Writing

What’s the Best Way to Write Your Essay? That Depends on You. – TUB-Thump 027

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Do you like to plan ahead before you work, or do you like to crack on with a clean canvas?

I hadn’t really considered this so much until I’d seen a presentation by Tristram Hooley with various writing tips.

A couple of Hooley’s slides look at two different types of working that resonate with me, because they have a similar outlook to one of the ways I look at learning new things.

For learning, I like to look at the bigger picture and drill down to the details from there. But some people start with some choice details and work outward to uncover that big picture.

In many ways, how you choose to write may have similarities in that learning choice too. And that’s what I talk about in Episode 027 of TUB-Thump.

I wonder if you’ve read this plan of the episode first, or if you’ve jumped straight into listening. I guess that depends on how you like to do things!

What’s your choice?


Here are the show notes for the 5-min episode:

  • 01:00 – Tristram Hooley’s presentation: Writing. How, why, when and what?
  • 01:20 – Planning writers versus generative writers.
  • 01:55 – Make a plan and then write a first draft or write a first draft and make a plan off the back of it?
  • 02:30 – One of these ways of working is likely to work better for you than the other. But it’s always worth trying the other way of working to see what you can learn about your process.
    I’ve talked about that before. Hear more on Episode 023 of TUB-Thump, How to Change Your Perspective and Why That Change is Good.

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!

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 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!

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?