How to Organise Your Written Work

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Crucial tips on organising your submissions.

Always ensure that your answer is structured in a logical and coherent manner with a clear introduction. It will help you greatly if you prepare an essay plan before you begin to write. 'Stream of consciousness' is not a suitable technique for writing essays!

In your plan sketch out, in outline or note form, how the discussion will proceed and how your conclusions are directly linked with your individual arguments. Preparing a draft first copy, and subsequent revision will help to keep your work tightly structured.

RESEARCH EFFORT

Your essay should be based upon a grasp of the relevant contextual material. This will come from your basic preparation and wider critical reading. Essays cannot be written from lecture notes or a single textbook.

WRITING AN INTRODUCTION

Perhaps the most important - and difficult - part of an essay is the introduction. It is your first opportunity to impress (or depress!) the marker and is usually the key to a successful essay. While there is not perfect way of writing an introductory paragraph, there are certain things you should try to do:

• You should explain the meaning of the question set. This involves defining the most important terms in the title and also identifying the periods of time which are relevant. These are vital issues. If you understand the question you are well on the way to answering it! You will thus avoid the worst problem of all - not answering the question set!

• You should identify the key areas within the question that will be addressed in more detail later in your answer.

• You should already be formulating your argument. Remember that you should answer a question right from the start of the essay. It is a waste of time, space and words to say that you are going to answer the question and simply repeat the title. Of course that is what you are going to do - so get on and do it!

• Avoid spending too long setting the scene in a general way, by giving too much background information or biographical detail. Some, of course, is necessary but you need to get the balance right. You should avoid turning the essay into a long, background narrative and instead make sure that you get to grips with the analysis. Every question is addressing one, or more, historical problems and debates, and your answer must recognise and address these.

• Remember that a good introduction sets the tone for the rest of the essay.

WRITING SKILLS

It is here that marks are often gained and lost, as poor writing can detract from the strongest argument. Most people, (both academics and students!) need to work at polishing their style of writing and at perfecting their grammar, punctuation and spelling. Your tutors will make comments on your script where necessary, but essays falling below the acceptable literary standard will be penalised. The following are not good essay style and should be avoided:

• The first person singular (e.g. I think ... I feel...). This should really only be used to express personal opinion and in conclusion of your arguments.

• Associating yourself explicitly with particular causes or making unsubstantiated value judgements (e.g. Papanek was wrong...).

• Slang words or phrases and foreign usage (e.g. center).

• Long quotations, long sentences and long paragraphs;

• Most abbreviations and contractions in essays. 'it's', 'didn't', 'wasn't' 'won't' and other contractions should be avoided in essays.

• Beginning successive paragraphs with ‘Sottsass thinks...’, ‘Bayley argues...’, ‘Pevsner believes...’. This turns the essay into merely a summary of one view after another.

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