Writing 2 - Focus and Structure

If you tried the tips on our ‘Writing 1 guide: Getting started’, you’ve generated your thinking, have lots of ideas in your head and lots of words on paper. I

f you still haven’t worked out a clear and effective structure for your piece of writing, try some of the methods below to help you present your ideas in a logical order that readers can follow easily.

Always remember who will be reading, what you are writing and why: to demonstrate to your marker your understanding of a topic; your interpretation of the question; your research, critical analysis and evaluation skills.

Carefully read the question and instructions for the assignment and check the ‘learning outcomes’ in your Module handbook.

Student reading a book in the library relaxation space

1. Remind yourself of the question; what tasks are you being instructed to carry out?

What is the problem you are exploring? What is your line of argument?

If you’re still not clear about this try explaining what you are writing to someone else.

Try condensing what you are writing about into one sentence to help clarify for yourself what you are doing.


2. Pretend that you are giving a 10 minute presentation on this tomorrow!

Quick - what is the key message you want your audience to take away?

Why is it interesting? Why is it important?

Think of two or three important points/elements you researched?

Have you found new or interesting data or ideas? Why are these useful or significant? What are the implications for the future?

Student working at computer

3. Random key words and phrases

Group under headings to help you recognise what the function and purpose of each is and where (or whether) it should appear in your writing, for example: background; detail; cause; evidence; contrast; example; justification; conclusion or clarification.

4. Try other methods to help you decide where everything should go 

Pictures? Lists or bullet-points? Diagrams? A ‘Contents page’?

Does the order make sense? A mind map (see Tony Buzan books)

Group of students working together with laptops

5. Now ‘rapid write’ another rough draft off the top of your head without stopping to think about ‘the right word’ or accuracy

Ask a friend to read it and to provide feedback on whether it makes sense.

Is it in a clear logical order?

Get them to suggest what changes would make your argument flow more clearly.