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Planning your writing

There are two main approaches to organising and analysing information for academic writing.

  • The planning approach: spend a lot of time on different types of planning before you begin writing. Only start writing when you know what you will write in each paragraph.
  • The drafting approach: start writing early, while you are still developing your ideas. Write many drafts and gradually re-organise your text until your ideas are clear and your paragraphs are well structured.

Both of these approaches can be successful. However, if your writing needs to be more logical, clear or analytical, focus more on your planning. Creating a good plan is a very positive early step towards writing a good assignment.

Know what’s expected

While some types of written work are the same in many disciplines, such as essays, there are also some kinds that only belong to a particular discipline. Sometimes even in the same discipline area, different lecturers will have different expectations about a particular type of assignment.

It’s therefore important you understand exactly what type of assignment you’re expected to write. For example, it could be an essay, report, case study, reflection or critical review.

You can find out what is expected by looking at key sources of information including:

  • written assignment instructions
  • grade descriptors, rubrics or marking guides. These list the parts of the assignment, how many marks each part is worth, and/or list the qualities in the assignment that will achieve certain grades.
  • advice from your lecturer or tutor
  • the unit of study outline
  • discussion with other students
  • general assignment guidelines prepared by some schools, departments or faculties
  • model assignments. Some lecturers, departments or schools keep copies of good assignments done by previous students, as models of the right style and structure
  • the resources of the Learning Hub (Academic Language and Learning).

Make a task list

You should identify all the things you need to do to write your paper. This could include:

  • a library database search and catalogue search to find relevant journal articles or books
  • reading and note-taking
  • brainstorming
  • analysing data
  • planning the structure of your assignment
  • drafting
  • discussion
  • editing and proofreading.

Estimate the time you need for each task and make a realistic plan based on how you work. Some people spend longer reading and analysing before they start writing, while others start writing earlier and write several drafts.

Find out ways to manage your time.

Early planning

Initially capture as many ideas as possible, without worrying about structure. For example:

  • carefully read and think about the assignment or task, and its purpose
  • brainstorm lists of key words and topics, to give direction to your reading and research
  • draw mindmaps, diagrams and flowcharts
  • discuss your ideas with someone else
  • list all the readings you could use
  • read the abstracts for the relevant sources and make notes on how each article could be useful
  • for a large task like a thesis or dissertation, use EndNote, or similar software, to save your references and notes.

After this initial planning, you can start working out the structure of your assignment.


This material was developed by the the Learning Hub (Academic Language and Learning), which offers workshops, face-to-face consultations and resources to support your learning. Find out more about how they can help you develop your communication, research and study skills.

See our Writing skills handouts.

Last updated: 26 October 2022

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