Starting well

At the start of the writing process, plan carefully so that you have a clear idea of how to complete the task and stay on track. Create the space to work:

  • physical space where you can comfortably set up with everything you need (charged laptop, pens, paper, your sources, good light, table and chair)
  • mental space so you can focus on the task (limit or remove what distracts you such as noise, social media, your phone, interruptions from others)
  • digital space by setting up folders to save your ideas, drafts, and research for each task
  • space in your calendar - set aside time to analyse your assessment task, research the topic and write. It’s hard to know how much time to allow if you haven’t written before but set yourself some manageable goals each week.

Keep reading! Each of the sections here will guide you to plan and start well.

Understanding the task

Before you begin writing it is essential to understand what you are being asked to do. Read the task carefully and pay attention to the task, content and limiting words.

  • Task words are often verbs such as analyse, identify, reflect, justify, apply. Your guiding question is - What do I have to do?
  • Content words tell you the topic which may be specific or general. If a general topic, you will need to choose an area to focus on (scope) and tell the reader your topic and make the reasons for your choice clear. Your guiding question is - What is it about?
  • Limiting words may indicate the expected form of writing (such as essay, report, reflection), word length, types of sources and referencing style. Your guiding question is - What are the limitations?

If you have access to it, you should also refer to the marking criteria which is what your marker will be looking at when they read and grade your writing. You can often get information about the weighting of different parts of the task, the types and numbers of sources, and differences between a failing, passing and high grade.

Planning your time

The time it takes to write an assessment changes depending on required length, how familiar you are with the topic, the amount of research needed and your personal writing style. What doesn’t change is that writing an assignment is less daunting when you break it down into manageable steps. Possible steps are each of these sections in QUT write. Start with the due date and work backwards to decide on an appropriate date to get each step finished. Remember you may need to revisit some steps if you realise you need more research as you write your draft. Set realistic goals (consider the step and your time) and practise sitting and concentrating for longer periods. Commit to achieving something each time you start. Give yourself breaks and rewards.


You might be tempted to start researching your topic as soon as possible but always start with what you already know. Before you research make a list, table or mind map of what you know and what you will need to find out. Your lecture and tutorial notes can help with ideas and information. If you like, you can colour code your notes into topics or themes. These ideas will help inform your research and structure. Your research provides evidence or justification for the ideas in your writing that create your response to the task. Use your existing knowledge to create a list of research topics that includes the ones you know about, the ones you need to learn more about and be prepared to add other topics that you find while researching. Start your research using libraries and trusted internet sources with your research topics as search terms. Don’t forget to filter your search. Have an idea of how many sources you will need and use your time wisely. Instead of looking for the perfect source you will probably need to join ideas from a range of sources to make your point. Each time you find a possible source ask yourself these two questions.

  1. Will it help me write my essay? To help you answer this question, you should skim read and check the relevance/quality. If your answer is yes, save it and make a note of the publication details so you can reference it later (free software can help with this).
  2. How will it help me answer my task? You will need to read the source (or relevant parts) fully and make notes about the ideas and how you will use them. Use your own words and colour coding as these will help when you are ready to write.

Planning your writing

You should now have notes and research which will help plan the structure of your writing. Follow these steps and you will be ready to write.

  • Review your notes and identify clear ideas/topics along with the research that supports them.
  • Arrange these in an order that is logical for the reader. The order is often influenced by the task (for example, reasons for and against), the type of writing (for example, a report) and/or the research (for example, your research identified four contributing factors).
  • Review the assessment task and check you are following the instructions (remember understanding the task step).
  • Make a plan with points for each paragraph topic, the supporting research and a suggested word limit.

Developing your writing voice/style

As well as learning about the topic you also have the opportunity to learn about yourself as a writer. Although you have a clear topic and audience, you can develop your own style and still follow academic writing conventions. Look back at some of the research, each writer has their own style and so do you. As you write notice when and where you write best, your writing speed, words and sentence types you overuse, common mistakes, when you get stuck and when you are happy with your writing. Build confidence in your style and do not try and write like someone else.

Academic integrity

At every stage of writing, you should keep academic integrity in mind. Academic integrity is something everyone who is part of the learning community follows and you should too. Academic integrity is based on honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility. For students, it means do your own work to the best of your ability and earn your grade. That means do not copy, do not share, do not ask or pay someone to do your work and never post your work in places it can be copied. It means you always acknowledge the work and ideas of others. In your writing you acknowledge the work of others by citing when you use paraphrases, quotes and/or summaries and referencing the sources. For more information go to the Academic Integrity section of QUT cite|write.