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Transkills: supporting transition to University


Supervisor's view

"You could put the ideas and examples in an essay in any order. Some orders will help an essay be greater than the sum of its parts, and some will achieve the opposite."

It is easy for a reader to tell when a piece of academic writing is well-structured, but harder to define exactly what structure is, or identify precisely where and in what form structure occurs. However, it could be said that structure manifests itself in two places:

  • in the writer's mind, when organising ideas and information into a logically ordered argument so that it can be rigourously tested and clearly expressed. This entails using planning strategies.
  • in the reader's mind, created by the text, so that the argument can be followed easily. This entails writing and editing strategies.

Generating creative, independent ideas is often a chaotic and unpredictable process, and there are many ways of facilitating this, such as brainstorming or writing a draft. However, in order to be well-structured, it is necessary to construct a 'tidied-up' version of the thought process for the benefit of both the writer and reader. As discussed in the resource How might I interpret an essay title? an academic assignment in English rarely asks you to recount everything you know about a topic. This approach would be basic description with no higher analytical or critical thinking. Structure is ultimately the means by which the information and ideas you present are made to relate to one another to build a logical and convincing argument. If these logical links are not thought through, or are not apparent to the reader, then an essay can become a descriptive account without a defined purpose. 

Structure can therefore refer to:

  • the process of planning the points you want to make and in what order to make them, from the 'macro' level of sections (including sections in a dissertation) to the 'micro' level of paragraphs and sentences.
  • the textual signals employed in the text to create the sense of flow between points.

This resource offers strategies to address both these meanings. The following pages will help you to locate the most relevant parts of the resource for you.