Undergraduate and A level

International Students and Extra Time in Exams

We are often asked by international students if they can receive access arrangements in university examinations. The short answer is yes, reasonable adjustments must be applied by law (2010 Equality Act) to everyone in the UK. The best way to establish if you are entitled to Access arrangements under the Act is to opt for an assessment with a suitably qualified professional. If you are studying in a university this will be an educational psychologist or a similarly well qualified person. The assessment we offer is known as the DSA Assessment, the reason being that there is a substantial grant given to UK residents who have educational needs as identified by a suitably qualified professional, known as the DSA. Access arrangements can take many forms but would usually include:

  • Extra time in examinations, usually 25%

  • The use of a PC in examinations

  • Assistance with reading examination questions

  • Extensions to coursework deadlines

The DSA assessment is a highly regulated assessment and is the standard assessment report required by universities across the UK, regardless of the status of the students, UK nationals or international students, regardless if the student applies for DSA or not. The simple way to think of it is that the DSA is the assessment you need if you are a university student in the UK, regardless of your funding status.

To see details of the DSA assessment follow this link:

http://www.educational-psychologist.co.uk/dsa-assesment/

Handwriting is very painful in university examinations.

We are often asked by university students if they can use a PC in examinations. This is an example of they type of email enquiry we receive:

Dear Educational Psychologist,
I am a student currently in university, and am finding writing increasingly difficult. My writing grip has always been very tight, and I write with a lot of force. I’m finding it increasingly painful to write, as my grip is so tight my hand gets sore quite quickly and this causes my handwriting speed to become very slow. I would like to use a PC in my university examinations, can you help me?

Reply

Dear Student,
I am very happy to make this assessment and you are correct providing you have evidence from a suitably qualified professional then you are entitled to reasonable adjustments in examinations, in this case it is likely that the use of a PC would solve the problem, but an array of adjustments are possible.  

Our DSA assessment would be the most suitable for you:

http://www.educational-psychologist.co.uk/dsa-assesment/


 

Taking Notes In Lectures

Possibly the simplest clue to dyslexia in a student is their answer to the question 'Can you take notes in a lecture?'. The answer is usually some variation on 'no'. Sometimes it is ‘Oh my word, not a chance’. Sometimes it is 'Yes, but I can't read them afterwards'. It all amounts to the same thing. What it means is that they don't leave a lecture much wiser than when they entered it.

Dyslexics are weak at processing language. This is not limited to the written word. They also have a weakness in absorbing and storing information in lectures. They are not so good at 'extracting value' from lecturers 'talking at them'.

Sometimes this is partly the fault of the teacher. Academics often believe that subject knowledge is the only criteria that determines their competence. Teaching skill is sometimes not considered a requirement. Some students have to endure lectures that are three hours long. No-one learns well in that situation and dyslexic students find it particularly difficult.

The issue is how much information or 'value' does the student get from the lecture? And what can they do to get more?

The first suggestion is sometimes a little intimidating for the eager-to-learn-and-remember dyslexic. Try not writing at all. 'But then I won't remember any of it!', they say. 'How much of it do you remember at the moment? is the next question. 'Very little', comes the reply.

The attempt to make notes, however futile, is often a long-practised and deep-seated habit. It's like clinging onto a flimsy piece of driftwood in a raging sea. It won't save you, but it's hard to let go. But once the student has relaxed and accepted that retaining everything is not possible – or reasonable to expect – and that relaxing, enjoying the lecture and allowing the brain to catch what it catches and miss what it misses, often more is retained than before. And more understood.

Long lectures are not good for imparting lots of detailed information. What they should be used for is giving an overview, or explaining important points, or providing direction. If the student sets out to achieve some of these objectives – rather than trying to retain great clumps of detail – they will begin to get better value from the experience.

Some students are able to audio-record their lectures. They usually find, though, that they don't have time to listen to them all the way through. Imagine having to attend all your lectures twice and you'll understand why. A strategy for dealing with this is to be alert to which sections of the lecture are particularly significant – an important theorist or significant event – and mark this on the recording, perhaps by re-starting it at that point and making it easy to find. Then these sections can be reviewed later.

