Skills Lab helps you set up: tips for studying and writing
Studying at University requires a lot of self-discipline. There are fewer contact moments and you plan most of your time yourself. Do you find it difficult to study effectively (at home)? Are you easily distracted or do you find it difficult to stay motivated? Skills Lab helps you set up with the tips below. Do you need more? Then make an (online) appointment for study or writing coaching or attend an academic skills workshop.
Planning and productivity
- For long-term planning, divide the total study material over the available weeks/days that you can devote to preparation. Divide large assignments into sub-tasks and above all, plan for extra time! Be realistic: party at the weekend? Take it into account!
- Set specific goals for yourself each day. Write down for yourself exactly what you want to do today. This goes beyond deciding which subject you want to work on or which part of your thesis you want to write. It helps to think about when you are satisfied with the day, so what do you want to have read, looked at or done at the end of the day? Think about how much time you need to meet these goals and plan when you will work on them. Plan a little more generously if you work at home, because you are often more easily distracted when working at home.
- To give more structure to your day, it can be useful to divide the day into blocks of an hour in which you work for 45 minutes and take a break for 15 minutes. You can also do this the evening before: you are then quickly motivated for the next day.
- Keep a (simple) logbook in which you write down how much time you spend. This helps to make your next planning more realistic.
- Plan in free time as well; you can enjoy it more when you have completed your planning!
- Get up early, preferably at the same time every day, and decide for yourself what time you will start with your daily tasks. Do you find this difficult? Maybe you can make arrangements with roommates, family members or friends to have breakfast together (digitally) or do a day start where you tell each other your goals for the day.
- Do you work at home very often? No matter how tempting: working in your pyjamas can reduce your motivation and productivity. If you notice that you are in too much of a relax mode, put on the clothes in which you normally go to university or the library. In this way, you can also keep your work and private life separated at home.
- Take a real break. Put your work aside, close your laptop, eat well and do something fun. A walk in the open air often works wonders!
- Stop in time and ensure that you can begin the next day with a fresh start. Then also turn off your laptop. Try exercising after work, for example by having a yoga or running session. This will help to clear your mind and give you new energy.
- If you work at home then try to set up a separate place to work. This will make it easier to keep work and leisure separate.
- Working together with friends or classmates in the University library or via Teams can help to be more productive.
- Lazing around and doing nothing isn't so bad at all! Alan Lightman, professor at MIT, writes in In Praise of Wasting Time that it's okay to take a long break or not to study at all for a day. Keep that in mind!
- With the large amounts of news, your phone can be an additional source of distraction. Try to turn off notifications and sounds on your phone as much as possible and put your phone out of sight while you're working. If this really doesn't solve the problem, there are several apps available such as 'Forest' and 'Offtime' that can help you.
- Take a break to list what your biggest distractions are and what you can do about them. Too much noise? Maybe you can make arrangements with your roommates/family members or buy noise-cancelling headphones. Do you tend to go to netflix, youtube, instagram etc. quickly? There are several website blockers that you can easily install. These will prevent you from accessing these websites within certain hours.
- You are not alone! People around you probably also find it difficult to get motivated to work every day. Therefore: support and help each other out. Make agreements with roommates about noise-free study hours, start an online study group with fellow students, discuss your schedule with family members, go to breakfast together with roommates at a fixed time or exercise together. Plan a fixed moment with (a) friend(s) to talk about how you are doing: this gives rhythm and it helps to vent.
- Consult the PowerPoint of the lecture beforehand. No PowerPoint available? Check the course manual for information about the content of the lecture, read notes from the previous lecture again or globally review the lecture literature in advance. If you know in advance what will be discussed, you will be able to listen in a more focused way and important information will be easier to remember.
- Pay special attention to the beginning and the end of the lecture: the content of the lecture is indicated at the beginning and a conclusion or summary is indicated at the end.
- Take notes (in keywords). Distinguish between main and minor points and draw conclusions rather than separate facts. Use arrows and colours to make connections clear.
- Are you watching an online lecture? Don't watch the video all at once, as with a Netflix series, but pause regularly. Use the breaks you take to work on our notes. That way, you'll watch the lecture more actively and learn more from it.
- After watching the lecture, review your notes. Ten minutes may be enough for this. Arrange your notes, see if you understand everything and what you still need to look into further.
- Know what is expected of you: Check the course objectives in the course description. What is required of you?
- Check for yourself whether you have mastered the objectives based on the content of the study material.
- Read the criteria of the test and think about how they relate to what you have had in the course (and the rest of your studies) so far.
- Also look carefully at the level at which you have to meet the criteria: do you have to be able to put the theory into words, or do you also have to be able to apply it to a new problem?
- Prepare the assignment by looking up all the requirements, for example in the course manual or on Blackboard. Ask your fellow students or teachers about the academic conventions when the discipline is new to you.
- Look up examples of the assignment you have to create. You can do this, for example, by searching for UU Theses in your browser, but you can also ask your instructor to put an example online.
