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National College of Ireland


Academic Writing Skills Guide: The Writing Process

Semester Planning

Before you begin working on anything in college, make a strategic plan. Using a calendar or a planner, make a note of all your module assignments, exams and classes/tutorials for the entire semester. You are going to have a difficult time balancing the requirements of all of your classes if you don't know when things are happening. You will thank yourself later when multiple things start needing your attention simultaneously towards the end of each semester.

College is meant to teach personal responsibility along with everything else, and time management falls under this category. Use a daily planner to set aside time each day for working on assignments and balancing this with classes/tutorials, work commitments, exercise and socialising.

Assignment Planning 

Assignment planning involves breaking down the way you complete your assignment into a number of stages. Breaking your assignment into small chunks makes it more achievable and using a systematic approach to every assignment you undertake will help you feel more in control and less likely to feel overwhelmed by your workload.

Working out how much time you have before a submission deadline may seem obvious, but it can help you avoid the panic of finding yourself running out of time to complete an assignment as the deadline approaches. You need to plan your time carefully, allowing sufficient time for redrafting, revising and editing and proofreading.

Start with the task closest to your final deadline, and work your way backwards, order the steps and create individual deadlines for each step of the process. Ask yourself, how much time will you need to get each step done? Be practical and realistic – avoid an overly-ambitious timetable. Breaking down your assignment into small steps helps to spread your workload over time and make it more manageable.

Think about planning as soon as you get your assignment. Give yourself as much time as you can. Managing your time well is essential when simultaneously working on multiple college assignments. 

The Writing Process

To produce a high-quality assignment, your lecturer will be looking for you to demonstrate your ability:

  • to understand the precise task set by the title
  • to identify, appropriate material to read and use
  • to understand and evaluate that material
  • to select the most relevant material to refer to in your assignment
  • to synthesise and integrate into your writing your selected source material effectively
  • to correctly acknowledge/reference all sources
  • to construct an effective argument
  • to arrive at a well-supported conclusion

When looked at like this, it is clear that you will benefit from planning your college assignments. A mistake you can make is to start writing before you are ready, and to think you have finished once your first draft is done. In reality, there are many steps involved in producing a piece of writing that will receive a good grade from your lecturer; this begins when you first see the title and ends when you submit your assignment. These steps make up what is known as the writing process.

Before you begin the writing process, it is a good idea to make sure you understand your task and have a good idea about how long you think it will take to do the assignment. Bear in mind that the biggest part of your time is spent on the planning/research elements and redrafting/editing/proofreading elements, which together will probably take up around 60% of your time. You should aim to spend the last few days before submitting an assignment, revising and editing and proofreading your work. Managing your time well is vital for revising and editing and proofreading your work effectively so build this time into your assignment planning.

Listed below are the basic steps of the writing process but it is important to note that the stages of the writing process are not fixed and that you will go back and forth between them before arriving at your final draft.

You will likely go through some of these stages several times, including re-reading your notes, consulting new material, adjusting your plan as you begin writing, and revising your draft multiple times.
Plan your time
Understand assignment title and analyse assignment brief
Establish what you know – brainstorming (mindmapping, free writing)
Make provisional assignment plan
Gather information – use sources highlighted by your lecturer, library resources and strategically chosen internet sources
Read strategically and critically; take notes – try using the Library Academic Support Centre’s assignment planning guidelines document
Review your notes and bring together similarly themed information – evaluate in the context of your assignment question/task
Update your assignment plan with a more specific structure – should be based on your reading and note-taking and themes that you have established using the assignment planning guidelines document
Write up your first draft
Gather additional information where required (repeat as many times as necessary)
Update and rewrite your draft (repeat as many times as necessary)
Revise and edit your assignment
Do a final proofread

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