Studying Effectively

Writing for ourselves

There are a number of reasons to write for yourself:

  • Keeping a journal record of your ideas and their development
  • Reflecting* - using writing to help you recognise the progress you have made academically and personally in your time at Nottingham. When you create a piece of reflective writing for yourself, you are using writing to learn from your own experience, and in this context to learn specifically about your own writing skills.
  • Searching for new ideas
  • Clarifying ideas, thoughts and arguments.

*A number of academic disciplines, for example Nursing, Medicine, Social Work and Education, require students to write reflectively about their practice to encourage them to think critically about the connections between the theory they have learnt in class and the way this is used in everyday work. These pieces of writing are gathered together to form part of a portfolio that is assessed.

You need not share any of the writing you do for yourself, unless a version is required for assessment purposes. However, the more you drive yourself to write as if others were to read it the more useful these activities will be.

Reflective writing - helps you to develop

The reason most people write reflectively is to learn more about themselves and by doing so they develop as individuals. If you've never tried it before why don't you try writing some short pieces, say 300 words, on:

  • How do you currently use writing? What sort of material do you produce and why do you do it?
  • What events and decisions have led to you choosing to study your particular subject and why is the University of Nottingham the right place for you to do that?
  • What is it that you hope to gain, beyond the qualification itself, as a result of coming to the University of Nottingham? How will those things benefit you in the future?
  • If you have left your native country to study, what excites you about that?

Exploratory writing - helps you to look for new ideas

Many people use writing as a creative tool to help them to generate ideas and to make half-formed ideas more solid. They may:

  • try out ideas in words to help them to evaluate the idea
  • look for connections between one idea and another through writing about them
  • generate the questions to which they want to try and find answers.

To try this out, try writing down everything that you can think of in response to:

You will soon be studying (insert your particular course) at the University of Nottingham. What will that be like and what do you think you will be doing in your study and in your social time?

Leave this writing to one side for a few days, then look back at it and look for any uncertainties or vagueness. These areas could generate questions you would like to explore further.

Explanatory writing - helps you to clarify your thoughts

Sometimes when answering a question, you can realise that there are particular aspects that you are less certain about than you believed. Being able to succinctly pass on knowledge, ideas and theories to others demonstrates an excellent understanding of that material. This is why relying too much on direct quotations from sources will not fully demonstrate your understanding of a topic.

Understanding the question, and understanding your own answer, is crucial to effective communication.  Writing gives us an excellent medium for trying out our understanding without the need to share it with anyone. Therefore, during your time at the University of Nottingham you could write summaries about the learning you have gained from:

  • Modules you have attended
  • Research projects and their associated activities you have been involved in
  • Extra-curricular activities that you undertake e.g. volunteering.

Writing to help clarify your thoughts can also help you to get the most benefit from all these opportunities. Writing in this way can additionally contribute to your revision process for examinations (including preparing for written exams, practical exams and oral exams).

Once you can generate these summaries to your own satisfaction, you can then work on them to show this understanding to any readers who may also be interested in the subjects. 

Studying in the Law and Social Sciences Building


Further reading


Studying at university

Practical advice on managing writing

  • Preparation and planning

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