Another successful technique is to spend a little time after a lecture to quietly make notes on what is immediately retained. This can be done alone or with one or two fellow students. The key is relaxation. The brain works better when it isn't trying too hard. Just sit, pen in hand, and let the lecture wash through the brain. Note what comes to mind. Don't try to actively remember, just note what the moment presents. Often most of the salient points will be 'captured'.

Reading in advance of the lecture can also be a big help. If the course is well organised, the subject of the lecture will be available in a course overview or on a VLE. Try finding the relevant chapter in a course reader or text-book and scan-read it (see Reading Tips). Read the first and last paragraph in the relevant section and anything else that grabs your attention. That's usually enough to prepare you better for the lecture and helps you follow it.

Also, you can prepare a template for the lecture. Take a single page of A4 and put headings on it from the reading. Just four or five bullet points on the main issues you'll encounter. You might then like to add to that during the lecture. Don’t try to add much, just a further four or five phrases – a date, a theorist's name, a movement or the name of a theory.

Finally, if you don't already receive them, you can ask the lecturer for notes to the lecture. Of course, if you already do, you're probably not reading this piece. Many lecturers feel, wrongly, that writing in the lecture leads to better absorption of the material for all. That's to misunderstand what it means to be a right-brained learner (of course, not having the burden of providing notes makes the lecturer's life easier). Making learning easy for everyone should be the objective and some people learn much more easily when they have notes in advance of lectures.

You can always ask..

Written by Simon Hopper

Reading Tips

Reading (or 'engaging with text')

For many dyslexic students, the reading load they are given is a burden. There are very good ways to make this easier to handle. To a degree, it means making a change to your 'philosophy of reading'. However, if you would like to save time and stress with your reading-list-load, note the tips below.

Firstly, you don't have to read, cover to cover, everything your tutors tell you to. They might say otherwise, but you don’t. You may well need a familiarity with – an overview of – many texts, but you can obtain this without the grief of painfully reading every word of every sentence of every paragraph. A change to your approach can turn a painful and not very rewarding half-day into a satisfying twenty minutes. It really can make that much difference, but you have to adjust your approach and expectations.

Of course, if you want to read the whole thing, have the time and enjoy doing it, that's your choice. Good for you. This piece is written on the assumption that you don't want to or don't have the time or don't enjoy it.

Not all people learn in the same way. Some prefer to start with detail and move from that to the bigger picture. Some are better at beginning with the overview and proceeding in the other direction – to the detail. Reading is a 'detail to overview' process, but dyslexics tend to be better at 'overview to detail'. In fact, dyslexics often have a talent for understanding a subject – having a 'feel for' it – just by gaining a overview of it and, through a sort of intuitive process, 'getting it'.

Note that this is never enough if you have to write an essay on a subject. Although the ideas here are useful to begin to study an essay topic, detailed reading will always be needed (see Essay Writing). But this approach will be enough for preparing for a seminar, tutorial or lecture, or for just gaining a background understanding of a subject. And it can save huge amounts of time and energy.

So, how does a dyslexic obtain an overview of a text without reading 'every word of every sentence'? It's useful to bear in mind that information doesn't exist in the world in the way it's usually presented in academic writing. Out there 'all the things that there are to know' aren't ordered, analysed, put into chapters and expressed in formal sentences. Rather, they exist in a mish-mash of messily interconnected bits and pieces which someone then 'makes sense of' and writes in a book – according to their personal analysis and interpretation. The reader, therefore, should feel free to engage with the text in ways other than the 'start with word one, proceed to word two and so on' approach.

Before any engagement with the text, however, you should first make a mental – or written – note of what you expect/hope to learn from your session. Part of what it takes is to prepare yourself for absorbing the information. And always make notes as you engage with the text. Always write down the ideas you encounter that seem interesting or important – along with the book and page number. You don't want to have to back-track.

Then you should start at the front and the back of the text and work your way in. This is the 'Bookends' approach.

