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Ten stages of assignment success

Based upon Burns and Sinfield 'Essential Study Skills' book. London Metropolitan University

Andy Mitchell

on 14 September 2018

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Transcript of Ten stages of assignment success

Write the first draft
Plan the outline
Proof read
Hand in Work
Follow the
Action Plan
Ten stages of
assignment success
Use creative brainstorming
strategies to
generate ideas
Know how you are
being assessed
Understand the
whole question
Know the task
Open a research
Use the
Analyse the question
- all of it
Action Plan
Write the WHOLE
question on the folder
fit the task to the
module aims and
learning outcomes
Work out what
to research:
why where and when!
Prepare to research
This is a long section that reflects how important good preparation is. One trick with good preparation is to spend time on the question. Do not try to answer the question – think about it first. This is where it is important to manage your time, as it takes a significant amount of time to prepare a good assignment.
Start to work on an assignment as soon as possible: week one or two of your course would be good. Allow several weeks for reading and several more weeks to draft and re-draft your work. Work on it for half an hour a day and your academic life will be turned around.
Have a folder for every assignment that you are doing. The folder becomes the place where you automatically put useful notes, press cuttings, thoughts and feelings on the assignment. Without a folder, your information can drift – and your thinking will too.
The research folder itself can be simple or elaborate – you can re-cycle old A4 envelopes or buy something really swish and attractive that will inspire you just by looking at it. The point is to have the folder so that you focus on the question early, and gather information throughout a programme of study – not in the couple of days before the deadline!

Practical advice on how to prepare
and write your assignments.
Open a research folder
Open a folder for every module that you do – and every question that you have to answer. Open the folder early and start collecting information from week one of your course. Put something in each folder every week.
Examine the question: once you have written out the question (essay titles are often called questions, even when not phrased as such), analyse every word in it. Make sure that you understand exactly what and exactly how much the question is asking you to do.
Doing this early in a course of study tunes your brain into the course itself more effectively. In this way you ‘hear’ more in class and ‘see’ more in set texts; also you may hear and see more as you read the papers and watch television. Make notes of useful things you see, read and hear, and put the notes in your research folder. Record the source on the outside of the envelope; write: author, date, title, publisher… on the outside of the envelope and you will build up your bibliography as you go.
Look at the question
Do not abbreviate: if you miss a bit of the question you will definitely miss an important part of the answer. When this happens you are throwing marks away.
Write the whole question on the outside of your envelope.
When trying to understand the question, put it in your own words and say it back to another student or a tutor.
Underline every important word in the question – each is a research opportunity.
Every word in a question is a gift – use them all. Each one is there to be investigated, questioned, challenged, argued for or against.
Make sure that you do something about every word – don’t leave any out.
Remember that when answering an assignment question, one brief comes from the question – the wider brief comes from the course itself: cross-reference the question with course aims and learning outcomes. You must shape your essay so that it answers the question – and also so that it demonstrates that you have met the learning outcomes.
Add key words from course aims
and learning outcomes to your
brainstorm or matrix. Brainstorm
those words as well.
Consider every word in the question in a flexible, creative way. Don’t forget to brainstorm and question matrix every word in the question. Performing a creative loosening up activity like this allows you to cover the question in more depth and breadth.

