essays

Avoid the Trap of Consuming Everything Before You Start Creating

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How much research do you do for your coursework?

Do you power through and consume as much stuff as possible before getting on with the creation bit?

The more you can create out of what you consume, the more validation you give to consuming content. You won’t use all of it, but there comes a time when you stop looking.

But what if the search doesn’t seem to end?

The more you consume without creating anything from it, the more worrying the situation gets. Snacking on information without an end in sight.

Munch, munch, munch. One book here, another paper there, and a final web search just for luck. Maybe I’ll check the library one more time.

And maybe another time after that…

And it goes on.

When you consume far more than you create, you face a bottleneck at best. The reality is likely worse.

Words like “perfectionism” and “procrastination” start to rear their ugly heads.

Consuming without getting anything valuable out of the process is wasteful. It happens to all of us on occasion, but it shouldn’t be a standard part of your research process.

And you can easily fall into that consumption trap. So watch out.

It feels productive to find lots to read in the library and online, but it merely gets in the way when you’re not using that content for your work.

Keep an eye on why you’re still researching. There are times when you need to look at far more than you’ll refer to, because you’re looking for inspiration or perspective. Or perhaps you’re considering several arguments before you put your own stamp on proceedings.

But make sure you’re not still consuming ALL THE THINGS simply because:

  • You’re scared to start creating;
  • You think you need to cover every possible angle that exists (hint: you don’t);
  • You’re putting off the next stage of your work;
  • You need to find a better research process to work with.

Reasons like those above aren’t good enough to keep you looking for more. Work with what you’ve got, or improve your process so it’s not so time-consuming.

You may have to be brutally honest with yourself. It’s not easy to admit, especially when you are afraid to start.

But when the pressure gets too much, remember that you can always start off without doing any in-depth research at all.

Work with what you’ve got. So long as you’ve had some input from lectures, seminars, set texts, and so on, you should have enough to get started.

And writing your own thoughts and ideas on the page is much better than staring at a blank screen. Or, worse, not even reaching the blank screen stage because you’re busy feeling overwhelmed by how much information is already out there.

When you do your research, go in with the aim of creating something soon. No need to get hold of all the research materials and quotations before you start your own creation.

Banish those bottlenecks. Find a flow that doesn’t involve all the writing at the very end of the process.

A drip-feed of research helps a lot of the information stay at the top of your mind. That, in turn, will get you engaging (and referring) to more of that research.

The more you practice this flow, the more you will create out of what you have consumed.

Can You Develop Your Academic Writing With a Copywriting Formula? – TUB-Thump 021

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I enjoyed writing academic essays most when I was being creative in the process.

My aim was to guide the reader on a journey of discovery. A couple of times, I was a bit cheeky and argued against an idea that didn’t have much to argue against.

The best way to do that was to build up a compelling story and back it up with as many relevant points as possible.

Since I was writing about fiction on these occasions, I was demonstrating how perspectives aren’t all the same. But in order to do this, I needed to take the reader with me. After all, what’s the point in them getting lost after turning the first corner?

I was being cheeky, yes. But I wasn’t being kamikaze. The aim was to have fun, not lose marks!

It helps to look at different styles of writing, no matter what you’re working on.

For instance, academic coursework uses a particular language and flow. Yet that writing can still be improved by borrowing from fiction, copywriting, and other aspects of the written word.

That’s why today’s TUB-Thump takes a look at Pamela Wilson’s 7-part formula for content marketing.

Marketing may not be your first port of call, but it could help you see your writing from a different perspective, or let you tweak your style in creative ways.

What creative flourishes can you borrow today?


Here are the show notes for the 9-min episode:

  • 00:30 – Copyblogger FM show on making content marketing easier.
  • 01:00 – I introduce Pamela Wilson’s 7-part formula for writing content. See the infographic below for more detail. And if you’re really interested in content marketing, check out her new book, Master Content Marketing.
  • 02:20 – Narrative and flow are important, no matter what you’re writing.
  • 03:05 – Leading the reader in and getting them involved. “Why am I here? What’s this all about? Why should I care? What’s interesting about this?”
  • 04:50 – Pack a punch in your summary/conclusion by reinforcing your ideas and findings.
  • 05:15 – Call to action. Not quite the same with academic essays, but there’s still some scope.
  • 06:40 – Steven Pressfield: Writing the hero into the story, whatever the writing. The hero’s journey gets the reader hooked. “I’ve had my own hero’s journey, and you have too. We’re both still on those journeys.”

Pamela Wilson has helpfully published an infographic with her 7-part formula. Like I say, it’s not an alternative to academic writing, but it may give you an extra creative jolt:

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Like this infographic? Get more content marketing advice that works from Copyblogger.


Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

How to Build an Idea, Quick!

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Need to force yourself to start that essay?

Want to make a good start on your coursework the second it’s announced?

I’ve got a good way to get the creative juices flowing.

It’s a quick way to throw an idea out there before you do any detailed research. No matter how much you end up using, the idea is to wrap your head around the work in a way that practically prepares you.

Spend 10-20mins writing out what you *think* you want to say in the essay. That’s it. Forget the need to back up your point with references. Don’t worry about getting it “right”.

Just let rip on your initial thoughts around the topic.

Don’t worry about how strange it sounds when you get the words down. The words may turn out to be rubbish. But that’s not the point of this exercise. No judgement here!

The aim is to have something written. It’s a start.

There’s something magical in firing up the mental process, even when you end up submitting something completely different.

And that’s okay. You may decide to discard all of this later down the line. But for now, this is a great route to building an idea quickly. Much better than fearing the blinking cursor on a blank white page. There’s no time for that when you’re jotting down the first ideas that come to your mind.

Your initial point of view is all that matters:

  • What is your take on the subject?
  • Does one view speak more to you than others? Do you want to look in several directions?
  • Does the whole concept confuse you?
  • What other feelings do you have? What interests you about the question? Where are the open-ended thoughts?
  • How does this reflect on what you’ve already been learning in the course/module so far?

When you do start the detailed research and assessment, you can see how your hypothesis compares with your findings. You can compare your ideas now with how they started off.

The point is, you get started with an idea that takes you no time at all to create. You form an argument that gets you thinking. And it saves you time further on in the process.

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Armed with this quick start, you may feel like you’re on a roll. Raring to go, it shouldn’t take you long to write down even more thoughts to bolster up your idea.

When you are full of inspiration like that, crack on for another 20-30 minutes and draft a simple outline:

  • Think about how you would marry up the argument with the essay.
  • Write a potential introductory paragraph.
  • Attempt a conclusion based on your initial thoughts.

It’s unlikely your final draft will look like your first thoughts, but this is a chance to see how realistic your view feels. Your first steps into further research will soon tell you when you’re onto something.

Finally, note down a few points you want to explore in the main content of the essay. This will be a good starting point for finding references and supporting material.

In no more than an hour or so, you may be well on the way to a solid framework. No more starting on a blank page, and no more overwhelm when considering where to begin.

As your confidence builds, you may find this method a good one to return to. That hour can get you several hundred words and a prepared mind.

That’s why, even if you scrap most of the content, the process spurs you on.

From an essay title to a potential idea and a few words. It’s surprising how much you can get done in such a short space of time.

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Why does this work? Because you either:

  • …know what you want to say and don’t know how feasible it sounds until you write it up in draft.
  • …don’t know what you want to say and need to create a something based on a little guesswork and hope.

The worst that can happen is that you’ll end up doing something else entirely. No big deal, because the process doesn’t take long at all.

And anything positive you get out of it is a bonus. Worth investing the small amount of time and effort it takes.

The more confident you are about the content, the more likely you’ll find some gold straight away too. What’s not to like?

Next time you’re given some coursework, I bet it’ll feel good to have some ideas, an outline, and maybe even a few hundred words written practically straight away.

All this before you’ve put another research-step forward…

How to Confidently Refer to Other Texts in Your Writing – TUB-Thump 014

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Talking about other people, concepts, and theories in your coursework doesn’t need to be difficult. But it does need getting your head around.

That’s why Episode 014 of TUB-Thump is a quick-fire round of advice on how to confidently refer to others as you write. And you’ll get my take on what it really means to be original in your writing.

I’ve even got a bell to identify each of the points as I whizz along. What’s not to like?

That said, I was clearly too near the mic in today’s edition of the show, and I said “put” far too many times…a lethal combination! Bonus game: count how many times I annoy the mic by making a P sound.

 


Here are the show notes for the 7-min episode:

  • 00:50 – Originality in your writing isn’t about creating brand new theories and ideas. It’s generally about bringing your voice to what’s already out there and casting your own mark on it. That means referring to other people, other theories, and other works.
  • 01:10 – Explain in your own words.
  • 01:50 – Get the meaning/explanation right when putting it in your own words.
  • 02:10 – Use a direct quotation when making a powerful point or their specific words matter.
  • 03:00 – Don’t spend too long describing in your own words. Distil it so you make the point, then get on with your own point.
  • 03:40 – Refer to a range of texts. Don’t focus too much on a limited number of sources.
  • 04:15 – Let your voice shine through.
  • 04:40 – Make all your references abundantly clear. The most annoying thing is accidental plagiarism (useful video from the University of Reading below).

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!