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Good Enough is Better Than Perfect – TUB-Thump 024

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In those moments when I feel like I’m trying too hard, I have to take a step back.

If I didn’t, I’d fall into perfectionism. And I don’t like how that feels.

If you suffer from those feelings of wanting to make everything spot on…blemish free…without a single flaw…it’s time to burst that perfection bubble.

First off, nobody is perfect. You know that, but that doesn’t always stop us trying.

And, in a way, there’s no harm in trying. But there’s a fine line between doing your best and obsessing over immaculate execution.

Episode 024 of TUB-Thump uses academic grades to point out that a First class mark at 70% may well be 30% off of perfect, but it’s still a First. It’s good enough.

“Here is to making everything as good enough as we possibly can.”


Here are the show notes for the 4-min episode:

  • 01:20 – Perfectionism takes up too much time.
  • 01:40 – You’ll never be perfect for everyone. But how do you get over that?
  • 02:10 – Someone who excels where you don’t will lack in areas where you excel. “We’re all as weak as we are strong.”
  • 02:40 – Think in terms of academic marks. If 70% is a First, you won’t be disappointed when you get 74%. It’s not 100%…It’s not even 80%. And that’s because it doesn’t work that way. A First is, essentially, a long way from perfect. But it’s still a First. It’s definitely good enough.
  • 03:00 – Since nobody can achieve perfection, why does the worry build up? It’s not possible. Good enough, however, is always possible.

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!

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.

Hand in a first draft or a draft worthy of a First?

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“Let’s go to work.”

From Reservoir Dogs

One of the best ways to improve your essay writing skills is to draft and redraft.

Drafts let you revisit later, they give you a chance for preliminary feedback from tutors, and they let you consider your mindset at different points in time.

Doing all the work in one go is tempting, but it’s a false attempt at saving time. You can’t produce your best work either.

The problem with an all-nighter, or any attempt to get the essay right in one attempt, is that your first draft is your only draft.

There are other reasons for going with a “one and done” approach:

  • It’s a way of procrastinating;
  • You don’t want it bothering your schedule all over the place;
  • You’re uncertain or unclear about editing;
  • The work stays on your mind until you’ve finished, so you focus on the end more than the process.

Most of the reasons boil down to worry at some level. Take procrastination, for example. When you worry about the task at hand, you put it off. Why bother with multiple drafts when you find it hard enough to muster up the courage to deal with the essay in a single session?

How do you work best?

On one hand, the pressure is huge when you don’t break the work up in chunks. If you’re in that camp, the enigmatic idea to “Write an essay” certainly is overwhelming! Little tasks are much easier to handle. Make a list of what it means to write an essay and tackle the smaller tasks instead.

On the other hand, you may like the pressure. If you’re in that camp, you don’t have to wait until the last minute for a monster writing session. Instead, create a false deadline. You can manufacture the pressure before the actual deadline.

If you’ve got two weeks to write 2,000 words, set a deadline in one week and do your single session before that time is up. Make the deadline as real as you can, otherwise you’ll just ignore it. Take it seriously. If you can manage that, you’ll have another week to go before the hard academic deadline.

During that extra week, you can ask for feedback on what you’ve written, read your attempt out loud for a fresh perspective, make edits, and so on. You get the pressure, but you also get the extra time to re-draft. Bringing the work forward gives you the best of both worlds.


Bit-by-bit

Another issue is writing an essay in chunks, but still focusing on a single draft. So you write an introduction, write a section, write another section, write a conclusion, that kind of thing.

There were times when my friends and I would take this bit-by-bit approach. But in a way, it’s like doing a more spaced-out all-nighter.

We improved our approach by adding an extra task to the process. After writing in parts, we left time before the deadline in order to read the piece as a whole. Unsurprisingly, it could be pretty embarrassing to read through!

The good news is, it didn’t take too much to re-draft again. You can get a lot done with one more assessment of your writing. A second draft can make  a big difference.

My personal sweet-spot, however, is three drafts:

  1. First draft – Get your points and arguments ready. Address the question. Search for good ways to answer and explore. Look for areas you’re not yet clear on or convinced about.
  2. Second draft – Shape your argument. Work on the structure of the essay. Create a killer introduction and conclusion. Make sure references are plentiful and relevant.
  3. Third draft – Ensure the question has been answered properly and in full. Make sure the essay sticks to the point throughout. Check for a good reading flow (reading out loud is a big deal here). Find the clearest ways to state your case. Make sure your most important points aren’t buried away in the text.

After a third draft, we’re probably talking minor edits and nitpicking only. Call that tidying up as opposed to another draft. And remember not to let that perfectionist voice in your head mess you about. Your job is to do well, not do perfectly. It’s not possible to get it perfect, regardless of what that internal editor in your head might be saying!

Too many re-drafts and it may take too much of your time. Too few and you’re liable to miss out on your best attempt. Unless it’s a fluke, you won’t get all the marks you’re capable of from a first draft attempt at writing.

Find your sweet-spot and your process

Keep thinking about your sweet-spot. Work out what each draft means to you. If you don’t agree with my list above, make your own. Keep working on the piece until you reach a stage where any time spent poring over your work won’t yield enough change to warrant it worthwhile.

Put it this way, spending half an hour or more obsessing over the order of words in a single sentence is rarely good use of your time.

