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PLANNING AND STRUCTURING ASSIGNMENTS

chris.mcmillan@brunel.ac.uk


Our progress 

Taking a critical attitude towards knowledge is the key to success at university

It is essential to apply this critical attitude to academic reading to be able to construct and defend your own ideas

Today we will consider how to organise those ideas and structure them into an argument

Next week we will explore the practice of academic writing


This Morning 

The purpose of academic writing

Responding to assessment questions

Constructing thesis statements

Organising and planning these arguments


Academic writing is‌

‌ a critical response to an academic debate


Academic debates and you 

Academic debates are never finally settled

Assignment questions and research problems are always based on these debates

Academic writing requires you to make a critical intervention into these discussions


Creating an Intervention 1.

Identify the issue you are responding to and the parameters for responding to it

2.

Know your intervention into the issue through critical analysis of research

3.

Organise your ideas and plan the defence of this position

4.

Write concise and structured drafts of this defence

5.

Actively edit and proof-read your writing


KEY TIP #1 BEING CRITICAL IS THE KEY TO ACADEMIC WRITING


Beginning


What do I have to work with? 

What is the deadline? What else do I have on?  What is my process?  Can I produce a timeline? 

How much is it worth?

What is the word count?

How much do I already know?


Laying the Groundwork 

What does your maker want?  What

is the assessment criteria?

 Has

there been any extra hints?

 What

do I need to focus on?


Decode the assignment question Break it down.... Most essay questions have…  A topic (the general subject matter)  A focus (the defined scope or direction from which you answer

the question)

 A command (what you actually do – usually a question word)


Look out for limits 

Using at least two examples…

Discussing no more than three theoretical frameworks…

One or two aspects of your choice…


Interpreting the Question Critically discuss the future impacts of increases in university fees upon class stratification and social exclusion in Britain.

Critically evaluate the impact of transnational media corporations on global cultural diversity


KEY TIP #2

DO WHAT YOU ARE TOLD!


Research


Establishing the Field 

Once you have analysed the question, you are in a position to plan your research

Ask:  What

are the key terms I need to investigate?  Have they been discussed in lectures or in the textbook?  Are any of the assigned readings applicable?  What extra research do I need to do?


From their ideas to yours 

Academic texts and research are the resources with which you will respond to the issue



We are not reading to report what others have said, but to establish the authority to make our arguments

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. - Isaac Newton


READ AND REFLECT


Researching Arguments 

The process of translating reading into writing can be one of the most difficult aspects of research

There are three particularly effective techniques for easing this transition:  Reflective

research  Mind-mapping  Free-writing


Active Reflection 

Writing is a translation of thought

Build upon your reflections as you are reading, merging together the reading and writing process in an informal way

Develop extended notes that could potentially be used in your assessed writing

Be sure to organise your notes for later use


Mind-mapping 

Mind-maps can also be used to create ideas and establish the key elements of your projects

Mind-maps also allow you to identify the connections between ideas and to synthesise key elements of the research

They are particularly effective for visual thinkers or when you are trying to bring together a range of ideas


Intervening in debates 

Once your ideas are organised, search for conflict and contradictions between them

Where do you find yourself naturally directed?

Are you able to create a synthesis from these ideas in order to respond to the assigned issue?


Free writing 

Free writing is an excellent technique for capturing your thoughts and working out where you might be stuck. Free writing:  Helps

to overcome writer’s block and gets you in the habit of writing regularly

 Allows

you to reflect upon your writing – What point have you reached?


The Postcard Statement


KEY TIP #3

KNOW WHAT YOU ARE ARGUING


Finding your intervention 

Your intervention into the debate takes the form of an argument



Arguments go beyond opinions: they are a claim or position developed with rhetoric and evidence



Your argument is established at the beginning of your writing: take a position and defend it!


Thesis Statements 

Your argument is previewed at the beginning of your work: the thesis statement

Thesis statements contain your justified response to the assignment question

Thesis statements contain a claim, a justification and are often supplemented by a qualifying statement. “This essay argues that…”


‘Macro’ level structure Context Preview

Introduction Remember: Don’t just tell them what you’re going to say – tell them why they should care.

Thesis Statement

Argument Review Consequences

Conclusion Remember: No new evidence, but do push beyond the bounds of the essay.


Question: Critically evaluate the impact of fee increases on student satisfaction in higher education Thesis: (this essay argues that‌) as fees rise, students’ satisfaction is likely to decrease as they demand stronger services from universities that have not been provided with extra funding to offer that support. Conversely, there may be other approaches, such as an increased focus on teaching standards, to maintain satisfaction levels without extra funding.


KEY TIP #4

WRITE A THESIS STATEMENT


Make a Thesis Question: To what extent does having a ‘sign-in’ sheet influence lecture attendance? Write a thesis statement  Make

a claim (This essay argues…)  Justify it (, because…)  Provide a qualification (Although, however, conversely)


Structuring Arguments 

Arguments are not just a single answer

An academic argument has to defend this answer through rhetoric and evidence

It is also necessary to respond to ‘counter-arguments’

Explain why you are not persuaded, remembering to include evidence and rhetoric

Valuable points should be acknowledged in order to create a synthesis


The Classical Argument Initial position Alternative Position

Synthesis


Planning your Argument 

It is vital to organise the defence of your thesis statement



This defence can be organised into an writing plan


Structuring your Writing Every essay requires: Introduction/Preview (5-10%)

Body (80-90%)

Conclusion/Review (5-10%)

1,000 words 100

800

100


Making plans What is the issue (question/problem)? 

Identify your response: the thesis statement

What are the main elements of this position? 

  

Divide these elements into sections (with word counts), including counter arguments Divide these sections into paragraphs Identify key points of transition Include key evidence for each point


Planning a defence 

Pass the thesis statements around the room

In small groups, pick a statement to focus on

Break the thesis up into its main elements

Make an essay plan


KEY TIP #5 PLAN YOUR ARGUMENT


Planned structure 

Your essay plan provides the basic structure for your writing



Next week we will look at how to extend this structure through paragraphing and integrating ideas and references


Remember 

Be clear about what you have to do

Make an argument

Convert this argument into a writing a plan

This plan provides the structure for you writing


Next Week Writing Essays Need more help?

Email: chris.mcmillan@brunel.ac.uk Make an appointment to see ASK


Planning and structuring assignments