Skim over the contents and index of the book. Do you see anything interesting or relevant? Be confident of your ability to intuitively know this. You will have some familiarity with the topic, however superficial. Let this guide you. If nothing grabs your attention, perhaps you don't need to bother with this text.

If something does, go to that chapter/section. Read the first and last paragraph (or the introduction and the conclusion). Often, you won't need to do more than this to 'get' the subject. You probably don't have to know everything about it (see comment on essays, above). If you want to know more, read the first sentence of each paragraph. Or the first and last. For fun, and to see how this technique can work (and how information outside of academic texts is random and how you can engage with texts by reading them randomly) try reading the first sentence of each paragraph starting with the last paragraph and working towards the first. It really does work and can help free you from the 'tyranny of the text' – the feeling that you have to read in a conventional way.

For this approach to work, you must have faith in your ability to understand intuitively, through extrapolation (by latching on to significant aspects of a subject and more or less 'getting' the rest of it), and you must practise it. And it's OK to engage with a subject whilst knowing that you don't know everything – you don't always have to. Living with an amount of unknowns about a topic is part of this whole approach. And it's fine to do be in that position.

If texts are written well, they will usually introduce the subject of a book in the first chapter and give and overview of it in the last one. Likewise with chapters and their opening and closing paragraphs. Ditto (to a lesser but still useful extent) with paragraphs and their first and last sentences. You can use this to your advantage to help you save time and energy with your reading.

Good luck.

Essay Key Words

Key Words in Essay Titles

Account for: Explain why something happens; give reasons for it.

Analyse: Break down into its important parts and comment on. Examine in close detail; identify important points and chief features.

Comment on: Identify and write about the main issues, giving your reactions based on what you have read or heard in lectures. Avoid purely personal opinion.

Compare: Show how two or more things are similar. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these similarities.

Contrast: Show how two or more things are different. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these differences.

Critically Evaluate: Weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.

Define: Give the exact meaning of. Where relevant, show that you understand why the definition may be significant.

Discuss: Describe the most important aspects of the topic (probably including criticism); give arguments for and against; consider the implications of.

Distinguish: Bring out the differences between two (possibly confusable) items.

Evaluate: Assess the worth, importance or usefulness of something, using evidence. There will probably be cases to be made both for and against.

Examine: Put the subject ‘under the microscope’, looking at it in detail. You may be asked to ‘critically evaluate’ as well. See 'Analyse'.

Explain: Make clear why something happens, or why something is the way it is.

Illustrate: Make something clear and explicit, giving examples or evidence.

Interpret: Give the meaning and relevance of data or other material presented.

Justify: Give evidence which supports an argument or idea; show why a conclusion or decisions were made, considering objections that others might make.

Narrate: Concentrate on saying what happened, telling it as a story.

Outline: Give only the main points, showing the main structure.

Relate: Show similarities and connections between two or more things.

State: Give the main features, in very clear English (almost like a simple list, but in sentences). 

Summarise: Draw out the main points only, omitting details or examples.

To what extent: Consider how far something is true, or contributes to a final outcome. Consider also ways in which the proposition is not true.

Trace: Follow the order of different stages in an event or process.

To contact the author Simon Hopper click here.

FIND AN EDUCATIONAL  PSYCHOLOGIST

Essay Planning and Briefs

Interpreting an essay brief and essay planning

Of all academic skills, the most valuable for a student is that of accurately interpreting course briefs. It's easy for a dyslexic to get this wrong and many have had the experience of receiving back a marked essay with a tutor's comment saying something like; 'Not quite what was asked for'. Students usually think that the weakness here is one of writing. It probably isn’t. It's normally one of interpretation and planning. Put differently, it's the work you do before you start writing that makes the difference between a good essay and a not so good one.

Remember that the title/brief is a menu of items that will earn you marks – if you follow it correctly. Here's an approach that will help. It may not be as easy as it seems at first but the technique is well worth mastering.

