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Get Organised

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Academic Skills team

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Once you have found all the resources you wish to use as supporting evidence in your work the next thing is to get acquainted with those resources, make some notes and then make a plan so that you can write your assignment.

In order to do this efficiently and calmly the best thing is to work out the time you have available before the hand in date and then plan your time over the next few weeks so that you can work on your assignment and fit in your home commitments, job and social life. Make sure that you won’t be working on the essay in a panic the night before hand in date.

See our guide to time management 

Start reading

Once you have sorted out when and where you can do some study, you need to look at the resources you’ve collected and start reading them to make sense of the topic.

If your lecturer has given you a reading list that is great place to start but see Get searching for some more ideas. Use indexes and contents pages to find the crucial bits in the books you are using.

See our guide to academic reading 

You will probably want to take notes from reading. Reading can be a passive activity, most of us need to do something to help us remember information we have read. Try these approaches to keep your reading time lively.

  • Quickly read a section of the text – don’t make notes on every sentence or read the whole thing before starting to write notes.
  • Get an overview of the chapter, then go back and make notes about the relevant points. Use your own words. Using your own words shows you understand.
  • Notes should be brief and selective. Use capitals, abbreviations and underlining to make important words stand out.
  • Space your notes out so they can be seen at a glance. Use colours, pictures, diagrams, highlighting. Use arrows and lines to show relationships between ideas. Write key words and not complete sentence 

See our guide to note taking 

Planning your assignment

Once you’ve read all the resources you’ve identified to support your work you’ll need to make a plan. You need to think about the structure of your essay or assignment. See our guide on structuring your assignment 

Try allocating a number of words to each section in your plan so you don’t end up writing too much about one section and don’t have enough words left for another.

Think about


  • What information needs to be included?
  • What are my main arguments going to be?


  • Why is this topic interesting? Why does this topic deserve to be re-examined or looked at in such detail? The answer to these questions can help you in writing your introduction. 
  • From which angle am I going to examine the topic?  This should also be made explicit in your introduction.  You might give a brief overview of your topic and then explain the approach that you will take.

Answering these questions will help you plan your work. Try to stick to your plan if you can and make sure you don’t spend longer on creating your plan than writing your assignment- you can’t hand in a plan!

Start working from your plan

It may help to think about your topic in different ways. You could try these 3 approaches to get you started on writing.


Allocate ten minutes or so to just write down anything and everything that you know about the topic. Try not to stop to think just keep writing. The idea is to really focus your mind on the topic and your existing knowledge. It will also help in making you aware of gaps that need to be filled. Don't worry about spelling or grammar at this stage just get the ideas down. See the MIT guide to the technique guide to freewriting

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping uses a mapping process so you make connections with lines. You start with your central topic in the middle of a large blank sheet of paper and you make connections to other topics around the central concept or word. Find out more about the basics


Cubing encourages you to look at a topic in 6 different ways.

The Six Sides of the Cube are:

  1. Describe it - How would you describe the issue/topic? Describe key points
  2. Compare it - What is it similar to?
  3. Associate it - How does the topic connect to other issues/subjects? How does this decision/event connect to other decisions/events? How does this person/character relate to other people/characters?
  4. Analyse it - How would you break the problem/issue into smaller parts?
  5. Apply it - How does it help you understand other topics/issues?
  6. Argue for/against it - adopt a viewpoint
    • Positive things about this topic
    • Negative things about this topic