Writing essays is a tricky skill to master, and not many of us come into the process without needing to experience it first hand, and develop the skill ourselves. Whilst every essay is different in content, structure, tone, audience and the themes it explores, the creation of every essay can be said to follow a consistent and well-established structure. Writing Helper breaks down this writing process, and presents it to you step by step, allowing you to focus on each stage separately, to build a strong essay from the foundations upwards.
The Writing Helper Process
The seven steps in the Writing Helper Process are:
These steps are represented by the tabs along the left hand side of the program: the “Navigation Panel”, which can be collapsed and expanded.
Enter basic details relating to your essay.
Enter your name and essay title here, plus any additional information such as preferred referencing style and word count. Most fields are optional. The available referencing styles link to the version of Microsoft Word you have installed.
Review the essay question; consider what you’re being asked; interpret the question’s open concepts.
Understand your essay question
Here you will see the question you are being asked and can select the words in it that are ‘open concepts’. Any instructional verbs in your question will be highlighted for you and defined.
Mind map open concepts
An open concept is a word or phrase that is open to interpretation, or may have different meanings. A good essay will explore these different meanings either in stating how you, as the author, are going to interpret them in your answer to the essay, or in the body of the essay itself as you explore these meanings.
Click a word to highlight it as an open concept.
Drag across multiple words to highlight a phrase as an open concept.
As an example, in the image below, for the essay question “Coffee is bad for you. Discuss.”, both “coffee” and “bad for you” may have different meanings: caffeine is bad for your health; farming coffee is bad for your environment; buying coffee is bad for your finances; drinking coffee is bad for your teeth!
You don’t have to answer all of these, but you should be clear about which one you are going to answer, and the reasons why. A good essay will be really clear about how it is to approach the question and explore these open concepts in some depth.
You will have your own way to explore open concepts, and Mind Mapping is a familiar and effective way to do this. Click the ‘Mind Map’ button and it will open ClaroIdeas, but feel free to use whatever processes work for you.
Consider your instructional verb
Most essay questions have an instructional verb, such as ‘describe’, ‘explain, ‘discuss’, ‘compare’, ‘review’ et cetera. Writing Helper comes built with a dictionary of the most commonly used instructional verbs, and provides you with all of these definitions so that you can really understand what you are being asked.
An excellently-written essay may not get high marks if it fails to answer the question!
Create an outline structure of sections, subsections and writing tasks.
Now that you have understood your question, and the approach you will take to answering it, you can use tab 3, “Structure”. This tab consists of a toolbar, split into “MOVE” and “ADD” areas, and a large open “LIST VIEW” containing all your essay elements.
Add Section, Subsection and Task elements
Using the toolbar’s “ADD” area, you can use the three buttons, from left to right, to add a Section, add a Subsection or add a Task. Sections are defined with a new colour, and all Subsections and Tasks below it share that colour but are indented. Tasks can act as reminders for yourself to include something in your essay at any place.
Alternatively, you can hover above or below any list element to see the same buttons pop out.
The element will be inserted below the currently selected element. This is the one with the black border around it in the list view.
Any element can be renamed by selecting and changing the text. The F2 key will select all the text for editing.
To reorganise, you can either drag and drop the elements or use the “MOVE” area of the tool bar. The toolbar’s “MOVE” area has 5 buttons that let you:
Move the selected element up
Move the selected element down
Outdent the selected element (makes a Task become a Subsection or a Subsection become a Section)
Indent the selected element (makes a Section a Subsection or a Subsection a Task)
Delete the selected element
Research sources of information and capture information from them.
The Sources tab is an advanced PDF viewer that allows you to mark up your sources. You can
Open a website or a document from your computer.
Enter the reference information for the source.
Markup the document with highlighter tools.
Search for and highlight keywords in the document.
Harvest your highlights and slot them into your essay.
Open a source
Using the “OPEN” area of the toolbar, or the panel on the right hand side, you can open a local file or a website. To open a website, copy the URL from your browser and paste it into the dialogue that pops up.
The source will appear on the right hand side under the ‘Sources’ tab, and you can include as many sources as you want. Click on any source in the list to open it as a PDF in the main area of the Sources tab.
Manage the reference
The small green circles to the right of the source in the list, means that that source is referenced properly. However, if there are missing fields from the reference data (for instance, the author name is missing), the green circle will be replaced by a red warning. You can click the green circle or red warning to see the citation data and make any changes.
Selecting a different source type will change the fields that are required, and if you select “Book” as a source type, you will be able to search for the book and automatically populate many or all of the required fields, so you don’t have to type much yourself.