- The first draft of your text doesn't have to be perfect yet. Start by writing a bin version.
- The LibGuides of the University library give advice on searching for literature. For example, there is assistance with evaluating the relevance of sources, with referencing, and with literature management.
- Use websites about academic writing. On Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) and Couthino you will find writing strategies.
- The Manchester Phrase Bank is useful when writing in English.
- With the Online Writing Tool you can choose what aspects of you text you want to have checked: spelling, style or structure.
- On this platform for academic writing you will find lots of tips & tricks, i.e. on referencing and how to reflecte on your writing process.
Accuracy and integrity are the foundation of science. Utrecht University helps you to get the best out of yourself and your study programme. This means, among other things, that you will acquire knowledge about scrupulousness science and academic integrity as part of your curriculum. The Academic integrity checklist will support you with this. The checklist provides some concrete tips about writing a paper, conducting research and working with other students. The checklist also shows that ‘academic integrity’ is about much more than fraud and plagiarism.
It can be difficult to get started on a writing assignment. To get those first thoughts, first versions or first drafts on paper, you can use Speedwriting.
How does it work? You set an alarm clock, start writing, don't stop and don't look (critically) at what you've written. You can do this at different times in a writing process and with different goals and outcomes.
- If you are looking for ideas, you can do 'free writing'. This means you write down, uncensored, what's in your head. It is important to be able to associate freely. In this video 'free writing' is further explained.
- If you already have some ideas or information (or data), and you want to find out if you have given it enough thought to start writing, you can write a 'trash' version. Again, try not to judge yourself critically and write on.
- If you already know what your text is going to look like and you have an outline, then you can start writing your first draft. That's what the video below is about.
The key is to think about what stage of your writing process you are at and what the goal is.
(Turn on the subtitles for English. A full English version will follow shortly.)
- Academic writing is about Knowledge Transforming (critical reflection on what you have read), rather than Knowledge Telling (just summarising).
- Divide the work into steps (formulating the main question, reading, making an outline, writing, revising, editing), and work on them one at the time. Don't try to write a perfect first draft.
- Academic style is rather objective and very, very precise. Always support your statements with arguments and references.
- Ask around what the academic conventions are: talk with professors, peers, senior students, housemates etc. Look for examples of the assignment that you are working on: essays, papers and theses written for the same professor.
- Talk about your writing. With your friends, your peers or with a writing tutor. You are welcome at Skills Lab Writing Centre if you want to discuss your work.
(source: Skills Lab Writing Centre)
The experience of our writing tutors shows that many students can significantly improve the clarity of their text if they take another good look at the topic sentences of the paragraphs. Take full advantage of this and learn in only a minute what a topic sentence is, and how to use it!
A topic sentence describes in one sentence what the most important information (the main topic) of your paragraph is. You spend the rest of the paragraph elaborating on your topic sentence. You explain the concepts and concepts in your topic sentence, give an explanation and perhaps an example.
- TIP 1: Mark the most important sentence in each paragraph to check: Is there really a topic sentence? If the marked sentence is the topic sentence, consider how all the other sentences in the paragraph connect to this sentence. If you can't figure it out, try formulating the topic sentence of your paragraph, adjust the topic sentence to the rest of the paragraph, or adjust the rest of the paragraph to your topic sentence. In this way you will create a clear and straightforward story.
If you consistently use topic sentences, this can also help you in finding the structure between your paragraphs.
- TIP 2: Highlight all topic sentences in your text and read them one after the other. Is there a strange transition between two topic sentences? Maybe there is some information missing that helps to clarify the coherence of your text.
Do you have a question about any of this? The writing tutors at the Skills Lab will be happy to help you with these and other writing strategies.
- Make an appointment with a study coach at the Skills Lab (online) and discuss your personal situation. After the session you will be in a better position to determine what is not going well yet and what is needed to improve your (study) approach.
- Make an appointment with a writing tutor at the Skills Lab (online) and discuss your academic writing assignment. The writing coach will, for example, help you to find a more efficient approach, sharpen the formulation of your core message, write a better structured text or improve your writing style.
- Are you struggling with SPSS? Then use the UU online campus course Grasple. With this online tool you will learn the basic concepts and get started with exercises in statistics. Are you studying at the Faculty of Social Sciences? Then check out the Methods and Statistics page.
- Follow an (online) course or workshop at Educational Consultancy & Professional Development to improve your study skills. You will learn strategies for efficient reading & studying, time management and a good approach for research and writing assignments.
- When you want to work on your information skills, the online training Compass of the university library offers a solution.
- Language centre Babel offers several online courses, for example to improve your academic writing skills, but they also offer short online English courses such as: Brush up your English – Vocabulary and common collocations. With a discount for students!
STUDYING FROM HOME
Do you, for whatever reason, often work from home? Then take a look at the Home Study Guide. In this guide - compiled by the teachers of Academic Skills - we answer seven questions that can help you keep yourself and your studies on track. Read more about procrastination, better planning, and meaningful self-study activities. Read the home study guide here (pdf-file).