Getting Started With a Piece of Writing

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Research and innovation
Leeds University Business School

Stuart Delves and Jamie Jauncey are writing tutors on the Dark Angels programme - a series of residential writing courses and day workshops which look at how to use words more engagingly and imaginatively within the business environment. They recently delivered a one-day event at the University of Leeds on “Writing to Connect”, organised by the Northern Advanced Research Training Initiative (NARTI). Here, they offer advice on how to get started with a piece of writing, whether it be a journal article, conference paper or book chapter.

Photograph of Stuart Delves and Jamie Jauncey

Sounds simple. Make sure you have some writing paper and pen, pencil or biro to hand. When getting started with a piece of writing we’d recommend brain to thumb and forefinger in the first instance, rather than brain to mouse or keyboard. It’s a more natural conduit for capturing thought. Microsoft ‘Word’ is in effect a piece of editing software and what we’re looking for - if you’re using writing to assist thinking - is to develop thinking and connections before starting to shape and edit a finished article or essay. 

Writing can be about many things but in the world of academia it’s mostly about articulating what you think. As E.M. Forster wrote: “How do I know what I think till I see what I write.” So, the very first step is to start using the writing process as a way of clarifying, marshalling and articulating your thoughts.

Jot down thoughts, feelings and impressions. As you do this, you may start to see or make connections. You may start to see that you are in one way creating a map of your thinking. That can be both fresh and exciting. What you might end up with is scribbles, jottings, phrases, connecting arrows, sketches and diagrams. 

It doesn’t have to be tidy. It doesn’t have to be in a Moleskine or other fancy notebook. If using an A4 sheet of paper, it doesn’t have to be portrait. Spin it to landscape. In fact, the looser it is the better. Backs of envelopes and napkins are both excellent. What you will have is a pre-draft. It may look somewhat similar to a mind map.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University business school or the University of Leeds.