Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Assignments: presenting your information

Having defined the information you need for your assignment, located the sources of information available to you, selected the approriate information and organised it into manageable pieces, we are now at step 5: presenting information!

In this case, presenting information refers to the writing process: forming a coherent argument with the information and ideas you have been gathering.

Writing assignments in college can be a little more challenging than those you may have written before.  You are now expected to go:

  • from repeating what you hear .... to analysing and interpreting what you hear
  • from using a single source of information (such as lecture notes)  .... to using multiple sources (such as lecture notes, text books, journals, websites etc.)
  • from straightforward statements .... to using evidence to back up what you write
  • from straightforward statements .... to creating balanced arguments which incorporate your own opinions
Yesterday, we talked about organising the information you have gathered for your assignment.   Having taken notes from various sources, we used mind maps to create a visual map of all the information we gathered.  Taking this mind map, we will now consider how to start constructing our assignment.

Our central thesis, or topic, is at the centre of our mind map, i.e. do something about solving global warming.  Each branch represents a subtopic, e.g. travel, home, plant trees etc.  Each of these subtopics will be represented by a paragraph in the body of our assignment.

Start your assignment with an introductory paragraph.  This paragraph should present your topic to the reader and explain why it is an important topic to write about.  Let the reader know what you plan to talk about in your assignment; try to spark their interest so that they are interested in reading further!  It is a good idea to revisit your introduction after you have written the body of the assignment to ensure that you introduced your work properly; some writers prefer to write their introduction last to ensure they introduce their arguments fully.

Body of the assigment
The body of the assignment is made up of paragraphs.  Each paragraph should cover a single subtopic, but it is important to link the paragraphs so that your argument flows.  For instance, in our global warming essay, we might finish one paragraph discussing fuel efficiency (e.g. in a paragraph about travel) and start the next paragraph talking about saving electricity (e.g. in a paragraph about the home).  The mind map will help you to organise your paragraphs in a logical way so that your argument flows from one paragraph to the next. 

The final paragraph is an opportunity to restate your central thesis, or topic, and to summarise your argument regarding this topic.  For instance, our thesis was that it is necessary to "do something" about global warming.  Having used the body of the assignment to outline what we can do, our conclusion could restate the importance of changing our behaviour and awareness in order to avoid disaster in the future. 

Having completed the first draft of our assignment, we can now revise the text with an eye to perfecting it.  As you read you can:
  • consider the flow of your argument: is it logical and easy to follow?
  • consider the relevance of your information: does each paragraph relate directly to the main topic of your assignment?
  • consider the level of the information: have you presumed that the reader knows too much or too little about the subject?  It can be a good idea to imagine your reader is a well-informed classmate.
  • consider your citations: have you included a proper reference for any information that you have taken from a book, journal, website etc?
  • consider your writing style: have you copied and pasted information from somewhere else?  It is usually very obvious because your writing style is different from that of the other author!  When you use another author's idea, just explain it in your own words and cite the source.
  • consider your spelling and grammar: don't lose marks for something that is very easy to fix!
Writing your assignment can be a very rewarding process: having spent time defining, gathering and evaluating information, you can finally get your ideas down on paper!   Good luck!

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