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Organise your writing

It's important that you organise your writing to make the writing process easier for yourself. Insights into your personality preferences can help with how to approach your writing. There are many ways to get started and no single way suits everyone. See Tips and suggestions for starting and editing your writing based on your personality preferences.

You'll also find a large range of general and subject specific writing resources in Language and Learning Online.

Understand the question first

First analyse the question and look for:

  • direction words
  • topic words
  • the limit or focus words

Start thinking about the extent of research required.

You also need to think about the subject context when you answer the question. Your answer should show your understanding of the world from within that context. For example, if you had a similar question in a Cultural Studies subject and in a Marketing subject, your answers should have significantly different perspectives.

Sample questions

  1. Select examples from the mass media which make connections between women and chocolate.
    Evaluate the significance of your findings in terms of post-modern feminist theory.
  2. Select examples from the mass media which make connections between women and chocolate.
    Evaluate the significance of your findings in terms of relational marketing theory

For the two questions, identify:

the direction words:
the topic words:
the limiting or focus words:

Identifying the extent of research required would involve making decisions about which mass media to investigate, and a search for the words "women" and "chocolate" together. Then, criteria for final selection would need to be worked out (eg. recency, length, use of pictures, variety/consistency, etc).

If the disciplinary context were Cultural Studies, then you might look at psychoanalytic approaches to gender, the 'male gaze' in relation to any images chosen, cultural variation, and so on.

If you were writing from a Marketing perspective, then you'd probably want to consider market segmentation, marketing niche issues, issues of product placement, consumption and gender, and so on.

To get my writing moving, I have to make sure that I stay very organised and really spend time understanding the question and making sure I haven't gone down the wrong track. So getting my approach right first is important. I usually check this out with the lecturer before I even attempt any research… This way I know I can stay on track and not diverge, which is my tendency.
— Melinda

Understand the meaning of the direction words

Direction words are very important. For example, 'analyse' means to look at various features and show how they are related or connected, whereas, 'argue' means to provide a case for or against a particular viewpoint. Use the Direction word explanations of key words in exam questions to guide your understanding and question responses.

Ideas generation cycle

First generate your ideas by brainstorming

First, simply generate your ideas without analysing or critiquing them. Evaluate them later. Don't eliminate any ideas until you've had time to consider them.

It is useful to think of the process of generating and refining your writing and ideas as a cycle of recursive steps where you generate ideas, then incubate and evaluate them. Then eliminate any that don't suit your purpose.

Colour your ideas with Post-It notes

Use hard copy devices like coloured Post-It notes to organise your ideas on a large sheet of paper, rather than just have them stay in your head.

Organise your writing with mindmapping software

You can use electronic mindmap Opens in a new window generators such as Inspiration Opens in a new window or CMap tools Opens in a new window for structuring your ideas and adding notes.

Structure your ideas using MsWord 'outline mode'

Outline mode in MsWord can be useful as you can generate ideas in a linear list and then organise these into ordered headings and subheadings, and you can use colour to group your ideas and sections too.

Base your writing on good models

Think about the style of assessment or writing task. For example, do you have a science lab report to write, or a business report, or a case study, or a review essay, or a book review, or an argumentative essay? All these have different structuring techniques and linguistic writing devices. Ask your lecturer for a sample and model responses. You may also like to go to the Writing in subject areas in Language and Learning Online. Some students may generate all their ideas first and then work back into a template writing organiser for the specific writing structure, eg essay, book review, lab report. Experiment with new ways and see if they help you to work better and faster!

Find ways to be inspired and engaged with your topic

You may find it useful to approach your writing based on your personality preferences. You can also use 3-dimensional objects to help you structure your writing.

This might sound quite funny, but I think in 3 dimensions and I found using a coat hanger with other coat hangers layered vertically useful to conceptualise my essay. I had tags that I attached to each coat hanger with paper words. So my motto is 'Be creative and imagine possibilities'!
— Angie

Organise your references

Set up a system to organise your references and resources. You may decide to use an alphabetical list by author, or you may use a database such as MsExcel. For larger writing projects such as a PhD you may choose to use a bibliographic software package such as EndNote Opens in a new window. Monash students can download a copy of EndNote free. The Library EndNote site gives you information about using the software.

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