How to start writing

Activity time: 30 minutes

Types of media: Handout/s, Webpage, Helpsheet, Word Document


Unknown Author (Nottingham Trent University)


An overview of some techniques to get started with writing after conducting research for an assignment. Includes information about planning, freewriting, structuring and writing paragraphs.Includes a worksheet for students to download and keep for reference.


Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0

(This resource can be freely repurposed and reused)



Date Modified

Date Added

This information/resource was last updated in June 2021.

This post was originally added to LearnHigher on: January 9, 2012

About this resource


Once you have broken down the question and worked out what you are being asked to do, it is important to read widely around the subject so that you can construct your argument, or state your case. This information sheet will help you to start writing once the material has been found and the thinking been done.

Sample question

Critically discuss the advantages and disadvantages of relying solely on field notes in comparison with producing a transcription of an audio or video recording.

Write a plan

Having conducted your research it’s a good idea to jot down some ideas. Remember that these are just ideas at this stage and will probably change by the time you have finished your assignment. You could break this assignment title down first of all:

Advantages Disadvantages
Field notes


Transcription of audio recording


Video recording



Once you have done this, try freewriting on each topic for 5 minutes. This is a way of writing without stopping for a set amount of time and can demonstrate how much you already know. Again, remember that this is just the beginning of the process of writing; once you have added evidence from your reading and further developed your points, you will have a first draft that can be shaped and reshaped into a final piece of writing.


  • Advantages of field notes
  • Field notes record what’s happening in real-time
  • Advantage: can be used to record verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Field notes can be used to reflect on tension within a group – may not necessarily be recorded in audio or video-recording.
  • Field notes can also record observer’s immediate response to a situation. Can be used to note direction of further research based on what’s seen

Adding evidence

Spradley (1980), cited in Cohen et al. (2000) – advantage of using field notes can be the recording of information which may not be captured on audio or video recordings, for example – contextual information, such as location, participants, what is happening, and why, and how those being observed are responding to the situation.

Reference for later

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K., (2000) Research Methods in Education, London, RoutledgeFalmer 

Paragraphs made easy

The next step is to write this up into a piece of academic writing. Remember when writing a paragraph that there are a number of stages you need to go through. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is this paragraph about?
  • Where is my evidence?
  • How can I develop the point to strengthen my case?
  • How does this relate back to the question?

Top tips

  1. The purpose of setting assignments is to encourage you to find information. The more you read, the more you will be able to write; the more you write, the more you will want to read and the more you will learn. It is an on-going process.
  2. It is difficult to write an introduction to an essay you haven’t yet written; this should probably be left to the end. However, planning your introduction can help you to navigate your way through the essay question. Be prepared to alter and review this as your ideas develop.

Now you’ve read the guide, we suggest that you have a go at the Starting to write worksheet.


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