Using LEGO as a metaphor for academic writing
When planning your essay, it can be really daunting. You end up with ideas all over the place:
You need to order these ideas into groups. The act of doing this enables you to identify the major aspects of your essay. As expected, some ideas will be discarded at this phrase too (see the pile to the right side). It is still worth keeping a record of these as they may be useful at a later stage (who would EVER throw a LEGO brick in a bin!?!?!):
Once you have grouped all of your ideas like this, they form the basis of your overall argument. Each brick group is an aspect of this, forming one of the micro-arguments that lead your reader to the conclusion in your overall argument. These micro-arguments (brick groups) may by represented in an individual paragraph, or across a group of paragraphs. This process is not easy. At this idea stage, some of your groups will end up too large and you will need to break them up across two or more paragraphs. When this is the case, it is hard to distinguish which paragraph an idea belongs in. In reality, you are more likely to come across this problem later in writing when you have an oversized paragraph that you need to break up:
When all the elements of your points, arguments or ideas are grouped into their individual paragraphs, they need further structuring:
A solid paragraph should have a good structure. I recommend TEAL as a good starting point:
- Topic – A brief introduction to what the paragraph is about. What is your point?
- Evidence – Academic evidence, reflections, your own research/data
- Analysis – The ‘so what’? Persuade the reader that your conclusion is the correct one
- Link – Link this paragraph to the next – or to your overall argument.
(Indeed – this stage may be the *best* starting point for some students, but the route described so far is excellent for those struggle to structure all their ideas in the planning phase)
TEAL is a good way to structure all those ideas into a coherent paragraph:
LEGO bricks are an excellent metaphor for how you need to link all these elements together. The bumps and they way they interlock with bricks above makes this point clear. Everything with a paragraph must coherently link together and make sense:
Once you have your individual paragraphs, they need to be assembled into the right order. This is often done as you go along, but as you being to edit, you may realise they need re-ordering. It isn’t just the structure that may change, and as you edit, some smaller points may need removing as you further refine your ideas (and try to get under your word count):
All of these elements together can help you rule your own writing:
Taking this into practice
To put this into practice, I often recommend students grab a stack of post-it notes or use a mindmap to get all of their ideas on the table. The principles above serve as a great framework from which to interpret all these ideas. Working from the ideation phrase, grouping/sorting and through to refining the order and breaking it into paragraphs. If all else fails, literally using the LEGO bricks works well too. Small post-it notes can be used to adhere ideas to the bricks in a way that doesn’t require cleaning them afterwards. This works perfectly with Duplo too.