The 1-Hour Writing Challenge!

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In need of some writing motivation? Try our 1-Hour Writing Challenge!

Are you spending your summer working on that dissertation, project or thesis? Are there times when you just don’t know where to start, or when you can think of at least 900 things you’d rather do than write?! Never fear, our 1-Hour Writing Challenge is here to help you get focused, avoid overwhelm and make some progress with your writing.

Step One: Setting Writing Goals (5 mins)

You’re more likely to lose focus if you don’t specify a clear writing goal. And you could end up putting yourself off if the goal you do identify is too ambitious. So let’s spend the first 5 minutes of the session ensuring that your goal is SMART.

Specific: the specific idea I will write/section/paragraph I will work on is ….

Measurable: I will write _____ words

Achievable: this will be a rough draft/quick bullet points for me to work up later/polished final version/edited final draft

Relevant: where this section will fit in is …

Time- bound: I will write for 1 hour.

Step Two: Freewriting (8 minutes)

You wouldn’t run a marathon without warming up first (well, you’d be unwise to!). Similarly, diving straight in to a piece of writing can sometimes feel a bit daunting. Freewriting is a great way of helping you settle down, get focused and think a little more about what you’re going to write. For instance, you could use this time to plot out how you might structure your ideas in the section you’ve chosen to work on. Or you might use the time to help you decide which of your ideas to work on and develop further in the upcoming writing session.

Freewriting can be particularly useful if you tend towards perfectionism with your writing, as it gives you permission to write a messy first draft. This, in turn, can really help you capture your ideas without worrying that they’re not “academic enough” (you can develop your ideas and polish your writing style in the editing stage).

The rules of freewriting are:

  • Set a timer for 8 minutes
  • Start writing whatever comes to mind about the section you’re going to be working on.
  • Write in full sentences
  • Don’t stop writing
  • Don’t look back or edit
  • If you get stuck, write about that – why are you stuck? What would help you get unstuck?! You just might be able to untangle yourself!
  • If you don’t like what you’re writing, write about why

Step Three: Review (2 minutes)

Look over what you’ve just written. What points could you pull out of your freewriting that you might use in your draft? Or maybe you’ve just used the 8 minutes to ‘unload’ any anxieties you have about your writing, which is perfectly fine – and very useful – too!

Step Four: Write (40 minutes)

Write for 40 minutes and work on your draft.

Just something to bear in mind: if you really like working in timed writing sprints, but there are days when 40 minutes seems too long or, indeed, when it doesn’t seem long enough, you can always adjust the time to suit you. The important thing here is to break writing down into manageable chunks.

Step Five: Next Action List (2 minutes)

Use the final couple of minutes to leave notes to your future self about the next steps you need to take to progress this piece of writing. This helps you maintain momentum.

9 Awesome WDC Resources Master’s Students Can Check Out Right Now!

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If you’re a Master’s student, then this time of year is less about walking on sunshine and more about working to deadlines. But, if you’re busy wrangling that dissertation, worry not, for the WDC is on hand with these super helpful resources!

  1. Read All About It

Doing a dissertation involves so. Much. Reading!! Often, you’ll need to read things more than once to develop your ideas and understanding. Here at the WDC, our modest assessment of our Three Domains of Critical Reading is that it is completely and utterly brilliant, and can really help you get the most out of your reading.

2. Making Sense of It All

Once you’ve done the reading, you then need to pull it all together. What are the common themes and patterns? Where are the gaps? What does it all mean?! Our – again, we’re being modest and objective here – absolutely splendid Mapping the Literature resource can be a great way of making sense of all your reading. Perfect if you’re working on that literature review!

3. Let’s Talk it Over

Speaking of literature reviews … here we are, quite literally, speaking of literature reviews! Now, this Q&A discussion, led by WDC tutors Helen and Caroline, was filmed for a lovely group of PhD students in the SAgE faculty. However, it does contain lots of top tips that can be applied to literature reviews at Master’s level, too, such as advice on structuring and writing critically. The video is handily timestamped, too, so you don’t have to watch the whole thing. Unless you really want to …

4. It’s All Under Control

Odds-on, the dissertation is the longest piece of writing you’ve ever produced. The longer a piece of writing is, the harder it gets to stay in control of your material. Hence, trying to structure your dissertation and ensure everything makes sense might not be the most fun you’ve ever had. Luckily, the WDC is on hand with some top tips on getting everything to hang together.

5. Never Out of Style

Once you’ve got all those ideas down on paper, it’s all about polishing up your writing for your reader and presenting that academic persona that they’re looking to see. Once again, the WDC has you covered with our handy tips on academic writing style.

