Sloppy Writing Habits

essay plan It seems like I’ve done more writing during this academic year than any other and I can’t help feeling I’ve developed some rather bad habits – right when I needed them least. Perhaps I’m just becoming paranoid or over-analysing things, but it just seems that my style of planning, writing and editing essays has become very inefficient.

Although, I’m doing a lot of research at the outset, I think the ‘planning’ stage for assignments has been lost – it’s somehow merged into the research and writing stages. On the LLb I used to force myself to take the time to write a coherent plan and would refer to it throughout the writing process. On the LLM, though, I’ve found myself doing this less and less. And when I do produce a plan, I seem much more inclined to veer off at tangents and not refer to the plan again. Not good.

I think modern technology is partly to blame. I’ve found myself relying heavily on writing key phrases as reminders or key elements of my paper straight into Word or Onenote (if I’ve used that in the research process). That used to be reserved for refining arguments part way through an essay. Now, though, I’m using this as my actual essay plan.

Because it’s so easy to manipulate and amend these ‘digital’ plans, I refer to them less than I would a plan roughed out on paper. Writing essays on the fly can be much more efficient than the old fashioned ways but, left unchecked, I think it can result in bad habits too. Perhaps I should make more use of mind mapping software, or simply force myself to get that pen and notepad before I touch the keyboard? On that subject, I think I should flag-up a recent great find - Mindmeister. This seems an excellent mind-mapping solution that keeps your plans in the cloud which you can even share with others. Best of all, it’s free.

The level of study affects things also. I think at this level of academia, the essay content can change dramatically during the writing process. It’s not feasible to aim to finish the research stage entirely before writing; there’s just too much material and too many nuances to that material for that to be possible. The whole cohort has been continually assured that this is ‘normal’ for LLM students as the material being dealt with is extremely complex and multi-faceted.  And because of this, it’s natural for opinions to evolve during the process and to form a rigid thesis at the outset will necessarily exclude the inclusion of key refinements in the paper.

Comforting as this might be, it doesn’t help me much right now. I think a much more disciplined approach might be in order.


  1. My preferred mind mapping software is Freemind. I have all my CPE notes as a mind map with both statute and case tables for each of the topics.

    I also keep it updated as best I can through noting-up cases from Bailii and similar.

    Lastly, it's free!!!

  2. Yeah, I gave Freemind a go a couple of years ago ... and didn't like it that much. I might re-visit it, though, as I'm sure they've made some progress with it in that time.

    Smartdraw is meant to be a better option, though, but isn't free and great though mind-mapping software is, I don't consider myself a heavy enough user to warrant paying for a licence.

    BTW, I've added you to my blawg list. :-)

  3. Go on, write up a brief plan, I know you can do it! :P

  4. Thanks, Andro. That might be just the motivation I was looking for. :P

  5. Hehe.... Yeah, good one! ;-)

  6. I was beginning to wonder who that mysterious commenter was on Looney's blog :P

  7. Oh gawd. I've done it there too? What a dick I am!

  8. Essay Plan...what's an essay plan. Never used one in my life. I'm more of a sit down at the computer 12 hours before the thing is due, pull an all-nighter, hand it in as soon as the building opens and go to bed type guy.

  9. I'm reminded of the stuff they made us do in France - it went completely beyond me, as I found it far too constrictive, but they had set plans for essays whereby the first paragraph would be about X (basically introduction/history), and then you'd have the rest of the essay divided into main theme one, and main them two, with each divided into two sub themes. You lost marks if you had odd numbers of paragraphs, or if things were in the wrong places. (The french approach to essays is like their approach to gardening).

    I'm describing it badly because I never really got it 'la problématique, les deux points, et l'exposé en principe'.

    I know you're not on FB but:

  10. Well, your dirty little secret is out, Michael. By the way, I'm looking to buy new earings - any suggestions??? :P

  11. That's very interesting, Mel. I certainly wasn't aware of the strict 'French approach'. I wouldn't fancy having to try and write essays following that structure.

    You're a card, Andro. It wasn't much of a secret. Giftselector was an aborted project I started for the online gift store I've done work for to improve their rankings. It was done anonymously but obviously would link to them and then, over time, would add links to specific items. The few posts that were there were just bits I'd snagged from the net on gifts and jewellery in general. Like I said, it was aborted... I ended up using it for developing blog themes which is why the links had gone and it looked such a state.

    So now you know. :-p

  12. I've never been able to sit down and write a proper essay plan, so I am VERY afraid of people who can, and do, do this. The closest I ever get is a page or two of stream of consciousness- random thoughts, useful quotes, a record of articles to read that may lead somewhere interesting; the essay either grows, or doesn't from that. If it doesn't, I start again until something clicks. A chaotic strategy, at best, but then I'm afraid I'm a bit of a chaotic person.......!

  13. @Michael BTW, I've added you to my blawg list. :-)

    Thanks. Will try and post more often.

  14. Sometimes chaotic strategies work well, Minxy and if you weren't your usual chaotic self, I don't know where the blawgosphere would be!!

    As it seems to serve you pretty damn well, I don't think you need to worry about changing your approach! :-)


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