A coursework is a rather broad term that may encompass a diverse set of tasks depending on context. The primary goal of a coursework is to define what a student has learnt throughout a course or a year of education. In addition to that, in university or college its main goal is to broaden students’ knowledge, teach them how to perform independent research (or, in case of group work, do it as a part of a team), and enhance the ability to use external information sources. In any case, to succeed with this task you will need a plan of action – and this is what we are going to provide you with.
A coursework may be in a number of different formats, but whichever you deal with doesn’t change the fact that you should prepare carefully before doing any actual writing.
Selecting a Topic
Usually your coursework is supposed to test your ability to work independently on every stage of the process, which is why you are often given considerable freedom in the choice of topic, although usually in confines of some general area. Here is what you should look at in the topic you choose:
- Ideally, it should be something you are personally interested and/or well-versed in. It is always more pleasant to write about a thing that means something for you than on a topic that bores you to tears. Moreover, when you research and write about an object of genuine interest, you usually get better results with less effort;
- Avoid both overly banal and overly obscure topics. The former immediately decrease the value of your work in the eyes of your teacher, the latter may be too hard to write. Even the most interesting topic won’t account to much if you are unable to find information sources on it;
- Avoid both overgeneralized and overspecialized topics. It is hard to write a comprehensive study of a general topic in a rather limited space of a coursework, and in case of a very narrow topic you may find yourself unable to say all that much.
- Consult your teachers, especially the one who supervises your work. Mention the topic you’ve chosen and ask for suggestions on how to improve, narrow down or broaden it up. Don’t ignore their suggestions – they’ve been dealing with this for a long time, and have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Planning the Coursework
After you’ve decided on a particular topic, it’s time to plan everything out, decide on research methods and points you are going to cover.
Take into consideration the fact that depending on your academic level, discipline, university you attend and even teacher’s/professor’s preferences, the shape and structure of your coursework may differ drastically. Always consult the official guidelines and ask your immediate supervisor for clarifications if you are unsure of anything – what your teacher says to you takes precedence over everything else, so don’t change the structure just because an online guide suggests that sections should follow a different order or be different altogether.
In most cases, a coursework’s structure can be boiled down to the following sections:
Here you introduce your topic, try to grasp the reader’s attention, explain why you consider the topic in question to be important and generally set stage for the rest of the work.
Then you introduce all the new information, recount the research methods you’ve used and the results of your investigation. You may also cover possible counter arguments and why you consider them insufficient.
Here you sum everything up and demonstrate that you’ve successfully and satisfyingly answered the question.
Before you start any serious work, you should have a more or less clear idea what you are going to research or prove, what ideas and arguments you are going to use in support of your line of reasoning and how you are going to move from one point to another.
In order to prepare any usable plan, after you’ve decided upon the topic you have to do some preliminary reading and Internet surfing on it. There are many reasons to do so:
- It will show you whether there are enough easily available information sources to base your research on. If you have a hard time finding useful data on the subject, perhaps you should think about broadening the topic or changing it altogether;
- You will be able to make some notes that can be used later. Also, if you see any additional sources mentioned at this point, make sure to note them down for future use;
- It will give you an idea about which research methods will be the most suitable for this particular case.
Choose Research Methods
Depending on the discipline you study, topic and the size of assignment, methods of research you may use may differ rather drastically. Just some of the possibilities include:
- Laboratory work and experiments;
- Polls and surveys;
- Other observational studies;
- Research of information sources on the subject;
- And so on.
In the long run, you are only limited by your own ingenuity and relevance of this or that method to your particular case. Make sure you discuss the approaches you are going to use with your supervisor – he may either dissuade you from using methods that would be inefficient in your situation, or suggest a change in the general line of research. Either way, do not ignore these tips.
It is hard to give any concrete tips here, due to all the different kinds of research you may have to carry out. However, some general advice may be in order.
- Prepare the required research equipment in advance. The less you have to worry about immediate necessities in the process of research, the better;
- Decide where you are going to get the necessary information. If you’ve marked down some books or other information sources during the preliminary reading, make sure you have them on hand;
- Irrespectively of what kind of research you do, don’t forget to make notes in the process;
- If you find out that the plan of your coursework doesn’t live up to your current needs, feel free to alter it.