Work on the title: Take the essay title or brief, extract from it the key words or phrases (use a highlighter). Make sure that you have chosen a) all the key elements and b) the absolute minimum number of words possible. There should be a tension between these two requirements. It should make you think very hard about whether you need this or that word or phrase. If the process doesn't cause you some hard thinking, you may not be doing it right.

The exercise will be very different from one essay brief to another. It depends on how they are written. And we are assuming that the tutor has composed a title/brief that is an accurate reflection of what they require. It isn't always so. Also, you should take into account any additional requirements that the tutor has added verbally. S/he may say 'You should concentrate on X in the essay' or 'Don't spend too much time on the background issues'.

Creating a plan: Next, list these words/phrases. Your list should contain only words from the brief. Don't worry if you aren't completely sure of all of the elements at this stage. Spend some time arranging and rearranging the list until you have what looks like a plan for your essay. There isn't only one way to do this and you may have to spend time to find a result that 'works'. Some aspects of the brief may be repeated in different sections as necessary.

Add 'Introduction' to the start of the list and 'Conclusion' to the end. The introduction should have three sub-sections: overview of essay (in which the essay is 'described'); explanations and parameters (in which any aspects of the essay not clear from the title are explained, such as the student's decisions regarding content); preview of conclusion (which may start 'What this essay will show is...'). The conclusion has two main sections: overview of main arguments; concluding position including what is significant about it.

Now you should have a plan with, say, five or six sections. Depending on the detail in the brief, you may now need to add into the plan missing elements that you're aware of from your reading or lectures, etc.

Word-count: Allocate the word-count. The introduction and conclusion should each have roughly 10% of the words. Divide the balance according to your idea of where the emphasis should be. You will now have a series of separate sections of specific lengths that can be written more or less independently. All this should be done before any research – and definitely before any writing takes place.

Consider what your conclusion will say. You should certainly know this before you start to write. Think about the main significance of the subject – you'll also need to point this out.

Most students find that when they have done all of the above the task seems both clearer and more manageable.

What do I not know or understand? Now ask this question. Some students shy away from it, preferring to focus on what they do know, but it's always better to address this early in the process. The answers to the question are the areas that need to be researched first. Go to the course reading, your lecture notes. Speak to fellow students, your course tutor. You can't write your best essay unless you do this.

Bear in mind that what you will now have is a plan for your research as well as for your writing.

The 'verb': Also, learn to be clear what exactly the 'action' is that the essay requires. Most essay titles/briefs contain a main word/action/verb. It could be 'analyse', 'outline', 'describe', 'compare', 'contrast' or one of several others. (See Key Words in Essay Titles) They do not mean the same thing. Many students treat them as though they do. Or, often, they interpret all these words to mean 'write about' with little precision as to what this might mean.

Habits: When you practise all this for the first time what you are doing is creating a new habit. It's never easy to do this and your old ones will try to reassert themselves. Don't worry, it's normal. Just persevere and eventually you'll have a new habit – and better essays that actually answer the question that was set.

 

 

Key Words in Essay Titles

Account for: Explain why something happens; give reasons for it.

Analyse: Break down into its important parts and comment on. Examine in close detail; identify important points and chief features.

Comment on: Identify and write about the main issues, giving your reactions based on what you have read or heard in lectures. Avoid purely personal opinion.

Compare: Show how two or more things are similar. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these similarities.

Contrast: Show how two or more things are different. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these differences.

Critically Evaluate: Weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.

Define: Give the exact meaning of. Where relevant, show that you understand why the definition may be significant.

Discuss: Describe the most important aspects of the topic (probably including criticism); give arguments for and against; consider the implications of.

Distinguish: Bring out the differences between two (possibly confusable) items.

Evaluate: Assess the worth, importance or usefulness of something, using evidence. There will probably be cases to be made both for and against.

Examine: Put the subject ‘under the microscope’, looking at it in detail. You may be asked to ‘critically evaluate’ as well. See 'Analyse'.

Explain: Make clear why something happens, or why something is the way it is.

Illustrate: Make something clear and explicit, giving examples or evidence.

Interpret: Give the meaning and relevance of data or other material presented.

