In their programmes as a whole, undergraduate students are often required to develop and express their ideas in extended pieces of writing: an essay of 3000 words, a 20 page report, an 8,000 word dissertation. Postgraduate students are faced with even longer texts in writing their theses. Considerable work needs to go into these pieces which test thinking and research and which require effort to order and synthesise materials and ideas, to develop a flow and direction, to marshal an argument or reach a convincing conclusion. As a result these pieces can have considerable value and producing them is in many ways the mark of higher education. Helping students to do them well is, then, an important part of what teachers and supervisors in higher education need to do.
Here we offer some suggestions as to how you might help students to develop effective extended writing.
· Retreats - Students (and staff) who are working on longer texts have benefitted from attending one of our writing or reading retreats, where participants leave their everyday distractions and spend a day focusing only on their writing or reading for identified projects. Retreats are run both centrally as open cross-disciplinary events as well as for students from particular schools to support individual modules (such as name of English module here) or year groups (such as Drama, English, History, or EECS dissertation students).
· First year Engineering students in SEMS were offered a combination of a workshop, and a series of tasks to develop report writing
· Have a look at a series of tasks in a first year History module, Making History, designed to help students write like historians,
· A module on mathematical writing structured around the links between understanding and communication, and the importance of being able to convey key mathematical concepts in words
· A sequence of tasks building towards an essay (pdf). This sequence was designed in 2003 as a response to the lecturer's frustration that students were not fully engaging with his module (Catalan Culture). The module is still being used today. Read an interview with Josep Anton Fernandez entitled 'From frustration to fun' - in the Thinking Writing newsletter 1, view a timelines of the change in module development, and some more detailed tasks from Catalan Culture Course (pdf).
As the link between extended writing and reading is so strong, you will find other relevant ideas and activity suggestions on our Reading into writing page.