We’ve all been there. You start your new classes, possibly even with some excitement over the titles of each unit, and suddenly you’re up to your eyebrows in reports, essays and general paperwork. While there’s a HUGE temptation to just ignore the bulk of it until nearer the end of the semester, the best time to tackle them is actually now.
In some cases you’re not going to know everything you need to in order to create your report then and there; that’s what this guide is for. My aim, with this post, is to show you that you can get 80% of the work done before you really have any idea what you’re talking about.
The Process – A Brief Introduction
When I get an essay or report that I have to write I’ll follow these steps pretty much every time. Parts of it are fairly new but so far they’ve made things so much easier for me and I hope they help you too. For all you bloggers out there, this could work in that context as well; let me know how you get on if you try it.
One quick note before we start; be careful. Some of the steps here make it very easy to sound like a robot with each essay or report you like, and it’s missing the point if you do it that way. The idea is to get the bulk of the leg work done before you need to go in and add the information, not to sound like an automated doodad capable of only one sort of written work. You’ll know yourself what you can adopt safely and what you can’t – keep that in mind while you read through this.
Without further ado, here’s my paperwork process:
- Read the brief. Obvious, I know, but this is the most important stage. Without doing this, you’ve lost before you even start; take five minutes to really read and understand what’s being asked of you.
- Get Clarification (if needed). At this stage you need to ask your tutor/lecturer if you have any queries about the brief. Anything at all you’re not sure of, get it cleared up now. Even final deadlines if they’re not clearly defined. Take notes if it’s especially complicated.
- Split the Report/Essay into sections. From your discussion with your tutor and the brief you should be able to group the requirements into parts or sections. For example, if you had an essay that required you to address the anatomic structure of cats, dogs, and sheep; your sections could be cats, dogs, and sheep. Or, alternatively, you could split that topic into skeletal, muscular, nervous, and surface if that took your fancy. The point is that you need to cut it into smaller sections.
- Set up your Word Document. Open it up, add a header and footer and save it somewhere sensible that you’ll be able to find it again later. Create a title page, a contents page, and an Introduction page (if applicable).
- Add your Sections. For each of the sections you split your report into in the last phase, create a title that describes it and add that to the contents page. Once you’ve done that for all of your topics, copy the text in the contents page and paste it on a new page after your introduction. Restart the numbering if you’d been using it, and create a page break between each heading.
- Explain your Sections. Write a note to yourself for each section explaining what it’s going to be about, what you need to cover in that section, and some of what you’d like to include. You can also add what you need to research in here if appropriate.
Advanced (Optional) Hacking
- Split your Sections. If you can, split your sections down further into paragraphs. I don’t mean write them just now, I mean split it out into what you think should go in each paragraph and write a short note for that under your main explanation. (Para 1, Para 2, Para 3, etc)
- Write your Introduction. Again, sometimes you won’t be able to do this right away, but for most essays and reports the introduction is only explaining what you’ll be talking about in the rest of the essay, what each section will contain, and possibly how you plan to deliver the information. Normally you can find all this information from the brief, so there’s no reason to leave this any longer.
- Write Standard Sections. This part is a little harder to explain but I’ll do my best. Say, for example, you had a fairly standard report that required you to say much the same thing in each section but with different pieces of information. If that’s the case there’s nothing stopping you going ahead and writing the paragraphs and leaving room for the information itself. I like to do this with square brackets; it leaves me space to write what information I need to place into that part. Example:
In [year] the town of [town name] was founded to meet [insert requirement; work, economy, industry, etc]. Originally the people there felt [insert opinion about town] about their new home; however over time they became [insert current opinion].
The Most Important Point
- Read through and Edit. Once you add the information you needed, read back through it and edit some of your sentences. The idea here is to make it flow more naturally, not to change the entire structure of the report. Possibly the most important step no matter what you’re writing; that’s why it gets it’s own section.
After you’ve finished those tasks the work you’ve left to do on your essay will be relatively small. You can then research at your leisure and drop the information in wherever you’ve left a blank for it; it helps to focus on the information you actually need instead of only the interesting parts. The first two sections should be easy to do every time you get an essay or report that you have to write, whereas the third section will only be possible in some cases.
I started using this method about a month ago formally and it’s made a huge difference to the way I work and how efficient I am. Previously I’d been using a mixed set of techniques, some of which I kept, but ultimately it left me feeling more stressed than when I wrote them ‘normally’. I’d say that this is worth trying at least once to see if it makes your life easier.
One last thing I wanted to mention before I end this post; As of next week I’ll be changing my posting days to Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. This is because my Mondays have become incredibly busy of late because of my new timetable and taking up Tai Chi. By the time I finally get a moment to write I’m usually really tired, so before my work starts to suffer too much I’m going to spare us all and move it.
Thanks for your patience everyone, I hope you enjoyed this post – let me know how you get on if you try it! See you on Wednesday.