Justify: Give evidence which supports an argument or idea; show why a conclusion or decisions were made, considering objections that others might make.

Narrate: Concentrate on saying what happened, telling it as a story.

Outline: Give only the main points, showing the main structure.

Relate: Show similarities and connections between two or more things.

State: Give the main features, in very clear English (almost like a simple list, but in sentences). 

Summarise: Draw out the main points only, omitting details or examples.

To what extent: Consider how far something is true, or contributes to a final outcome. Consider also ways in which the proposition is not true.

Trace: Follow the order of different stages in an event or process.

 

Written by Simon Hopper

FIND AN EDUCATIONAL  PSYCHOLOGIST

Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)

This is a sum of money  that is given to aid students who have recognised disabilities sufficient for them to need extra tuition or equipment in order to help level the playing field with students who are able to learn without additional impediments.  It is available via medical advice to all sorts of physical disabilities but crucially it is available for students diagnosed as having specific learning difficulties (SpLD's)/Dyslexia by a Chartered Educational Psychologist.

Universities vary in the way that they provide assessment.  Some will make a preliminary assessment of the student and then refer them to the in house consultant EP.  Others will give the student a preliminary assessment and then provide the student with a letter authorising EP assessment up to a certain fee level.  The student then has to select an EP from the list and then make their own arrangements.  Increasingly universities expect their students to pay part of the fee or the whole fee themselves, this may seem expensive but the EP report can unlock substantial levels of support and vital access arrangements, so an EP assessment and report is a wise investment.

The DSA is available to students on Nursing courses provided they fall within higher education.  It is available to open university students.  In addition to the full range of higher education courses run by institutions in the UK.

If you would like to arrange for an assessment under DSA regulations then please contact The Dyslexia Centre 0207 018 0210

The fee for a DSA assessment is £300 with our in house educational psychologist.

 

How much can you get?

The amount you get depends on your specific needs, not your household income. The figures in the table are the maximum amounts available. Any money for equipment and support is paid directly to the supplier. If you claim back money for any additional expenses, this is paid directly into your account.

 Type of student Specialist equipment Non-medical helper General

 Full-time up to £5,161 for whole course up to £20,520 a year up to £1,724 a year

 Part-time up to £5,161 for whole course up to £15,390 a year up to £1,293 a year

 Post-graduate postgraduates are paid a single allowance, including travel costs – up to £10,260 a year

The amount part-time students get is affected by their ‘course intensity’ – the length of the course each year compared to a full-time course.

You can also claim additional travel costs you pay because of your disability.

Who can get DSA

You can apply for DSA if:

  • your condition affects your ability to study
  • you qualify for student finance – see ‘Who qualifies for student finance’
  • you’re an undergraduate or postgraduate (including Open University or distance learning students) 
  • your course lasts at least one year

Part-time courses must take:

  • no more than twice as long to complete as the full-time equivalent (for students starting before 1 September 2012)
  • no more than four times as long to complete as the full-time equivalent (for students starting courses from 1 September 2012

FIND AN EDUCATIONAL  PSYCHOLOGIST

Planning skills for university students

Interpreting an essay brief and essay planning

Of all academic skills, the most valuable for a student is that of accurately interpreting course briefs. It's easy for a dyslexic to get this wrong and many have had the experience of receiving back a marked essay with a tutor's comment saying something like; 'Not quite what was asked for'. Students usually think that the weakness here is one of writing. It probably isn’t. It's normally one of interpretation and planning. Put differently, it's the work you do before you start writing that makes the difference between a good essay and a not so good one.

Remember that the title/brief is a menu of items that will earn you marks – if you follow it correctly. Here's an approach that will help. It may not be as easy as it seems at first but the technique is well worth mastering.

Work on the title: Take the essay title or brief, extract from it the key words or phrases (use a highlighter). Make sure that you have chosen a) all the key elements and b) the absolute minimum number of words possible. There should be a tension between these two requirements. It should make you think very hard about whether you need this or that word or phrase. If the process doesn't cause you some hard thinking, you may not be doing it right.