Writing a Coursework
Contrary to what you may have believed, writing per se isn’t the main part of your coursework. If you’ve done preparatory work carefully and deliberately, it will be just a matter of putting all your findings on paper. However, you may find it necessary to review your previous findings and look for additional information as you go along, which can prolong the writing process – and that means that you should always work under the assumption that you are going to need more time than it feels like. The main stages of writing process should go along the following lines.
Writing an Outline
In a nutshell, an outline is a more detailed version of plan. While in a plan you simply enumerate the basic parts of your coursework and points you are going to cover in each of them, the outline adds a little bit of meat to the bone.
You may already decide upon what kind of “hook” you are going to use to grasp the reader’s attention, although you don’t have to – usually an introduction is the last thing to be written. However, if you have a promising idea at this point, make sure to write it down. Either way, now that you have all your research done, you have some idea to what conclusions your coursework is going to come, so build the introduction accordingly.
Depending on what it will contain, you have to mark it all down and write a couple of sentences of elaboration. If you use a particular research method, mention it and what findings it resulted in. If you cover five points supporting some general idea, describe each point in several sentences and mark down its connections to other points as well as why it is important as a part of a bigger picture.
You already have research results on hand, so you don’t have to invent anything. Just write down the main result of your coursework and what it signifies.
Writing the Coursework
If you have trouble starting to write the coursework per se, don’t worry – you are not alone in this predicament. A lot of students find it problematic to start out – the main point here is to take the first step and begin to write, no matter how, no matter what.
Usually it is recommended to write the main part first, then conclusion, and introduction last of all. Reasoning behind this is as follows: introduction is the most important part of any work, because it defines the first impression and, to a very large extent, how the reader is going to perceive the text in its entirety. Therefore, it is better to write it after the rest of the work is done and you have a very clear idea of what your coursework is about, what conclusions you’ve made and what arguments you’ve used to prove them.
However, if you find it easier to write from the beginning to end, you can easily do just that – just be ready to revise or even completely rewrite the introduction afterwards. The same goes for any part of the coursework – your first draft is just a first draft, it doesn’t have to be final, so feel free to write whatever feels right at the moment.
After you’ve finished writing, it may be a good idea to leave your assignment for a day or two, if time permits, and only then start revising and editing it. After you’ve been working on an assignment for a long time you get used to take certain things for granted and unconsciously skim over them, sometimes missing mistakes and inconsistencies. If you give your brain time to rest from the coursework, you will be able to see it from a fresher perspective. Asking someone else to read it for is a good idea as well.
Points to Consider
Coursework is a very open-ended task, and many of its aspects are heavily dependent on the exact instructions you receive from your supervisor. However, there are points you should take close to heart no matter what discipline, topic and subject you cover.
- If you’ve spent less than about 60% of time allocated for the entire coursework on research, you are most likely doing something wrong. Research is not just a preliminary stage to get over with fast so that you can get to real work; it is real work, writing is just kind of a postscript. So, if you feel that research takes up too much time, it really doesn’t;
- The basis of your coursework should be sound. This means that all information you use should be accurate, verifiable and obtained from trustworthy sources;
- It is hard, but do try to start out early. In most cases, students are given plenty of time to write their coursework – if they use all this time for that purpose and don’t put it off until the last possible moment;
- Cohesion and coherence are just as important as accurateness of information. Your coursework should be easy to read and perceive, so make sure you use headings and subheadings, different points are properly connected to each other and there are logical connections between parts;
- Create and keep backups. A good rule in life in general, it becomes especially important when writing a coursework or any other lengthy project. Nobody is secure from computer crashes, and losing all your work and collected research the day before you are supposed to hand it in may be somewhat annoying.
And finally – make sure you consult your supervisor as often as possible. In addition to showing your dedication to work, it will make sure you understand all aspects of the task and don’t make mistakes you’ll have to correct later on.