UNIT 2 – TOPIC 1: Organising Your Essay – The Writing Process

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Often, when we are faced with a writing assignment, we have so many ideas and so many different ways to approach the task that we become overwhelmed. Therefore, it is always helpful to have a process to follow to guide us through the task. As academic writing has a specific structure, there are processes you can follow to help you get started and stay on task. In this section, we are going to examine some strategies to help you gather ideas and plan your writing.

 

Brainstorming Ideas

The basis of a good academic essay is a good thesis statement that expresses the main point that you are going to argue. The thesis statement is based on how you choose to respond to the assignment question. Therefore, the first thing you should do when you fully understand what your assignment task requires you to do is brainstorm some ideas. There are several ways you can start this process and develop it further.

Questioning

A great way to get you started is to generate some questions about your assignment task. Using the question words who, where, what, why, when and how, we can generate lots of ideas about an essay assignment task. These questions will not only generate answers, but also more questions, which in turn will help you generate more details and understanding about the topic. You can organise the ideas and decide which ones you will develop later. 

Free Writing

A very simple way to help you get started is to simply write down whatever ideas come into your head. Free writing is just that; you simply write down a few words, ideas, sentences or phrases that come to mind and see how they connect. This method of brainstorming frees you from the restrictions of correct grammar, spelling, punctuation or structure and allows you to simply let your ideas flow without worry about errors. One idea may connect to another idea, or it may lead to another idea; the main thing is that you are generating ideas. Which ideas you choose and how you organise those ideas can be decided later.

Lists

Writing your ideas in a list is a very simple way to record the ideas that you generate when brainstorming. A list is a little more organised that free writing and may suit your studying style better. You can select, connect, categorise or dismiss your ideas by underlining, highlighting or colour coding – any way that suits you.

Spider Diagram

The three methods mentioned help you to generate ideas. A spider diagram, which is sometimes called a mind map will help you connect those ideas in a visual way. You can connect topics to the main idea and list the ideas related to those topics like in Example 1, or you can create a spider diagram that cross-connects ideas like in Example 2.

 

Example 1

Example 2

 

Outline Draft

When you have generated enough ideas and connected your thoughts, you can now begin to develop your outline draft. An outline draft will put your ideas into a very loose structure, beginning with your main idea (thesis statement) and the three main topics that are linked to your main idea (the body paragraphs). You can then develop your three main topics into topic sentences before developing your arguments. Look at the example below:

Essay question: To what extent do you agree with the following statement: ‘When people succeed in business, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success’?

Thesis statement: What is your main point?

Hard work plays a large part in achieving success, but one also needs to be presented with opportunities, which is often a result of good fortune.  

Paragraph 1 – Topic: Success requires commitment and discipline 

Topic sentence: Success requires commitment, discipline and perseverance, which requires a lot of hard work and effort.

Paragraph 2 – Topic: Hard work alone does not guarantee success   

Topic sentence: Many people spend their entire lives working hard, but never become successful because they have never get the right opportunity.

Paragraph 3 – Topic: It is important to recognise and appreciate the opportunities we have.     

Topic sentence: Many successful people do not acknowledge the opportunities they have had while others don’t recognise the opportunities they have. 

In this example, we have a thesis statement and three clear topic sentences for the essay. The next stage is to write a brief note or sentence to indicate how each paragraph can be developed, for example:

Paragraph 1 – Topic: Success requires commitment and discipline   

Topic sentence: Success requires commitment, discipline and perseverance, which requires a lot of hard work and effort.

      • Support: Many successful people talk about how much commitment and discipline they needed to get to the top.
      • Evidence: Successful careers and businesses usually take a long time to develop, and to endure this you need discipline and commitment. Successful people often have to suffer hardship before they become successful.
      • Example: quote various successful people talking about their discipline and sacrifices.
      • Counter argument: Refer to situations where people have given everything and not been successful. Refer to those who have been very lucky and become successful overnight (links to next paragraph)

In the example above, you can see how a simple draft outline can help you to focus ideas and develop them loosely in an organised structure without thinking about grammatical accuracy. If you do this with each of your paragraphs, you will eventually have a full outline draft of your essay and a clear structural map of how to organise your essay. You can then focus on good research, good grammar and producing written sentences that communicate your ideas coherently and effectively.

You can also include an outline of your conclusion paragraph in your outline draft, but this is not essential at this stage, since your conclusion is primarily a summary of your main arguments and a final concluding statement that may include recommendations or future predictions. These may change as you start researching and writing your essay, so it may be a better idea to start to develop your conclusion when you have written a first draft of your essay and you have a clear idea of what your concluding thoughts are.

 

KEY POINTS OF THE LESSON
  • The first stage of the writing process is to have a clear aim. Therefore, you must have a clear understanding of the writing task.
  • Brainstorm ideas using a technique that suits you. It is important that you are not restricted by grammar or form so that you can think freely.
  • Organise and connect your ideas to develop your main point.
  • Write a thesis statement and three topics (for a standard essay) that you will discuss to support your main idea.
  • Develop those three topics into topic sentences that present the main point of each paragraph.
  • Identify and make a write a sentence or not to support your main point in each paragraph. Also make reference to your evidence, an example and a counter argument if needed.
  • Use your outline essay plan as a map to help you develop and write your first draft.

 

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