2.2 Reflecting on your current approach to writing - 2 The writing process

Academic Writing for International Students of Science - Jane Bottomley 2015

2.2 Reflecting on your current approach to writing
2 The writing process

In order to develop as a writer, it is necessary to reflect on your current approach to writing and to consider if you are doing all you can to produce writing of a high standard.

2.2.1 Preparing to write

The way you prepare for a written assignment will help to determine the quality of the final text.

Image Explorative Task

Reflect on your current approach to writing by completing the table.

I analyse the assignment in detail, highlighting key phrases.

I note down (or ’brainstorm’) what I already know about the topic.

I think carefully about the purpose of the text and the expectations of the person reading it and assessing it.

I think carefully about constraints of time and space, i.e. the deadline and the word limit.

I produce a provisional outline, i.e. a plan of work, including what I expect to cover, some sense of organisation which reflects how the different sub topics relate to each other, and some key references linked to each part.

I consider alternative outlines.

I think carefully about how to identify and evaluate sources.

I take notes or highlight/annotate sources.

I reassess my own ideas, approach and outline in the light of what I have read.

Study Box: Improving your approach to research and writing

1) Use the tools provided by your university library website to focus your literature search.

These sites have tools to limit your search to the most popular or most recent books and articles, for example.

They will also link to the most relevant scientific databases for your subject, such as Web of Knowledge or SciFinder.

The books and articles you find in this way will be reliable, in the sense that they are ’peer-reviewed’ by authorities in the field.

Websites should be used with care. The websites of official scientific organisations such as The Royal Society, are considered to be authoritative sources. There may also be good reason for you to refer to the information provided by international bodies such as The United Nations, and official government websites. Most other websites, including media and commercial websites, may be useful but should be treated with caution. Wikipedia should only ever be used as very general background reading.

2) Use the following to help you decide if a source is likely to be relevant and useful: the ’blurb’ (information on the back cover) and contents pages of a book; the abstract of a journal article, together with its introduction and conclusion.

3) Do not dive into the literature before you have given yourself time to assess the purpose of the assignment. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the reading if you approach it without a clear focus.

4) Before reading, ask yourself what you expect to find out from a particular source.

5) Decide on the best way to make notes for you personally — a linear structure, or a diagram or table. Diagrams and tables can help you to synthesise information from different sources, allowing you to organise information around ideas and arguments, rather than just individual sources.

6) Be prepared to modify and refine your outline as you write, as your understanding and ideas develop. Make sure that the outline reflects your analysis and reasoning, and that it is not simply a patchwork of the literature.

7) As well as adding to your plan, consider if you may need to cut something because it is redundant, irrelevant or takes you above the word limit. You must be selective about what to include. Do not include something just because you have read about it or done a lot of work on it. It is to be expected that some reading will turn out to be irrelevant or insufficiently important, or that it will simply inform what you write without needing to be referred to directly.

Also remember that the word limit is there partly to test your ability to write concisely (Image 3.1.2). More is not always better!

8) When you add/remove something from your outline, or reorganise your points, reassess the whole thing to make sure you have not destroyed the coherence of your analysis or argument. Image Chapter 8

Image Practice: Deciding on an outline

1) Look at the following essay question and highlight the key phrases.

Discuss the impact of portable devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones on the way university students conduct their studies.

2) Brainstorm some ideas (Figure 2.1).


Figure 2.1 Brainstorm some ideas

3) Think of ways to organise your ideas in a logical way. Experiment with more than one organising principle.

4) Compare your organisation and ideas to the three alternative outlines below.



Note that the same points can often be made regardless of the outline, but the way you fit I these points into your overall discussion differs. Experiment until you find an outline that matches how you want to drive the discussion forward.

5) Add your own ideas to the table above in the spaces provided.

6) Write a provisional outline for your essay, or adapt one of the above.

7) Consider which facts and figures (evidence) would add depth and interest to your ideas, and think about where you could find these.

2.2.2 Putting down words on the page

The way you build your sentences, paragraphs and texts can greatly affect the impression you ultimately make on the reader.

Image Explorative Task

Reflect on your current approach to writing by completing the table.

I stop frequently to read what I have written to reflect on content and organisation, editing and redrafting the text to make improvements.

I try to put myself in the position of the reader and ask myself if they will follow, i.e. check that what I have written makes sense.

I ask myself if I am really demonstrating my under-standing of the science.

I revisit my original outline to firm it up or modify it.


Study Box: Writing up

1) Do not underestimate how much you will need to read and edit as you write. Academics often find that they do this more as they become more experienced writers, not less! Try to imagine the reader’s experience as he or she moves through your text.

Reading aloud can be a useful strategy — it can help you decide if something sounds natural and flows easily from point to point.

2) When asking yourself if you have demonstrated a good understanding of the science, ask yourself if you need to go back to the literature, or discuss the ideas with someone.