Remember – you do not need to know the answer when you look at a question but you should know how to devise more questions.
Be creative
Put your brainstorm or matrix on the outside of your research folder. Look at it before you go to a lecture or seminar, before you start your reading.
In the light of your brainstorming and planning, you then have to decide exactly what you will have to do to research and produce your assignment. Things to consider include:
••What do you now have to do?
••Who will you speak to (tutor, study partner, subject librarian…)?
••What will you read?
••When will you do these things?
It can help to draw up a detailed list of everything that you will need to do and when you will do it. Allow a column for ticking off items as you complete them. Note:
Which lecture notes to re-read
Which essential texts to read
Which additional texts to read
Dates – when you will do the work
Check off – space to TICK once you have completed the work.
It can be useful here to look at your brainstorm and quickly sketch out the possible shape of your essay. What key arguments might you make? What evidence are you looking for?
Rough plan
Attend lectures in a
positive frame of mind
Undertake targeted research and active reading
Follow the action plan
Once you have devised your action plan, follow it through. Read actively and interactively, using your active reading technique. Remember to get physical with the texts – mark them up, annotate, make comments and cross-references. You will get much more from your reading when you do this.
Don’t look for the whole answer to the question in any one piece of reading. When reading, look for the answers to the questions generated by your question matrix; read around the words generated by your brainstorm.
Read with a purpose
When reading to find the answers to an assignment question, read about one word or phrase at a time. Do not look for the whole answer to the question.
Review your notes
Identify the gaps
Plug the gaps
Notice the evidence for and against your topic.
Think what your argument will be – given the evidence.
Discuss your evidence. Remember, when other people write, they are not answering your question. When you use their points, you will have to work to build them into your arguments. This is why we always have to discuss our quotes. Relate the quote to your argument; relate it to the question.
Index surf to brush up your paragraphs. Once you have completed your major research, and you are happy with it, you can just index surf to get little extra bits and pieces to take your work that little bit further.
Once you have nearly finished your reading, look at the notes on your wall or the notes from your research folder set out in front of you. Look at what you have gathered for each paragraph: have you got a balanced perspective? Reflect on what you have discovered. Given all this information, what do you now think? Why?
of the report, essay, seminar and presentation
After reviewing your information, make another plan for your assignment (essay, report, presentation). Think of the different ideas that will go to answer the whole question. Think about building a logical case and all the different ideas that you will have to cover to answer the whole question.
Remember that your reader will be thinking of the opposite evidence: do not just ignore inconvenient or contradictory evidence – know what it is and argue against it.
Once all the ideas are jotted down you can examine them again and number them according to where they should come in the body of your answer – order them so that you are building a logical case.
Write ideas on separate pieces of paper. Move the pieces of paper around to discover the best structure for the answer. Consider the reader who keeps saying, ‘So what?’ Make sure you answer the ‘So whats’.
go with the flow
leave gaps
Use the paragraph questions
As you write your first draft, try to build a flow into your writing – remember it is a first draft and does not have to be perfect. If you try to be perfect you will hit writing blocks.
So, when writing your first draft, do not try to answer all the paragraph questions at the first go. Leave gaps. Repeat yourself. Put in rough words rather than the ‘best’ words. Write messy sentences in poor English with no verbs. Write overlong sentences that hide the point you are trying to make. But remember also that you will be going back over this first draft several times.
Once you have the points (paragraph outlines) in a rough order – write the first draft of your answer.
Academic essays require one ‘big idea’ per paragraph… once you have your ideas, write about them by answering these questions:
What is this paragraph about?
- introduce topic (and claim)
What exactly is that?
- define/clarify/explain
What is your argument?
- give argument in relation to question
What is the evidence? What does it mean?
- offer evidence and discuss it
What is the opposing evidence? What does that mean?
- therefore…?
What is your final point (in relation to the question)?
- tie what you have written to the question. It is not
down to your reader to guess what you are trying to say – or to think ‘I wonder how this relates to the question?’ If your reader has to do that then something is missing from your answer.
Write these last – but if you do them write early, remember to change them as the essay changes. An introduction can have some general remarks about the question – how important it is, how it touches upon key issues – and you must also give the agenda, that is, the order in which you will be presenting your points. In the conclusion you must re-state your main arguments and the points that you made.
Intros and Outros
Leave it!
Once you have written the first draft you feel great, your answer is great, your friends are great and life is great. Do not believe this! Put the work to one side and leave it for a while.
This will give you some distance and objectivity, but more than this: your unconscious mind will seek to close the gaps that you left. The brain likes closure. The brain will not be happy with all the gaps in your assignment. Thus your brain will struggle to close the gaps that you have left. If you allow a break in your writing process you are allowing the brain to close the gaps – you are working with your brain.
Allow your brain time to close the gaps
Review, revise and edit:
struggle to write
This is the stage where you go back over your work and struggle to make it the very best it can be. Here you have to re-read what you have written – and change it. Sometimes we have to change everything – and nothing of our first draft gets left. This does not matter.
We are writing to learn, so our thoughts should change as we write. Also, we would never get to a good version if we did not go through our rough versions. Be prepared to draft and re-draft your work.
Don’t even try for perfection on a first draft – it is bad technique and it can actually stop you writing anything.
Decide on a final draft
Remember – once you have written something you have something to change but a blank page stays a blank page for an awfully long time.
On your first review, you might read from the beginning of your essay and improve, polish, as you go.
After that, try to concentrate on one paragraph at a time – and not always in the order it is written but in any order.
Polishing one paragraph at a time is much better than always going back to the start. If you always go back to the beginning, you may never polish the end – and you can quickly become very bored with what you are doing.
Review in stages
Review, revise and edit – this struggle is the assignment writing process.
Allow plenty of time for this.
Go through the whole answer when doing the first and last drafts – but in between, attack one paragraph at a time.
This is where you go back and put in the ‘best’ word. This is where you put in the verbs. This is where you shorten long sentences so that you make clear, effective points.
When you have finished polishing paragraphs, check the ‘links’ between paragraphs – make sure that they still connect with each other.
Rehearse if it involves a presentation
Once you are happy with your assignment, you are ready to stop revising it and to say: ‘This is the best I can do’. Sometimes we are never really ‘happy’ with our work, but there still comes a time to stop and move on to the next task. At this point you have to proof read the final version.
Proof reading is not editing: you are not looking to change what you have written, but here you are going through looking for mistakes, grammatical errors, tense problems, spelling mistakes or typographical errors.
You know that the brain likes closure – it will work to fill the gaps. This works against us when we are proof reading. Because the brain likes closure this can mean that our eyes will ‘see’ what should be there rather than what is there. To get over this we have to make our proof reading ‘strange’, which we can do by having breaks in between our proof reading.
Proof reading tips
Read your assignment aloud (if it is a presentation, rehearse before a critical friend).
Swap assignments with a friend – proof read each other’s work.
Cover the assignment with paper and proof read one sentence at a time.
Proof read from back to front.
Proof read from the bottom of the page to the top.
Proof for one of ‘your’ mistakes at a time.
Like everything else we do, proof reading gets better with practice.
You should now be ready to hand your work in on or before the deadline. And remember that deadline. On most university programmes a late submission is awarded an automatic fail. This is serious.
So once your assignment is done – congratulations! But before you rush off and celebrate remember to always keep copies of your work. Never hand in the only copy.
Obviously if you are writing on a computer it is okay – save your work to the hard drive and to a memory stick and email it to yourself and save in a ‘cloud’ – you can’t be too careful!

