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Study Tips for Getting Started

Often students will tell us they find it hard to start researching and writing a large assignment; here are a few pointers for getting started.

  • Have an essay structure or proforma

    In other words have a plan, which you can follow, including what you are going to read, and a timetable. Then you can regularly set manageable goals. If you have a plan and a set of tasks to follow, you are less likely to get stuck or 'bogged down' at any point, or start 'over-working' a section. If you don't know how to do this, get help from a tutor, course adviser, the Writing Centre, a counsellor, or have a look on the web - there are numerous good essay proformas - we have listed a couple of good resources below.

    A rough guide to structuring an essay is, look at the number of words required for the assignment and the number of references, and then assign a word count to each reference, e.g. 1000 words with 5 key references is 200 words per reference.

  • Reading has to stop at some point

    If you don't stop reading you run the risk of being overwhelmed with ideas, and contrary to popular belief, it will actually start to make you more confused, not less. There is not a perfect time to start writing- the crucial things is that you do. One way to overcome this is to have your plan and start putting ideas directly onto your proforma as you go. This does not need to be done in perfect sentence form- just jot ideas down. By actually writing you start to identify what you don't know and your research can then be targeted appropriately.

    Another way to do this is brainstorming- an old fashioned but effective way to 'dump' all your thoughts on the page without judgement- then you can sort through and discard what you don't need or want.

    When you are sitting down to write, set goals for each block of study time and reward yourself e.g. "I will aim to finish the section on ... before 2pm; I can then go to the gym for an hour and start again at 4.30pm with my next task"

  • Start somewhere

    Don't worry about exactly where you start- just make the decision to start on a specific section and go with that.

  • Write first - edit later

    Seriously, do not interrupt your train of thought by endlessly polishing small sections. Get everything down and then go over it- this is a far more efficient way to work.

    Writing will help you think! Writing down what you know and how you interpret something will help you to clarify what you want to say, and as already mentioned, what the gaps are in your knowledge. In short writing actually helps you know what you know!

    Keep all your notes and ideas on one document for a specific assignment and add to this when you have a thought- anything which might be a 'lead', put it down- it can then be the point you start from next time you are writing - or you may choose to reject it, either way you're making progress.

    Start writing, and write 'rubbish' to start with, if you need to. It does not need to make complete sense and even writing "I am not sure what to write in this section, all I know about this is ..." can at least get you started and help your planning.


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