I want help organising and analysing information.

There are two main approaches to organising and analysing information for academic writing, and most people prefer one of these:

  • The planning approach - Spend a lot of time on different types of planning before you begin writing. Only start writing when you know exactly what you will write in each paragraph.
  • The drafting approach - Start writing early, while you are still developing your ideas. Write many drafts and gradually re-organise your text until your ideas are clear and your paragraphs are well-structured.

Both of these approaches can be successful. However, if your tutor, lecturer or supervisor asks you to write more analytically, or more clearly, or to improve the structure of your writing, it may help to try some more planning stages.

1. Early planning - Capture as many ideas as possible, without worrying about structure, e.g.:

  • carefully read and think about the assignment or task, and what its purpose is
  • write brainstorm lists of key words
  • draw mind-maps, diagrams and flow-charts
  • discuss your ideas with someone else
  • list all the readings you could use
  • read the abstracts for the relevant sources and make notes on how each article could be useful
  • for a large task like a thesis or dissertation, use Endnote, or similar software, to save your references and notes

2. Middle planning strategies - Create some ways to structure the ideas and facts into groups, e.g.:

  • look for similarities, differences, patterns, themes or other ways of grouping and dividing the ideas under headings - e.g. advantages, disadvantages, causes, effects, problems, solutions, types of theory
  • use coloured highlighters or symbols to tag themes in your readings or notes
  • physically group your readings or notes into piles

3. Later planning strategies - Choose some of the themes or groups, to create a structure for your written text, e.g.:

  • draw some tree diagrams, showing which ideas, facts and references would be included under each heading
  • discard ideas which don't fit into your over-all purpose, and facts or references which are not useful for what you want to discuss
  • if you have a lot of information - e.g. for a thesis or dissertation, create some tables to show how each theory or reading relates to each heading (this is often called a 'synthesis grid')
  • plan the number of paragraphs you need, the topic heading for each one, and dot points for each piece of information and reference needed
  • try a few different possible structures until you find the one which works best

For more on this topic, see the links on the right...