6. Proof it!

The last thing anybody wants to do when they’ve just finished writing a long, complex piece of work is go through it with a fine toothcomb looking for all the things they might have got wrong, Unfortunately, this really *is* the last thing we have to do, But, yes, you’ve guessed it! The WDC has a brilliant Study Guide positively brimming with handy proofreading hints!

7. Words, words, words

Student at the very start of their dissertation: I will never be able to write that many words EVER.

Student towards the end of their dissertation: How have I managed to write 2000 words more than I was supposed to?!

Is this you?! Then read this.

8. When the going gets tough

We’ve all be there: we really need to write but we can think of 2,908 things we’d rather do instead. Sounds familiar? Check out the WDC’s top tips on staying motivated and productive this summer.

9. When the going gets tougher …

Working on a Master’s dissertation isn’t easy at the best of times and, let’s face it, the summer of 2020 is *not* the best of times. We put together some time management tips for troubled times back in spring. If, quite understandably, you’re finding it difficult to focus on your work this summer, check out our advice on how to be kind to yourself and boost your productivity.

And remember, if you’d like to discuss an aspect of your work with one of our WDC tutors, they’re still here for you over the summer and are offering appointments via Zoom.

How do I improve my academic writing?

Unsurprisingly, given our name, one of the most common questions we’re asked at the Writing Development Centre is “so how do I improve my academic writing?” Although writing is only one of the topics we can help you develop, it is one of the most prominent ones as writing is the main way that learning is assessed in most subjects. Our writing is a reflection of ourselves, our voice, so it can be quite personal, and academic writing in particular can feel a bit of an alien way to express ourselves.

Each subject and level of study ‘does’ academic writing in a slightly different way, and each of us will have different things we need to work on in our own writing. So in our latest “You Ask the WDC” video, our tutor Caroline shares some ways which you can target things to work on and develop your own academic voice.

If you’ve got a question for our You Ask the WDC agony aunts, let us know!

3 Domains of Literature Reviewing

If you’re working on that dissertation or research project, it’s possible that about now you’re feeling as if you’re being swamped by the literature. There’s so much of it to read – how can you possibly get an overview and bring it all together into a coherent review? How do you know what you think of it all, when you’re starting to lose sight of your own project under the weight of what everyone else has ever said? So many literature reviews start to turn into more of a catalogue of the literature – “I read this, it said that, and this is what I thought. Next!”

Critical reading is hard work – if you’re finding it hard going, then be assured it’s not you! There’s a lot going on when we read critically, and it might help to unpick what that is, so you can take control of the process and feel more on top of it.

the WDC have a framework we use called the Three Domains of Critical Reading, which you can apply when you’re ploughing through all that literature for your literature review. We’ve now turned it into an online resource which walks you through three perspectives to look at each text from – Is it any good in its own right? How does it relate to other scholarship? and What use is it to me? In each domain, you’ll find critical questions you can apply when reading to find your own stance on the literature.

You can find the new Three Domains resource on the ASK website, along with printable PDFs to use in your own reading!

New video – online academic communication!

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“Should I say something?”

“What am I expected to say?”

 “Is that the ‘right’ answer?”

 “Does this sound clever enough?”

Academic discussions can be tricky to navigate at the best of times. Add to that unfamiliar environments like webinars or discussion boards and figuring out the best way to communicate with coursemates and teaching staff can become a real headache!

If this sounds familiar, then you might want to check out the WDC’s latest video ‘Communicating Online in an Academic Context’ where we talk through some of these difficulties and offer possible strategies for dealing with them.

Writing coursework….fast!

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Many of you might be facing coursework as a replacement for an exam that just wouldn’t work in an online, remote format. You may have experience of writing assignments before, but not necessarily under such time limits – your writing skills need to be sharp to ensure that you can work efficiently and do your best under such conditions! Especially when you may also have exams to revise for – you don’t want to throw yourself into an assignment at the expense of revision.

Just for you, the WDC have pulled together some of our top advice for really focussed, efficient writing, from analysing the question and planning under pressure, to targetted researching, and writing and editing your work with as little waste as possible. If you are writing essays or similar things for a 24 hour take home paper too, some of these tips might be helpful.

You might also like our videos on free writing as a way of generating writing – and ideas – quickly. This is a useful technique to kickstart the writing process or work through a block.

Communicating in the online academic environment

Typing on a laptop
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With the sudden move to online learning, you may find yourself having a lot more academic discussions online. This might cause some uncertainty about how to communicate appropriately in this strange new space – the ‘online academic environment’.

Listen to Nicky, one of our WDC tutors, talk about some of the potential difficulties associated with communicating online in an academic context and offer some strategies for addressing them. You can also find this information and more in text form on the Academic Skills Kit

Dr Nicky Gardiner, one of the WDC tutors
Dr Nicky Gardiner

New Youtube series: You Ask the WDC!

