Since working at Studiosity I've realised that it's not uncommon for students to have trouble putting together a well structured, consistent piece of writing - whether it be a narrative, essay, report or other writing task.
I’m not judging anyone here, I figure a lot of you have had the same “a story needs an intro, body and conclusion” talk that I did in high school. But like the “when a mummy and daddy love each other very much they cuddle…” talk that we get around the same time, it's lacking in the functional details to allow us to proceed with purpose and skill!
So I wanted to share two techniques that I’ve learnt in my time as a student, and as a worker (because it’s not like you stop writing when you finish school):
The two methods are broadly:
- Put all your thoughts on paper in a mess, including your overall position or opinion (for essay or discussion tasks)
- Put together the skeleton of an essay then start writing dot points under the headings
Both methods allow you to visualise your thoughts on paper and group them, Style 1 by topic or how related thoughts are to each other; Style 2 by trying to ‘fill’ an essay via brain dump and seeing what’s missing.
I’ve mocked up 2 examples. The first method is good for structured writing tasks, where you’re given specific short questions to address. You can group similar thoughts together and work around a main 2-4 points, ensuring you have some content to fill a few paragraphs.
Sample Essay Question - Method 1
The second method is great for organising your essay visually and making sure you can see how much you have to talk about (if you don’t have enough, look for more). It's also a good time here to look at your intro and conclusion, because you’ve got all your main points in front of you.
Sample Essay Question - Method 2
You may have noticed that I’ve simply copied points from 1 into 2 - this is fine because you’re just trying to flesh out your concepts. It might also be apparent that I’ve done Method 1 first then gone back to Method 2 - again that’s fine, you’ve gone from brain dump mode into structuring mode.
Once you have these ideas down it’s time to start on the main event. I find that it’s much easier to start putting pen to page at this stage because you don’t have a blank page anymore. You now have a couple of sample intros, your body points already articulated and maybe even with some references/quotes.
If you’re doing this in a live essay environment (i.e. your exam) you will have to start at the top with the intro - that’s ok, just remember that the intro shouldn’t be more than a paragraph and a half.
If you’re writing your essay on a computer I’d suggest starting in the body, fleshing out those points then coming back to the intro/conclusion later, but that’s personal preference.
Hopefully this post is helpful - if there’s interest I’d happily go through a little more detail on how I structure each section of an essay/narrative etc.
And I've included a few of my top writing tips below too.
Pro essay writing tips:
- I generally work on a 3-point structure, it keeps me focusing on the main points and not delving off into insignificant details
- I generally keep the intro to roughly a paragraph and a half, same for conclusion. They need to be short and punchy and NEVER put new information in them. You can introduce key points, but all idea exploration belongs in the body
- Each paragraph should (until you’re comfortable breaking convention) look like a mini essay in itself:
- First sentence explains what the paragraph is going to be about, e.g. “Physical Activity is a main component of Pokémon Go because the game incentivises the player to walk, through a variety of mechanics”
- The following sentences elaborate on the first sentence. One point per sentence, e.g. “You collect eggs and hatch them by walking. You find new and different Pokémon by walking around in places like parks etc.”
- The last sentence sums up the paragraph, e.g. “Through the egg hatching mechanics and placement of interesting Pokémon in parkland areas, Pokémon Go encourages players to get out and walk”
- Break down the question as shown in the Method 1. Look at what the question is asking:
- How means explain from one perspective, e.g. “Pokémon Go does this like that”
- Discuss means show both perspectives equally, e.g. “There are two perspectives here, A and B. This guy likes A while that lady likes B”
- Other typical questions will ask you to take a certain position and argue against the opposite position, like a debate, e.g.“I’m here to show you that Pokémon Go doesn’t encourage physical activity, because you can place lures at a Pokémon and simply pick up all your Pokémon”
- In the introduction and conclusion it's a good practice to rephrase the question and repeat it back - to ensure you’re answering the question directly and not getting off topic.
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