Writing

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?

Learning, Consistency, and the Creative’s Curse

I’ve just realised that I didn’t post here on TUB about the start of my third (and final…so far) audio show…”Learning, Always”.

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Today sees Episode 003 of the podcast online, where I interview author and overall fab person, Todd Brison.

We discuss:

  • The Creative’s Curse.
  • How to develop a creative process that works for you.
  • The power of consistency.
  • The importance of being inspired by others, but then finding your own take on things.
  • Why you don’t need to know absolutely everything before you start a creative project.
  • And much more…

Check out more from Todd Brison on his site, in his book, and over at Medium.

Full shownotes, links, and timestamps are available on learningalways.co.uk.

Top 20 Email Newsletters You Need To Know About

Top 20 Newsletters

Education, story-telling, and personal development.

These three things are roughly what I’m looking for in a good email newsletter.

I want to be entertained, to be challenged, to be informed, to be intrigued, and to be taken to places I may not have already gone to through my own curated feeds.

Does that sound like something you want in on too? Well, let me give you my current Top 20 email updates. In no particular order, here’s what I’m happy to see in my inbox:

1. Quartz Daily Brief

Since Quartz started this news update, it’s been the first thing I read each day. I don’t pay much attention to the news during the day, so this is the nearest I get to a briefing. And it’s fab.

The short weekend essay they send on Saturday is consistently winning too.

2. Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel

Productivity, education, and web links worth exploring every Sunday.

3. Oliver Quinlan’s Quinlearning

Oliver Quinlan recently introduced this newsletter after enjoying Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel. Similar in nature to Doug’s, but with different edulinks and recommendations for you, Oliver has started his newsletter off with a bang.

4. A Millennial Type

In Declan and Erica’s own words, “Empowering Millennials to LIVE, CREATE, PERSEVERE, and DREAM”. I can’t improve on that…they even use an Oxford comma. 😉

5. Almost Timely (@cspenn)

Full of links on social marketing, technology, society, and all sorts of other things.

Penn’s premium content adds a nice touch to proceedings, with actionable advice on how to be one step ahead of the rest. Just keep it to yourself, he urges!

6. Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan’s Sunday newsletter is a friendly kick up the bum to help support you as an owner, preceded by a comment on what he’s drinking. Be sure to tell him what tipple you’re enjoying.

7. Primility

Jerod Morris already does a great job co-hosting podcasts like The Showrunner and The Lede (check these out too!).

Jerod has recently started a Primility movement, for balancing pride and humility. His newsletter gives you a dose of inspiration to start each week, as well as a roundup of all the daily Primility shows you can listen to.

Wrist bump!

8. Educating Modern Learners

The EML newsletter showcases exclusive content and comment on education issues, as well as great edulinks elsewhere on the web. Some great thought pieces to explore.

9. Hack Education

One of the co-founders of EML, Audrey Watters, also has her own fantastic weekly update. Hack Education doesn’t focus on just the positive stuff and the hype, and that makes it a breath of fresh air. Yours in struggle.

10. On Tap Education News Digest

I mainly use this on days when I’m not checking my own curated news feeds. But if you don’t already have education news ‘on tap’, this is a great daily email for you.

Mainstream media links, government and other sources, plus international stories, all ready for you to click or tap on and be informed about.

11. Annie Murphy Paul: The Brilliant Report

I first encountered Annie Murphy Paul in 2010 when I read her book, “Origins: How the nine months before birth shape the rest of our lives“. Her newsletter has engaging content on learning, based on cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychology.

12. Further

Brian Clark of Copyblogger writes about personal development each week.

He features a big topic in every issue and includes other links on health, wealth and wisdom. It’s my favourite Brian Clark thing (closely followed by Unemployable).

13. Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day

HBR has lots of email alerts, including a daily roundup of all that day’s stories published on the site. But the Management Tip of the Day is useful for more than managers. As a student, you can also get a dose of useful advice on taking action, persuading others, and being your best self.

Sign up at: https://hbr.org/email-newsletters

14. James Clear

On how to improve performance and form habits, James Clear’s articles are incredibly popular (200k+ subscribers). Worth a read for a part-story, part-evidence-based, part self-help way to give you a physical and mental boost.

15. The One Thing

Each week, Iñaki Escudero says, “There are many things going on, these are a few of my favorite ones”.

A quirky, informative, and fun email. “The One Tradition I wish I had”, “The One Business lesson to learn from a 13 year old girl”, “The One Thing nobody can do”, “The One Chart to question our assumptions”…Lots of stuff that’ll stick with you.

16. No Sidebar

At work, at home, and in your soul…No Sidebar is an informative look at calming down your life so you can do more with less.

17. Storythings

A selection of stories from the week that you may not have read about. They helpfully tell you how long each piece should take to read.

18. The Daily Water Cooler

This is awesome if only for the two animated gifs you get each day. Coming from someone who doesn’t enjoy much about animated gifs, it’s high praise!

You’re also treated to links worth sharing, as well as a (US-centric) look at news in business, politics, sports, and culture.

19. The Long + Short

From innovation charity Nesta, a free online/mobile magazine that “tells stories of innovation that are thoughtful, hopeful and questioning”. Some are long reads and some are short. Hence, the Long + Short.

The weekly newsletter also has other stories of innovation from elsewhere on the web that are well worth a read.

20. University World News

Not content with your own national higher education news? Get a briefing on what’s happening all over the world, with useful comment pieces too, from University World News.

BONUS! – 21. Nuzzel

It’s not quite an email subscription, but a great alert service. Customise it to show you the most popular links being shared by people you follow on Twitter. The online service is great and the powerful email alerts tell you when a certain number of people have tweeted the same link.

You can also get daily email updates of the most popular links from the previous day.

What have I missed? Let me know what newsletters you look forward to getting. Tweet me up…I’m @universityboy.

Your Minimum Editing Route and How Fonts Can Help You Spot Typos

Your Minimum Editing Route

I work with words all the time. I have to be careful not to gloss over my writing. If I do, I risk missing typos and worse.

Even with a clear focus, it’s bad enough. Your focus is on conveying meaning more than it is on uncovering typos.

But there’s hope. When you edit your work, go through several runs at the text. First, read for overall flow. Second, read for clarity. Third, read for typos. This should be your minimum editing route.

Editing for different reasons each time helps you to focus on the particular task at hand. These tasks require thinking processes that do not gel with each other. If you tackle them all at the same time, it’s like ineffective multitasking.

Read out loud and look at each word, no matter how trivial. When you read with purpose, you’ll trip over sentences that clearly need reworking. When you look at each word, the mistakes stand out.

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There’s another magic trick that’s easy and effective. Change font!

Yes, simply change the look of your text so it looks new to you.

Copy and paste your text into another document…You don’t want to mess about with your sparkly live document now, do you?

Then change the font. It doesn’t matter which font you choose, so long as you can read it. As you read through the draft, you’ll notice new things (both good and bad) as your brain is tricked into thinking it’s looking at a new document.

Try with different fonts until you find one that’s a good combination of readable and accessible for you to review. After a few uses, you may want to find a new font so you don’t get too familiar with any particular typeface. Once you’re used to it, you won’t be so effective when reviewing your draft.

My own method is to use a few good fonts and rotate their use. That way, I can use the same fonts and not get too familiar with them. I can even throw a curveball and use a completely different font on a particularly challenging piece of text. Anything to get me focused where it counts.

Which fonts would you recommend?

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