Once you have a source open, you can use the highlighter tools to capture information from the source that you think may be relevant to your essay.
Using the “REVIEW” area of the toolbar, the dropdown will show you a number different highlighter pen colours. One for unsorted snippets (this is for information you want to capture, but aren’t sure where it will yet fit into your essay), and the others will match the sections of your essay.
As you read through your source, you can select the pen colour you want, and click the highlighter button, then highlight the text you want to slot into your essay. Alternatively you can select the text first, then click the highlight button.
All of the highlights you capture will be shown on the right hand side panel’s “Highlights” tab.
Each highlight on the right will match the colour of the essay section it belongs with, but you can use the dropdown box on each highlight to change where it is to appear in the essay.
You can use the small ‘bin’ icon to remove a highlight you don’t want, or choose to harvest the highlight into your essay.
After Sources and Highlights, the third tab on the right panel in Sources is the “Keywords” tab. Click in the search box or use the shortcut Ctrl+F to search for any word or phrase. Every instance of that word will appear as shown in the image below.
All will default to the “unsorted” type, but you can change this. You can use the + and – buttons to see more or less text before or after the appearance of the keyword in the source. If you want to keep any of these keyword appearances for reference in your essay, click the paperclip (see here).
Once you are happy with a highlight, you can click the ‘paperclip’ icon to move it to your essay. To save some time, and avoid clicking multiple highlights, you can use the “Move All Highlights” to harvest them all at once, and put them into your essay.
Organise your research into your essay structure.
The Snippets tab expands on the Structure tab by showing all the highlights you have harvested from your Sources, slotted right into your essay wherever you put them. Unsorted snippets can be seen at the top.
Each snippet in the essay will have two icons to its left. The left-most is the citation data icon. This will be green if the source citation data is complete, or red otherwise. Clicking it will allow you to see the citation data panel for any snippet.
The second icon will be red to warn that you need to reword the snippet. Initially, all snippets will be marked red in this way, as all have been copied directly from a source, and you must properly credit authors of any content that is not your own.
Clicking on any snippet will reveal the ‘Edit your snippet’ area. This will contain the original content in the coloured box at the top, and a text box below it in which you can reword the snippet in your own words. The small button (+”) allows you to insert a citation of the source at the point. This will add the text <CITATION> to your rewording. Don’t worry! This is so that Writing Helper knows where to add the citation when it builds your Word document for you later.
You can also choose to mark the snippet as a direct quote using the “Mark as Quote” button. This will put it in speech marks, and make it italic, and automatically cite the source in your Word document. Use this feature sparingly, though, as an essay with lots of quotes may be considered to contain too much ‘unoriginal’ material by your school, college or university systems.
Add a custom snippet
In the “ADD” area of the toolbar, you will see a new button that wasn’t there in the Structure tab. This is to allow you to add a custom snippet anywhere in your essay. This is great for adding signposting and navigation to your essay, or even linking words and phrases.
Any of the unsorted snippets at the top can be dragged into your essay. And any of the snippets in your essay can be dragged out of the essay into the ‘unsorted’ area. Unsorted snippets can be deleted.
You can hold the Ctrl key whilst dragging a snippet if you want to duplicate it anywhere. This is useful if you introduce a concept in your essay that you want to refer back to in your concluding remarks, for example.
Deleting snippets using the bin icon in the “MOVE” area of the toolbar will take the snippet out of your essay and put it back into the highlights list in the Sources area. You can then add it back to your essay, or delete it completely from Sources, or take no action. Your choice. You can also delete unsorted snippets using the button on the snippet itself.
See a document-like preview of your essay and address any outstanding tasks.
The “Review” tab shows exactly the same information as the Snippets tab, though in a visually different way. You can still drag things around, edit snippets and do the same things you could do in Snippets, but some users like to see a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) view of their essay.
Any outstanding issues will be clearly visible in coloured boxes, and the colour depends on which Section the issue appears in.
You can use this tab as a ‘to do list’, working methodically from top to bottom and addressing each coloured box as you come to it. Double-click the box, or single-click the warning icon to its right, and Writing Helper will take you to the right place to resolve the issue. This issue will either be incomplete source data, a snippet that needs rewording, or a task that you gave yourself that isn’t yet marked as complete.
Get a health check on your essay and publish it.
There are a number of useful health checks in the Publish tab, and you will be able to see your word count and how it has been broken down by section. Hover over the different bars in the “Words” graphic to see more information.
Click the “Publish to Word” button to create the Word document. This document will be created using proper Microsoft Word standards, including proper Styles (e.g. title, heading 1 etc.), References, and Navigation.