academic success coaching

Getting started: 7 steps for effective preparation

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Getting started is actually one of the most difficult steps in the academic writing process.


You’ve got an essay to write? Or perhaps a summary? Maybe even a process report? Or you’ve got to get started on your literature review?


Where do you start?


It can be thoroughly overwhelming.


You’ve got a task, you’ve got a supervisor, you’ve been to the lectures, you’ve done a load of reading, you’ve participated in the seminar and you’ve got pages of notes.


But how do you start pulling it all together into one concise piece of writing?


The laptop’s open and fingers are poised ready to start hammering out those beautifully succinct, linked paragraphs. But the ideas just don’t come. You start typing a few sentences just to try and get started. But the ideas are not flowing. What you are writing sounds jumbled and awkward and doesn’t hang together coherently. You feel stuck.


There’s an art to writing. And as in the process of producing art, it takes time to get to the finished product. But you certainly don’t have to be artistic to see this through to the end. However, like any great artist, you do need to prepare!


If you prepare for the writing process is will be so much easier. I’m not saying it will be easy – just that the task will flow more easily. You will feel more comfortable…and hopefully even enjoy the process. The stress will have been taken out of it. Giving you more time for the other things in your life.


To do that here are my 7 steps for effective preparation:


1. Patience. Lots of it. Don’t try to rush through the first draft because you’ll only run the risk of losing focus in your writing and having to make more changes later on. Your supervisor gives you feedback on a draft that is considered to be the best first draft and is not going to mother you through the entire redrafting and editing process.


2. Focus. You need to concentrate on the task in hand and cut out any distractions – both internal (letting your mind wander onto other stuff) and external (sending messages, taking calls).


3. Confidence. A good dose of that too. You need confidence in your own ability to produce a piece of writing. You’ve done it before, so you can do it again.


4. Trust in the process. Trust that something will happen. It has happened before. It will happen again.


5. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Aiming for perfection is unrealistic and only leads to frustration and misery. Instead aim to do the best job you can with the tools and resources you have at your disposal at this moment in time. You can’t ask more of yourself than that.


6. Make sure that you’re not going to be interrupted for the duration of time you’ve set aside for writing. Put devices out of arms’ reach and make sure the cordless is in the next room. Update your status to let people know you won’t be answering messages for the next 3 hours.


7. Write a plan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t emphasise this enough. Before you even start writing your first draft you must have written a plan if you are to take the pain out of the writing process. And this doesn’t mean just a few words scribbled down on a scrap piece of paper! You need to have thought clearly about:


  • What the task is asking you to do
  • What you need to have done to answer that question – reading, note-taking, lectures, seminars, talking the issues through with co-students etc…
  • And if this is an essay, what your main line of argument is going to be and how you are going to support that with examples and explanations.
  • Indicate how these examples link back to your main overall argument. 


Now you’re ready to start…!