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Mature students: Writing activities

This section draws on wide experience of writing difficulties encountered by mature students.

Check out the following links for tips and quizzes to get yourself off to a good start. For more advice, see the Writing skills section.

Survival skills for essay writing

Good practice will help you get things right from the word Go.

  1. Pay detailed attention to the question: underline key words and phrases, then address each systematically. As you work, keep checking that you are still on track.
  2. Treat your essay as a work in progress: don't expect blinding flashes of insight. Work on one job at a time - researching, making notes, planning, drafting a specific section, and so on. Build it up gradually.
  3. Foreground your argument: decide what your 'take' on the question is, and at the beginning of each paragraph use a phrase like 'In addition', 'Despite this, 'As a result', and so on. This will show how what you're going to say next relates to what you've just said.
  4. Base your argument on facts and the work of specialists: your personal view won't score marks without hard evidence.

Well-constructed paragraphs

A paragraph is a box containing the items necessary to explain one idea. Clear paragraphs are essential in order to:
  • help demonstrate your points
  • make your essay easy to read

Planning an essay:

  • a paragraph for your introduction
  • at least one paragraph for each topic covered
  • a paragraph for your conclusion

Planning a paragraph:

  • a key statement
  • explanation, evidence and/or analysis
  • a link to the previous paragraph
  • relevance to the essay question

Problem paragraphs:

  • too short (4 to 5 lines or less): add more evidence and analysis OR include this section within another paragraph OR cut it out altogether
  • too long (nearly a page): find a point at which to split it, add a link, and so make your essay easier to read.

For more advice, see Putting pen to paper.


What do you know about verbs?

1) Which of these statements are true?

a) Verbs are about doing, being or having.
b) All sentences must have a verb in them.
c) An infinitive is acceptable as the sole verb in a sentence.

Solution

2) Would you know what to do about the following comments on an essay?

a) Keep to the same tense. 
b) This sentence has no main verb.
c) You make too much use of the passive.

For more advice, see Chapter 13 in The Mature Student's Guide to Writing by Jean Rose

3) What's wrong with the following?

a) Ken had been at the football ground all afternoon. Watching the match.
b) Brad ran down the road with the cheque. Laughing all the way to the bank.

Solution

Help! They want me to write about my life!

If you've been asked to do some autobiographical writing, it's not because anybody wants to pry. You can leave out any nasty bits if you want to.

Your tutors are likely to be especially interested in your educational experiences. So if you always got bad grades, or upset the Head, you can still write fully about the school itself without giving the whole game away.

The value of autobiographical work is in getting you to:

  • develop your language skills
  • improve your ability to structure a piece of work
  • develop the use of your imaginative faculties through visualising and describing the past
  • practise being objective
  • evaluate personal experience against a wider background
  • look at your own experience of history in the making

Perfect punctuation

1) Which sentence is correct - A or B?

a) Mrs Thatcher led Britain's Conservative Party, she was in power during the Falklands War. 
b) Mrs Thatcher led Britain's Conservative Party. She was in power during the Falklands War.

Solution

2) Which sentence is correct - A or B?

a) The dog licked its paw. It's clean now. 
b) The dog licked it's paw. Its clean now.

Solution

3) Which sentence is correct - A or B?

a) 'Here is the news,' said the announcer. 
b) 'Here is the news.' Said the announcer.

Solution

4) Which sentence is correct - A or B?

a) We could see the elephant's trunk's waving over the wall.
b) We could see the elephants' trunks waving over the wall.

Solution

5) Which sentence is correct - A or B?

a) Environmental issues are in the forefront of public interest; large corporations find it pays to consider public concern. 
b) Many more companies are starting to conserve the environment; for example, producing biodegradable items and using cleaner fuel.

Solution

For more advice, see Chapter 15 in The Mature Student's Guide to Writing by Jean Rose.

Summaries and style

You've been asked to summarise an article, giving the main points. If you're pushed for time, you'll probably make a quick list and write out your points with a bit of explanation. This may well keep you out of trouble. If you've time to do things properly, however, follow the guide below.

There are 5 steps:

  1. Read the article through once quickly.
  2. Read once, slowly, making notes on key issues in your own words as far as possible (omitting any examples).
  3. Write a draft summary from your notes without looking back at the article.
  4. Check your word-count and facts, and cut or expand accordingly.
  5. Copy out your final draft.

Chapters 4 and 5 in The Mature Student's Guide to Writing explain this in detail, together with information on tone, simplicity and clarity, and on adjusting your language for different types of writing that are suitable for different purposes.

Writing a report

1) The abstract of a report is:

a) an appendix to the report 
b) a summary of what the report contains 
c) a section copied from a report

Solution

2) The terms of reference are:

a) an explanation of why and how the report was written 
b) a list of documents consulted during preparation of the report 
c) a list of people interviewed, plus their signed agreement to use their information

Solution

3) The conclusions of a report set out:

a) a summing-up and analysis
b) recommendations for future change 
c) the writer's considered opinion on the topics covered

Solution

4) Which sentence uses the correct language for a report?

a) Several employees said, 'We're not given the right tools.'
b) Several employees said that they had not been given the right tools.

Solution

For more advice, see chapter 8 in The Mature Student's Guide to Writing by Jean Rose.

Letters

Test your letter-writing technique in the following quiz. This page follows the conventions used by UK examination boards.

Are the following statements true or false?

1. Always print your name above your address.

Solution

2. Put your address in the top right-hand corner.

Solution

3. If you don't know the name of the person you are addressing, write 'Dear Sir'.

Solution

4. Put the date in the top left-hand corner.

Solution

5. Always use capitals for the words 'Yours Faithfully'.

Solution

6. A letter beginning 'Dear Ms Smith', should end with the words 'Yours faithfully'.

Solution

For more advice, see Chapter 6 of The Mature Student's Guide to Writing by Jean Rose.

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