This is the creative part of the process! Many people go through a rough three-stage process when drafting assignments.
- Organise your ideas in a plan
- Write the first draft
- Write a fully formed second draft
Writing a plan
It is very easy to stray off course when you are writing assignments, partly because you may get carried away with what you are writing about. You need to keep an overview of the assignment writing process while you are working. By writing a plan (a rough outline of the structure of your assignment) you can start to sort out what’s relevant and shape the structure and progress of your arguments, keeping them pertinent to the question and logically ordered.
Starting to think
Getting going on the first draft can be difficult. If you are stuck and don't know how to start, try the following.
- Create a mind map.
- Brainstorm ideas by challenging any facts or assertions in the title and by thinking of analogies. Concentrate on a word or concept and think of any related points that come to mind.
- Put your ideas on sticky notes that can be re-ordered later.
- Record your ideas on audio or video. Listen to your audio and use sticky notes to rework the ideas.
- Create an outline using your word processor and paste in your notes.
- Try colour coding your different sets of ideas, using highlighters or coloured sticky notes.
Mind mapping is a useful way of organising your initial thoughts. Have a look at this interactive demonstration:
Your first draft
Look back at the feedback you've had for previous assignments, and check if there is anything new you should be doing. Then start to write.
- Build up from the outline content in your plan.
- Create the first sentence for each of your main points.
- Write in paragraphs.
- Where you need to add evidence, decide where you want to use paraphrasing and where quotes might be better.
As you compose your draft, bear in mind you need to keep your assignment to a certain length. To find out what word count you should work to, consult the information on your module website. Also see Using word count.
If you use ‘cut and paste’ in your wordprocessor and you want to undo what you’ve just done, you can use the ‘undo’ function (also note that there will be a ‘redo’ function in your wordprocessor). Find out about these useful functions on the demonstrations page.
- Cut and paste
- Copy and paste
Try to write your first draft quickly. If you have to write yours by hand into an assignment booklet, always use spare paper for your first draft so you can make changes. If you are using a word processor, make sure that cutting and pasting words into different sections hasn't introduced repetition or an illogical ordering of your argument. Add reference information as you go.
- Referencing and plagiarism - the OU Library's page on how to cite the original material you refer to in your assignments
- Developing Good Academic Practices - gives invaluable advice on writing in your own words
- Dictionaries, thesauri and encyclopaedias - OU Library webpage leading to useful online dictionaries and thesauri, some of which are subject-specific.
- Dictionary Link - brings together many dictionaries and thesauri.
You can use ‘outline view’ in your word-processing document to check the structure of your writing.
Don't spend ages perfecting sentences and ideas at this stage. You may find yourself coming out with a stream of consciousness, if so just get it down on paper. Then read it through and ask yourself some searching questions.
- Have I answered the question?
- Are my arguments objective, logical and precise and supported by evidence?
- Does my essay flow in an understandable way?
- Have I shown that I understand the module material?
- Have I referenced my evidence properly?
Your second draft
The aim of a second draft is to improve on what you've already written, rather than do any major restructuring.
- Add any points that you might have forgotten.
- Look at your sequence of paragraphs. Do they move logically from one to the other?
- Check your sentence structure, grammar and punctuation.
- Make sure your style of writing and use of vocabulary is appropriate.
Keeping on track
Students often inadvertently misread the question and end up losing marks by answering a completely different question. Contact your fellow students and tutor about your thoughts so far – just to check that you are on the right track.