If writing by hand – photocopy. And if the assessment unit loses your assignment, do not hand in your last copy – photocopy that. A student of ours came back and told us that the assessment unit lost her essay – the same one – three times!
On or before the deadline
Getting it back
When we get work back, we look at the grade, feel really happy or really unhappy, throw the work to one side and forget all about it. This is not a good idea.
What is a good idea is to review what you have written, and see if you still think it is good. As an active learner, you should try to take control of your own work and you have to learn how to judge it for yourself and not just rely on the tutor’s opinions.
At the same time, you should also utilise the feedback that you get from the tutor. Be prepared to use that feedback to write a better essay next time. So a good thing to do is to perform a SWOT analysis of our own work, that is, look for the:
Utilise the feedback -
SWOT your progress
Review what you have written
Do you still think its good?
Follow the action plan
Review your notes
Plan the outline
Write the first draft
Leave it!
Review, revise and edit:
Struggle to write
Proof read
Hand in work
Getting it back
The ten stages to
assignment success
When you SWOT your work look for the things that you think you did well or not so well. Then look for the things that the tutor appears to be telling you that you did well or not so well. Resolve to do something about your strengths and your weaknesses.
Screenshot this assessment preparation checklist – and complete one for every assignment that you undertake.

Know the task (the whole question) and the form (essay, report, presentation, seminar etc)
Open a research folder – write the WHOLE question on the folder
Have the overview – fit the task to the module aims and learning outcomes
Analyse the question – all of it
Use creative brainstorming strategies to generate ideas
Action plan – work out what to research, why, where and when!

Follow the action plan: attend lectures and seminars in a positive frame of mind – undertake targeted research and active reading

Review your findings – identify gaps – plug the gaps

Plan the outline – of the essay, report, seminar, presentation…

Write the rough draft – go with the flow – leave gaps – use the paragraph questions
Leave a time lag – allow the brain to close the gaps

Review, revise and edit – struggle to write – decide on a final draft
Proof read – or rehearse if it involves a presentation

Hand in work – on or before a deadline
SWOT your progress
Ten stages to assignment success
Adapted from Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2012) Essential Study Skills: The complete guide to success at University 3rd £d. London. Sage.
Academic writing can seem mysterious and daunting. In this Prezi we aim to improve your confidence and success in academic writing with some very practical guidelines and advice.

Assessment is one of the most fraught areas in a student’s life. Nobody really enjoys being assessed, it smacks of being judged and it means that we can fail; we can make mistakes – mistakes that reveal us to be foolish or inadequate. Funnily enough, that is not really the point of assessment.

In many ways tackling assessment is all part of becoming a graduate; and, practically, assessment procedures produce evidence that quality stamps your degree. This means that there are ‘rules’ to follow.