Here’s the main takeaway for each way of working:

  • If you get most of your work done through a single session of pressure, bring your deadline forward so you have room to improve (and re-draft) before you hand the work in.
  • If you write in chunks, but don’t tend to re-draft, it’s a similar drill. Bring the deadline forward and re-draft.
  • If you already like to work in drafts, just remember not to go overboard. My own sweet-spot is for three drafts. Whatever you choose, have a clear idea of what your aims are for each draft you work on.

What is your essay-writing process? What would you like to improve?

Why Every Essay You Write Matters…Yes, Even In the First Year (Guest Post)

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I’m excited to welcome Rachael from Joined Up Writing in today’s post. I’m no stranger to going on about how much the first year counts. It’s a myth to think that you can scrape by on a pass and save your effort for next year. There are many great reasons why the first year counts far more than it seems.

Rachael gives you three of those reasons why it’s time to take your first year coursework seriously. And be sure to check her site for two more reasons after that.

Over to Rachael!


Hello, it’s Rachael here from www.joinedupwriting.online and I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts with you today on why every essay counts towards your degree!

Why Every Essay You Write Matters

One phrase I often hear students say is that “first-year essays don’t matter” or “first-year essays don’t count towards your final degree”.  It’s maybe something that you’ve heard people say too. Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself?

But if you choose to ignore your first-year essays it does make a difference to your results. I’ll explain three reasons why your essays count right from day one and three pro tips you can employ right away to help you nail them from the beginning!

 

#1 You learn to write

Every time you write an essay, you have the chance to improve. If you don’t take those early essays seriously, then you’ll miss opportunities to hone your research and writing skills.

Even if you’ve hit it out of the ballpark with your A-Level results, you’ll find there is a big jump upward in standard when you begin to write at University.

School and college are tightly focused on the outcome of passing assessments. Teachers provide multiple occasions to practice for your final assessment through tests, mock exams, and revision classes.

It’s different at University. Here the focus is on developing critical thinking skills so you learn to evaluate research independent of your tutor. Often you’ll simply be supplied with an outline of what is required to pass the module and how marks are allocated. You may get a rubric showing what the marker is looking for, or you may be given a previous year’s exam paper or essays as examples. Generally, though you’ll need to figure out what, when and how to pass the assessment by yourself.

Your lecturer or tutor wants you to be successful, but they’ll assume you can already craft an essay that reflects your intellect and ability.

Pro tip: Every time you write an essay, set yourself some objectives for learning the process of writing alongside your main outcome of answering the essay question. Your process objective could be to: improve essay structure, apply theory correctly, or cite better evidence. This allows you to use each of those essays that ‘don’t count’ to learn to write better.

 

#2 You write to learn

The actual process of writing, if done correctly, can also improve your ability to learn. Writing enables you to improve the clarity of your thought process AND the precision of how you express ideas.

When you begin to research an essay topic, initially you think about your subject matter using the words of the scholars you have read. Subconsciously, you’ll think along the same lines as them too. The process of writing forces you to push beyond what you’ve read and make decisions about what is important, relevant and best supports your argument.

It is only when you begin to write that you really pull apart the different ideas and evidence you’ve read, and start to piece it together in an order that answers your essay question. It’s this two-part process of separation and synthesis that helps you comprehend, critique and commit the material to memory.

Writing also improves your ability to express your thoughts in a concise, coherent manner.  Submitting an essay that your tutor can easily understand will bring in those higher marks from the start, and those first half-dozen essays are ideal to practice new vocabulary, definitions, and terms that are important in your field too.

Pro tip: Create your own mini-dictionary for each subject that you study. Every time you find a word in a book or article that you don’t understand, make a note of it in a spreadsheet or notebook. Take time later to look them up and write what they mean in your ‘dictionary’ using words that you can easily understand.

 

#3 You write to access opportunities

As student numbers continue to rise, employers look for different ways to differentiate candidates, not only for jobs after graduation but for internships and industrial placements too.

Understandably, these opportunities are hotly contested because there is a strong correlation between students who complete placements and those that are offered graduate positions after they conclude their studies.

What employability factors do employers look for in applicants? Creativity? Confidence? Competence? Yes, all of those are obvious qualities that employers look for. One attribute that’s often overlooked by students, but highly relevant to companies is consistency. Employers know past performance is one of the biggest predictors of future achievement.

Think about it. It makes sense.

An internship or industrial placement is secured partly based on results from your initial year. Fortunately, this gives you a head start over those people who proclaim that first-year results don’t count. You’ll approach your essays with the knowledge that consistently achieving good marks (and working towards great marks!) shows you take your academic work seriously. To an employer, this suggests you’ll take their internship or industrial placement seriously too.

Pro tip: Examine the modules you’re due to take this semester. What assessment methods are used? Essays? Reports? A presentation? Now look at the marks assigned to each element. Are some parts of the assessment worth more than another? Then split your time accordingly. If 70% of your mark is an individual essay and 30% is a group presentation, focus your attention on the essay – tempting though it is to hang out with your group over coffee!

There you have it: first-year essays count because they help you write better, learn better, and have better opportunities!

Which reason resonates with you? Be sure to comment on TheUniversityBlog below!

Now, here’s your homework. Hop across to www.joinedupwriting.online to grab a download with two further reasons why you should take first-year essays seriously and two extra Pro Tips.