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Essay and report writing skills
Essay and report writing skills

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6.2 Turning the spotlight on your work

Having established some general principles, try now to subject your own work to the same scrutiny.

Activity 14

Take one of your most recent essays or reports and ask yourself, ‘What does it look like?’ That is, describe its physical appearance on the page.

Discussion

On a superficial level, even the appearance of work can be a give-away and betray a lack of planning. Solid blocks of text can look overwhelming. You should normally aim for an average of three or four paragraphs per side of word-processed A4 paper. Solid blocks of text imply that the writer hasn't taken the time or is unable to organise the material. At the other extreme, written work with the appearance of being very ‘broken up’ – lots of separate sentences, each treated as a paragraph – conveys the same impression: that the writer doesn't have a plan or hasn't developed his or her ideas in sufficient detail.

  • No paragraphs? Go back and look at your plan.

  • Too much in brackets? Something is in the wrong place or is not strictly relevant, go back to planning.

  • ‘As I mentioned earlier’, ‘As I said before’ If you need to say this often, you are going round in circles; you need a better plan.

Can you think of some other warning signs, things that you write when you have lost your way in an assignment?

Try to dig a little further and apply the questions from Activity 13. They were:

  • Is there an introduction and a conclusion, which help to guide the reader?

  • Are important concepts or ideas communicated?

  • Does the writing build and have a sense of direction?

  • Can you discern an overall plan?