General advice for writing the main body of an assignment
Here is some useful general advice for writing the main body of an assignment.
Plan you work properly before you write. Use brainstorming, mind maps or just a list of points you want to include; whatever works best for you.
Know your audience. Having a good idea of who will be reading your essay or assignment is helpful.
Know what the requirements are. Like any game of skill, in order to write an effective assignment, you have to know what is required. You can’t play tennis without knowing the rules of the game. The same is true of writing assignments. The rules of the game are very subtle, of course, and vary from department to department. And unfortunately, even within departments, there may be differences of opinion as to how things should be done. If in doubt, ask your tutor.
Don’t expect your tutor to tell you what to say. In some cultures, critical thinking is not strongly encouraged and many assessments are simply a case of reproducing what the lecturer has told you in the lecture. This is not true of the British academic system. In Britain, you are expected to think critically and to react to (as well as simply describe) what you have learned. This is not an easy skill to develop and it usually gets easier over time. You are expected to formulate your own perspective with regard to the material you study. In some ways, it does not really matter so much what you say as how you say it. Whatever your point of view, it needs to be backed up with adequate evidence and material.
Keep the assignment title firmly in mind as you write. Keep looking back at your assignment title in order to remind yourself of what you are supposed to be doing. Keep referring to key words in the title; this is especially useful in examinations, to remind the reader that you are writing relevantly.
Don’t ‘rewrite’ the question in your own words to make it more answerable. In strict terms, you must answer the question set, not the question that you want to answer. Titles will often be worded very specifically and it is your job to rise to the challenge of answering the question. If you rephrase the question and write your own essay, you may fail the assignment or examination.
Keep your essay balanced. Paragraphs should be more or less the same length. Don’t write very lengthy paragraphs. If there are two parts to a question, spend about the same time on each (unless of course the marks awarded, or your tutor, indicate differently). The main body should account for at least two thirds of the essay as a whole. If it is less than this, consider shortening the introduction and conclusion and lengthening the main body.
Avoid waffle. Try to write concisely and try to avoid being over-wordy in your style. It is easy to spend 3,000 words saying little or nothing at all. Get your point across as quickly and precisely as you can.
Think about the writing process: Your writing will go through several stages so make sure that you don’t agonise too much about your early draft. It is much easier to revise something that is on paper than to revise something that is in your head.
Check your language: If you are worried about your English ask a friend or a writing tutor to help you. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Try to get some distance from your work by completing it a few days before submission. Go back to it a day or so before you submit and you will probably be able to adjust aspects of the language.
Use ‘hinges’ to structure your work: A door has a hinge to help it to open and close. The hinge cannot be seen when you look at the door but without it the door would not function. Similarly, an assignment needs to have hinges (sometimes referred to more commonly as ‘signposts’ to help the reader through the argument). Another way to think about this is the brake lights of a car. You can’t see them when you are driving, but without them, no-one else on the road knows that you are stopping the car. This would be a nightmare for any driver!
Use feedback effectively: Don’t just look at your marks when your assignment is returned. Read any comments carefully and act on them. You will not be able to produce a perfect essay first time round.