Study Skills: Assignment Planning

Planning your writing is one of the early stages within a process of constructing written pieces of work at university. Stella Cottrell (2008, p.183) asserts that there are four steps students can take to help them organise initial thoughts when planning an assignment.


Firstly, note down information you initially think ought to be included in the assignment

It is suggested that you initially make a note of what you think is likely to be relevant information for the assignment. This initial note may be done in the form of a concept map around which you can write your ideas. Alternatively, Cottrell (2008) suggests using a separate page for each topic you are planning to include in your assignment.  At this stage, remember to also make use of lecture and seminar notes and wider reading you have done when completing this initial stage of generating ideas.

Secondly, group together relevant information

Progressing from the initial notes made, the next suggested stage is to look at the information again and begin to group similar information together. This stage is about encouraging you to take information from different sources and synthesise it (pull information from different sources together based on connections between the information).

Thirdly, write a more linear plan

This stage is what many students may start with! However, according to this particular staged approach, you are likely to feel more equipped to write a structured plan once you have already thought about what you know from your lecture and seminar notes and preparatory reading. Remember to keep looking back at the title or question you have been set and consider how the information you plan to include in any assignment is relevant!

Fourthly, identify the key message of each paragraph

Even before you start to do any focussed reading for your assignment, this stage is about adding more detail to your linear plan (stage three). It is suggested that at this stage you begin to plan how the various points in your plan may be divided into particular themed paragraphs. Remember that each paragraph ought to contain a specific point or main idea with additional explanation and evidence as well as an evaluation as to the contribution of this information to helping answer the overall question.

Although this four-staged model may provide a useful starting point to your thinking and writing, be prepared that the more you read around the subject area, the points and/or structure of your initial plan is likely to alter.  This is the messiness of academic thinking and writing!

If you would like to discuss this technique in more detail you can book a One-to-one appointment with one of the Study Skills’ Support Advisers, One to One Support


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