The exercise will be very different from one essay brief to another. It depends on how they are written. And we are assuming that the tutor has composed a title/brief that is an accurate reflection of what they require. It isn't always so. Also, you should take into account any additional requirements that the tutor has added verbally. S/he may say 'You should concentrate on X in the essay' or 'Don't spend too much time on the background issues'.

Creating a plan: Next, list these words/phrases. Your list should contain only words from the brief. Don't worry if you aren't completely sure of all of the elements at this stage. Spend some time arranging and rearranging the list until you have what looks like a plan for your essay. There isn't only one way to do this and you may have to spend time to find a result that 'works'. Some aspects of the brief may be repeated in different sections as necessary.


Add 'Introduction' to the start of the list and 'Conclusion' to the end. The introduction should have three sub-sections: overview of essay (in which the essay is 'described'); explanations and parameters (in which any aspects of the essay not clear from the title are explained, such as the student's decisions regarding content); preview of conclusion (which may start 'What this essay will show is...'). The conclusion has two main sections: overview of main arguments; concluding position including what is significant about it.

Now you should have a plan with, say, five or six sections. Depending on the detail in the brief, you may now need to add into the plan missing elements that you're aware of from your reading or lectures, etc.

Word-count: Allocate the word-count. The introduction and conclusion should each have roughly 10% of the words. Divide the balance according to your idea of where the emphasis should be. You will now have a series of separate sections of specific lengths that can be written more or less independently. All this should be done before any research – and definitely before any writing takes place.

Consider what your conclusion will say. You should certainly know this before you start to write. Think about the main significance of the subject – you'll also need to point this out.

Most students find that when they have done all of the above the task seems both clearer and more manageable.

What do I not know or understand? Now ask this question. Some students shy away from it, preferring to focus on what they do know, but it's always better to address this early in the process. The answers to the question are the areas that need to be researched first. Go to the course reading, your lecture notes. Speak to fellow students, your course tutor. You can't write your best essay unless you do this.

Bear in mind that what you will now have is a plan for your research as well as for your writing.

The 'verb': Also, learn to be clear what exactly the 'action' is that the essay requires. Most essay titles/briefs contain a main word/action/verb. It could be 'analyse', 'outline', 'describe', 'compare', 'contrast' or one of several others. (See Key Words in Essay Titles) They do not mean the same thing. Many students treat them as though they do. Or, often, they interpret all these words to mean 'write about' with little precision as to what this might mean.

Habits: When you practise all this for the first time what you are doing is creating a new habit. It's never easy to do this and your old ones will try to reassert themselves. Don't worry, it's normal. Just persevere and eventually you'll have a new habit – and better essays that actually answer the question that was set.

 

 

Key Words in Essay Titles

Account for: Explain why something happens; give reasons for it.

Analyse: Break down into its important parts and comment on. Examine in close detail; identify important points and chief features.

Comment on: Identify and write about the main issues, giving your reactions based on what you have read or heard in lectures. Avoid purely personal opinion.

Compare: Show how two or more things are similar. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these similarities.

Contrast: Show how two or more things are different. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these differences.

Critically Evaluate: Weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.

Define: Give the exact meaning of. Where relevant, show that you understand why the definition may be significant.

Discuss: Describe the most important aspects of the topic (probably including criticism); give arguments for and against; consider the implications of.

Distinguish: Bring out the differences between two (possibly confusable) items.

Evaluate: Assess the worth, importance or usefulness of something, using evidence. There will probably be cases to be made both for and against.

Examine: Put the subject ‘under the microscope’, looking at it in detail. You may be asked to ‘critically evaluate’ as well. See 'Analyse'.

Explain: Make clear why something happens, or why something is the way it is.

Illustrate: Make something clear and explicit, giving examples or evidence.

Interpret: Give the meaning and relevance of data or other material presented.

Justify: Give evidence which supports an argument or idea; show why a conclusion or decisions were made, considering objections that others might make.

Narrate: Concentrate on saying what happened, telling it as a story.

