of the work, often reversing the introduction of a series of concepts, then re-writing material that ‘links’ these ideas together so that it reads effectively.

Revelation: A first draft is woefully inadequate for most of us.

Revelation: Yes – even WE academics re-write the heck out of most of our work. If we do it to get a good result, don’t you think that as a student you’d also be doing a little bit of re-work?

Right, they say, then HOW do we do the specific re-writing? This question stumps me a little bit each time it’s asked. There are a range of approaches you can use to manage a paragraph (SEX: statement/sentence, explanation, example), yet no-one seems to ever ‘teach’ how to do this effectively.

Naturally, I’m interested in productivity in general and personal productivity in particular, leading me to digest a range of books. In one of these I found some useful advice, replete with examples, on how to mechanically tackle the content of paragraphs. Throw in a mix of references and ideas and then re-work these into something quite readable, informative, and concise. Give this book a try: From Research to Manuscript: A Guide to Scientific Writing (Michael J. Katz).

Do I use this exact approach consistently? No. Like much of what I learn, this is a tool in my writing-tool-belt, whipped out and used judiciously when required. But it can give readers insight into the difficulties of writing as well as an approach to making a ‘jumble’ of ideas actually work as an integrated and readable whole.


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