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Preparing assignments

Drafting your answer

This is the creative part of the process! Many people go through a rough three-stage process when drafting assignments.

  1. Organise your ideas in a plan.
  2. Write the first draft.
  3. Write a fully formed second draft.

Writing a plan

It's 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.

I personally would prefer a short concise essay or assignment that actually the addresses the real question that you're being asked rather than somebody write pages and pages on the issue. You just won't get marks for that. All the courses are about showing your understanding.

Eulina (OU tutor)

Starting to think

Getting going on the first draft can be difficult. If you're stuck and don't know how to start, try the following.

  • Create a mind map, a useful way of organising your initial thoughts.
  • 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.

Lynn's advice on using notes for an assignment


Lynn (Student): Before I start my assignment I will have done all the work that it tells me to do. All the chapters and I will have made notes right through the whole chapters.

As I am making my notes I mark in highlighter or something what I think will be useful for the TMA and I put little post-its all over the page and sticking out the side. And I constantly have my question beside me and the notes.

So I sort of really start the assignment as soon as I start making the first notes. And then when it comes to actually doing the assignment and the blank page is there it's just a question of thinking I can do this I have done the notes, I have done the work I can do it.

And then you have to focus. Some days it doesn't work. And I have to go away and do something else and come back later. But you have to do it.

Cynthia and Robin's approach to the writing process


Cynthia (Student): Keep the question in front of you. I write it on a little card and put it in front of me at all times. And that way I stay focussed on it. But that's as much advice, and he may well have given me more but I can't actually bring any more to mind. It's planning, planning, planning. And mind-mapping.

Robin (Student): Well I use mind-maps for everything from the planning stage to collating information to the final delivery. It will all tend to be on one mind-map. And then I'll put it into some sort of formal essay or however it's required. In the format that's required for the assignment.

Your first draft

Look back at the feedback you've had for previous assignments and check if there's 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. For more information about using the Word Count tool in Word see Using Microsoft Word for study.

James's advice on starting an assignment


James (Student): The best piece of advice I think I could give for writing a TMA would be to say, you have to think of it as an argument. What you're writing is a position that you believe in. So write it concisely about "this is what I believe" statements, this, this, this and so it builds up a coherent argument.

Best way to do that is to look at the question early on in the context of what you're doing. You can do things like, write it in the centre of the paper - the question - and then kind of divide up your word limits.

So 200, for your aim, 200 words. Then 400 for different paragraphs about different areas of the question, because there's usually a couple of areas in the question that you can focus on. Then with 200 words for your conclusion basically. And work it like that. So be quite scientific about, make sure you do it like that I think.

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.

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.

Useful resources

Last updated 3 weeks ago