We know many students have questions about learning in these suddenly uncertain times, and we’re here to help you develop and adapt your study strategies and academic skills to meet these challenges. The current situation is unprecedented – we wish we could tell you how it’s all going to work out, but the truth is, we’re all figuring it out as we go. The good news is, the WDC tutors are experts in learning, and in listening to students to help you find ways of working that will work for you.

To that end, we’ve launched a new video series on Youtube – our Academic Agony Aunts (and Uncle) are here to answer your academic skills queries! in You Ask the WDC, we respond to some of the most common issues you’re raising, whether it’s about remote study, online assessment, or even just a good old fashioned study skills question.

Check out the first videos on our Youtube channel!

Got a question? Submit it here!

Time Management Tips for Troubled Times: Dealing with Overwhelm

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Term might have got underway, but if you’re feeling behind and overwhelmed with your studies, losing motivation and generally not keeping up, that’s quite understandable. We’re all navigating a completely new way of studying, with new teaching formats to get used to, new learning strategies to adapt and all in the middle of a pandemic crisis. It’s no wonder if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, lacking in motivation or suffering from procrastination and uncertainty. This is the latest in our series of Time Management Tips for Troubled Times, in which we try to help you get your mojo back and find your way forward.

  • If you don’t feel ready to start a task (not done enough reading, thinking, etc) or don’t know where you are with it, jump in and start anyway – use this as a way to experiment and find out exactly what else you need to do, rather than a vague sense you’ve not done enough or aren’t sure what you’re doing. 
  • Use freewriting as a way to find a bit of focus. Set a timer for 10 mins, and write a stream-of-consciousness exploring the task you will be working on, what the sticking points are, anything you’re worried about, things that are distracting you and how you feel about it. Don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t judge – this is just you warming up and thinking aloud on paper. 
  • Break tasks down. This allows you to see exactly what needs to be done, and how long it might all take. It also makes big, vague goals into manageable, concrete tasks, where you can see progress. 
  • Build in points where you can reflect, take stock of where you need to be, and check your direction. Try and commit to a goal, even if it’s for a day, rather than switching between them in case you’re worried you’re not doing the right thing.
  • Alternatively, try interleaving – every hour, two hours or mornings and afternoons, switch task. This might help you feel that you’re keeping all the plates spinning, and actually helps you refresh your concentration. It’s also true that if you leave a problem you’re stuck with, your brain is likely to have made progress on it when you were thinking about something else. 
  • Think How, not just What. Focus on the actions you need to take, not the things you need to achieve, and make your intention to implement the goal explicit. ‘IF I am going to achieve ……., THEN I will do …..
  • Make each task as concrete as possible, to make it doable and give yourself a sense of achievement. You could frame it in SMART terms:
    • Specific: What exactly will the output be? Which section or paragraph?
    • Measurable: How many words will you write, approx?
    • Achievable: How realistic is this? How ‘finished’ does it have to be?
    • Relevant: how does this contribute to the rest of your work? How important is it?
    • Timebound: how long will you work on it?
  • Build in small, immediate, short term rewards for things where the real outcome is a longer way off. 
  • Reward yourself for a job done, or for progress made, whether you feel it is well done or not.
  • Intrinsic rewards: A sense of achievement or pride is a kind of reward, so frame your work in a way that allows you to tick things off or check how well you’re doing. 
  • Extrinsic rewards: You could also use rewards that have nothing to do with work. Rewards should be small and also framed in SMART terms so you don’t get distracted from returning to work.
  • You’re likely to put something off if you don’t think you can do it. If you aren’t sure what it is you’re supposed to achieve or how to go about it, list up the questions you have, so you can find answers – friends on the course, a peer mentor, your lecturer, a Writing Development Centre tutor. Identifying what you don’t know is the beginning of finding out.
  • If your planned time didn’t quite go to plan, write a list of ‘things achieved’ anyway – this will help you see where you’re still being productive or where you need to get back on track, without making you feel you’ve achieved nothing.
  • There is often no single right answer, or no single right way to do something at university. If  an approach isn’t working for you, try a different way rather than avoiding a task due to fear of failure or not being good enough. Find your own best way to study.

Prefer to hear it than read? Listen to Helen, one of our WDC tutors, talk you through some tips.

Dr Helen Webster, WDC
Dr Helen Webster, WDC

Active Independent Learning

Learning remotely and online can present new challenges, or just put a strain on your existing learning strategies. You might be finding that you’re being provided with a lot of learning materials such as powerpoint slides, video, readings or handouts. What do you do with all this material, and how can you make sure you’re learning effectively rather than just staring at your screen, with nothing really going in?

Listen to Helen, one of our tutors, suggesting a few strategies to ensure that you’re actively engaging with learning materials and getting the most out of them.

Dr Helen Webster, WDC
Dr Helen Webster, WDC