Outline: Give only the main points, showing the main structure.

Relate: Show similarities and connections between two or more things.

State: Give the main features, in very clear English (almost like a simple list, but in sentences). 

Summarise: Draw out the main points only, omitting details or examples.

To what extent: Consider how far something is true, or contributes to a final outcome. Consider also ways in which the proposition is not true.

Trace: Follow the order of different stages in an event or process.

 

Written by Simon Hopper

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Writing Dissertations

Writing Dissertations

Firstly, you must know the conclusion of your piece before you begin to write.

If, when setting out on a dissertation, you are offered the advice; 'Just write it, it'll become clear as you progress', ignore it. Many students have written half of a dissertation like this only to find that they can't finish it coherently.

Each paragraph should move towards the conclusion. This can be achieved only if the conclusion is known in advance. Otherwise, you will be 'writing in order to discover what you are going to write'. Don't do it. It might work for poetry, stream-of-consciousness prose or other creative writing, but it won't work well for an academic piece. Some people can get away with it, but they rarely write their best work this way. Dyslexics never do.

A dyslexic is not so good at holding a view of the big picture while dealing with the detail. (Or, keeping an eye on the overview of an essay while constructing sentences.) You therefor need to have the plan to refer to as you write. That requires research and thinking and mulling over and leaving to ferment. But sooner than most expect, the broad point of the piece should become clear. This should then guide the completion of the research and the shaping of the dissertation.


If your course insists on a draft early in the process – and provided it does not carry part of the course marks – explain the above, show that you are progressing in the manner of this article and stick to your guns. The tutor is only concerned that you finish on time, if they can see that you will, they will not usually be worried.

Next, you'll need a good idea of the following: a title; an introduction; a conclusion. They must reflect each other, they must ‘work together’. Once you have decided on them don't be tempted to change them. You may feel you want to add a little extra section or change the line of attack because it's interesting to do so. Don't.

Resign yourself to the fact that the process of producing your piece will become boring before it's finished. The early stages of your voyage of discovery are often exciting, but the excitement usually wanes before the end. Prepare yourself for that and don't fall into the trap of spicing up the proceedings with an extra element or diversion. It'll still need a final writing-up at some point anyway and you'll run the risk of running out of time.

Also, draw up a shopping list containing: subject matter; question; theorists; examples; 'why I’m asking this question'; 'what my answer is'; 'why this matters'. Just as when preparing a big meal, you must have your ingredients to hand before you start to cook. Particularly, you need to know 'why this matters'. What is the reason you are writing? Why should anyone read your piece? It doesn't have to provide the end to world poverty or a cure for all known diseases, but there should be some significant purpose for your investigation, however modest.

Divide the piece into its different parts and allocate a word-count. A dissertation is not one seven-thousand-word piece. It's six or seven separate much shorter pieces. Once you have got your head around that, it'll be easier to write.

It could look like this;

Intro, 700 words
Chapter 1 (say, historic background to subject) 500  
Chapter 2 (discussion of element #1) 1250
Chapter 3 (discussion of element #2) 1250
Chapter 4 (arguments for) 1300
Chapter 5 (arguments against) 1300
Conclusion, 700

The intro and conclusion should be roughly 10% of the total. The intro should have: an overview of the whole dissertation; an explanation of all the main elements; a preview of the conclusion. The conclusion should have: a recap of all the main points; your concluding comments – your final position; 'why this matters'.

Finally, write using the shortest words, the simplest language you can. Write short sentences (an average of 15 words per sentence). Think in terms of one idea per sentence if it helps in this. Use single syllable words whenever you can. Only use longer words where no other will do. (Technical words belonging to the subject area are a good example.) Be confident in what you have to say – don't try to make it more impressive by how you say it. Doing so nearly always makes writing more difficult to grasp. (This is why some academics – who seem to need to prove how clever they are by how they write – often write in ways that are difficult to understand.) And avoid thesauruses. They don't offer words that mean the same as the word in question, but merely words that are similar in meaning. Their use often results in confusion.

Written by Simon Hopper

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