Baking an assignment
The stages of producing an assignment, essay (or an article) bear a certain resemblance to baking bread:
Stage 1— Assemble the ingredients
Obviously. But there are a couple of points worth making:
- You may not need to know where everything comes from when you are baking bread (unless you need to demonstrate its organic credentials), but in an assignment, provenance matters: so make sure that you keep a log of all reading and references. In the case of quotations, you need to go down to the page number level.
- Most kinds of bread need a leavening agent, usually yeast. What is the leaven in your assignment? What is the personal angle which will make it rise above simply being a re-hash of other people's ideas?
Stage 2 — Mix
Mix them all together. You can do this by putting them on cards and arranging them in various configurations to see how one view or opinion interacts with another. You are not particularly bothered about the actual order of presentation, yet.
Stage 3 — Leave it to Rise
You can't do this if you are writing the night before the deadline, but it is important. It's the failure to engage in this and the next two stages which leads to so-called "half-baked" essays. It is not a problem with the baking, it's a problem with the rising and after.
Put it away for at least a day, or preferably longer. Let the ideas ferment in your mind, and expand. Have those brilliant flashes of inspiration just before you go to bed.
Stage 4 — Knock it Back
The risen dough does not go straight into the oven. Bakers "knock it back", and pummel the air (redundant ideas and padding) out of it, then they knead it. All those ideas which seemed so great at 2 a.m. now need to be scrutinised and tested.
One things bakers on the whole do not find at this stage, is that something is missing. However, in assignment- writing reality, this is where the gaps appear, and when you need to find the extra stuff.
Stage 5 — Knead it
Physically, this is the hard work of baking. It involves pulling and folding. What it does to the dough is an illustration of chaos theory: two tiny particles which started off next to each other can end up separated in an unpredictable fashion. Our counterpart is about ordering the content, about determining which bits to put first, and the priorities to be attached to arguments.
Stage 6 — Shape it
Your loaf may go into a tin, i.e. conform to a certain required shape, such as word length; or it may be like a loaf baked on a flat sheet, free to expand as required. In any case, your essay now needs to acquire its final shape, which means:
- Does it meet the requirements? Does it address the title or the set outcomes?
- Will it hold its shape? Pay attention now to the conclusion, and finally to the introduction, which specifies what the shape is.
Stage 7 — Bake it
Write it. There is no real need to have booted up your word-processor until now. Indeed, even with outlining and cut-and-paste facilities, to have fixed anything into a linear sequence before this stage may well be creating more work for yourself, despite the superficial impression of achievement.
Stage 8 — Get it to the consumer (tutor)
Hand it in, confident in its nutritious and tasty quality! But remember, baked dough which has not risen properly and been knocked back sits heavily on the stomach, and may cause indigestion.