: these rules can make you feel that what you want to say won’t be acceptable in a formal academic assessment. This can be very de-motivating. So whilst we want you to understand the ‘rules’ of assignments, we don’t want you to lose your love of your subject – and your feeling that what you have to say is important.
Phew, we are over halfway through. Time for something slightly different
Try this activity
We have said that assessment can be daunting, take a few minutes to answer the following questions on assessment – and to uncover your own responses to it.
What writing do you do at the moment (letters, notes, poetry, short stories, essays, articles, texts, tweets, blogs, websites...)?
What do you like about your approach to writing at the moment?
What do you dislike about your current writing strategies?
Are there any aspects of academic writing that make you uneasy?
What do you think would help you to become a successful academic writer?
Once you have completed your own questionnaire, please compare your points with those from other students.
1 What writing do you do at the moment (letters, notes, poetry, short stories, essays, articles, texts, tweets, blogs, websites...)?

“I actually do a lot of writing because I am working as a secretary to get me through university. It does not mean that I feel any good at it myself.”

2 What do you like about your approach to writing currently?

“I enjoy writing and always have done, so research tasks are manageable for me and I am interested in much of what I read.”

3 What do you dislike about your current writing strategies?

“Nearly everything! In fact when I faced my first assignment all I could think was: Would it be good enough? What was being good enough? Would I have read enough and taken enough notes to write a well researched piece of work?”

“Having been out of education for over 10 years, I felt very anxious about undertaking my first piece of assessed work – I didn’t want to be judged negatively, because it might overwhelm me and make me want to give up the course. I had a very fragile student identity.”

4 Are there any aspects of academic writing that make you uneasy?

“Firstly, not knowing the level of learning required. By that I mean that it would have been really helpful to get examples of an A-paper, B-paper, etc. to get an idea of the sorts of knowledge which is valued within HE.”

“I did not really know how to write in an academic tone. I picked up much of how to do this from reading the work of others and paying particular attention to the structure of the writing as well as the content. A lot of my writing skills were self learned and self developed so inevitably I made a lot of mistakes. My early writing was not good quality and certainly not good enough for the high standards set by my university. It was very much a matter of personal perseverance and motivation that enabled me to go on and succeed with some of my later writing.”

“Referencing, as I really struggled with the whole concept of this. I could have used some general pointers on the level and detail of work at degree level. My last studying had been 10 years earlier at GCSE level and it was impossible to know how high I had to jump from that to succeed at degree level.”

5 What do you think would help you to become a successful academic writer?

“More knowledge of what is expected of us and strategies of how we could reasonably achieve this. Small, manageable targets are better than masses of work with daunting deadlines. Some idea of the amount of time that should be spent on reading and making notes – this might have encouraged those with massive time pressures to get started, rather than leaving them to their own devices when they could easily become overwhelmed.”

“Try to build our confidence and make us take on a positive learner identity. Try to enable us to see that we can do it, we are good enough, but we just need to take a few risks, which inevitably leads to getting some things right and some things wrong. When mistakes are made, learn from them but don’t be afraid to take a few risks again – it’s one of the only ways to differentiate you from the crowd.”

“From early on it would have been useful to see example essays… During one of our lectures we were given four extracts from different essays and asked to mark them individually. We then had a group feedback session about what and why we had given the marks we had. We then did a show of hands to understand if we had marked similarly, which we had, although there were a few exceptions. Everyone found this a really useful task and we all learnt a lot about our own expectations and that of others.”
Read journal articles to show you how you might write in the future.
Build your self-confidence. Having confidence helps you succeed – low self-confidence can mean that you get defeated by problems rather than overcoming them.
If you want to see an example of a real student essay, look at
An Essay Evolves
. This essay was written over time – and the blog showed her thoughts and feelings as she wrote the essay.
Break over, on to step 7...
It’s hard to take feedback – it can feel like a personal attack or rejection. We have to learn how to use the feedback that we get. Here is howone student responded to some short sharp feedback.
Getting work back: a student response
“I feel that in this case (and in some others!) I slipped away from my main task which is usually identified by a thorough question analysis. Looking back, instead of presenting the strengths and weaknesses of Freud’s theory of personality as measured against the yardstick of evidential science I decided at too early a point to become an advocate for it. I tried also to question the appropriateness of the paradigm often used to assess Freud when it might have profited me (in terms of more marks) to stick with it. It may have helped me achieve the stronger take-home message counselled by the assessor. And interestingly, in this case I carried out my question analysis belatedly.”
The assessor’s final comment on the assignment:
…could be improved by having a clearer focus and a stronger take-home message, which could perhaps be achieved by interpreting the title in a narrower way…
Download the Ten steps overview - Google Docs

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