A lot of students can find the step-up to essay writing for their Level 5 Diploma in Leadership and Management for Health and Social Care to be quite overwhelming and it can be a major stumbling block towards their progress in their qualification.
Structuring an essay and the amount of detail and analysis needed for assignments at Level 5 can cause students to doubt their abilities, resulting in a lack of motivation to get started and ‘writer’s block’ when they settle down to their work. Consequently, this can lead to procrastination and many unproductive hours.
But it doesn’t have to be like that; I’m not saying essay writing at level 5 is easy, but it can be made a lot easier by following a few simple guidelines. Having completed many essays at Level 5 (several of which earned me distinctions), I thought it would be useful to share my own tips and processes when approaching written assignments.
My Essay Writing Process
My own essay writing process consists of the following steps:
- Check the learning outcomes and assessment criteria
- Initial research and note-taking
- Plan essay structure
- Write introduction
- Further research
- Write content
- Write conclusions
- Citations and references
- Proof read
Step 1: Check the learning outcomes and assessment criteria
Ultimately, when your tutor is assessing your work, they will be looking to see if you have achieved the learning outcomes and assessment criteria for the unit. Therefore, it is essential read and understand the assessment criteria to get an idea of what your tutor requires before you begin your research.
I usually begin by opening a blank Word document (called notetaking) and copy out each of the criteria I will be assessed for. I make sure that I type it manually, rather than using copy+paste so that my brain processes each criterion to give me an understanding of what is required.
You can obtain the assessment criteria from several sources. Your tutor may print them out for you. If your training provider uses a digital assessment, such as onefile or smartassessor, you may be able to access the criteria online. Or you can go to the website of the awarding body (e.g. City & Guilds) to access them.
Not every criterion from a unit will be assessed through essay writing; some criterion need to be assessed using observation. Therefore, it is essential to be able to make this distinction and type out only the criteria that can be addressed in the written format. This is achieved by looking at command words, which are often the first word of each criterion. For example, criterion that use words like explain, analyse, compare and evaluate can be assessed in written work, whereas words like demonstrate, support and implement will primarily be assessed through other methods, such as observations.
Some assignments may cover multiple units, so you may find it beneficial to ask your tutor which assessment criteria they will be looking at when they come to assess your essay.
In my notetaking document, below the assessment criteria, I also type out the assignment in full. I find that by doing this, my mind begins to ‘join the dots’ between what the assignment is requesting and how it relates to the learning outcomes. I will also begin to mentally formulate a very rough outline for the essay.
Step 2: Initial research and note-taking
The next step is to begin researching the topic of the assignment.
My research usually begins online, with Google searches about the subject matter. However, care should taken to ensure that any sources you use are reputable. This means vetting each website you visit for expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Examples of good, reputable sources include:
- The NHS
- Government websites
- Government agencies (e.g. Skills for Care)
- Peer-reviewed research papers
- Published works authored by renowned experts in their field
- The World Health Organisation
- Industry journals
There is a lot of misinformation, prejudice and personal opinion on the World Wide Web that has no place in academic writing. Anyone can publish on the Internet so you must ensure your sources are suitable. If a website is not immediately recognisable as reputable source of information, you may need to do a bit of digging to identify if it will be suitable. As an example, this website (DSDWEB.CO.UK) is NOT an appropriate source for citation. Although it contains a lot of useful information about health and social care qualifications, the guy who wrote it (me) is just a Care Manager who had a bit of time on their hands a few years ago!
When you find information that you believe will be useful to back up any points you will making in your essay, be sure to save the link and make a few notes about it. I usually copy the link at the top of the Internet browser and copy it into my notetaking document. I will also type out any points, facts or statistics that I think may be useful later on, along with their source.
3. Plan essay structure
Having determined what will be assessed in the essay and conducting a little research, I find that I start to form ideas in my mind about how the essay will be structured. I will begin to identify themes and topics that I want to address in my essay and arranging the assessment criteria into a logical flowing order.
At this point, I will open a new Word document to record how I would like to structure my essay. This Word document will eventually become my finished essay, but at this stage it will only contain a very rough layout.
I put the title of my essay at the top, followed by my name and the date.
Next I will write rough notes for each of my paragraphs, loosely based on the assignment details and assessment criteria that I typed out in my notetaking document. For the first two or three paragraphs, I simply write ‘Introduction’. I will also look at the assessment criteria to see if any criterion can be briefly answered in the Introduction. This is not always possible as many assessment criteria require several paragraphs to provide the required detail, however something like ‘1.1 Explain person-centred practice‘ can be be addressed with just a few sentences.
I will then go through each of the assessment criteria, making quick notes about how I will answer them within the course of the essay, along with any associated references I could use from my research. If I feel that I do not have a good enough understanding of a topic, I will make a note that it requires further research. There will also be some criteria that link together well or are very similar in nature, which I will group together to be discussed together. An example would be ‘1.2 Identify challenges experienced by developing teams‘ and ‘1.3 Identify challenges experienced by established teams‘. These two criterion could be discussed simultaneously under the theme of ‘challenges of teams’.
After developing the rough structure for the essay, I often find myself reordering the paragraphs or themes so that they flow together better.
At the end, I will write ‘Conclusions’, however I do not tend to put anything else in here until the end as my views will not yet be fully formed.
Once this is done, I now have a rough outline for the essay, as well as an idea of areas that I may need to research further.
Many people say to write your introduction at the end.
I prefer to write it at the start, so that it sets the purpose of of what I am writing, which helps me to focus on the direction of the essay writing itself. Invariably, I will make changes to it throughout the essay and may even revise it completely at the end but at this point, it is useful to document what your essay is about and what you plan to achieve from writing it.
You may also want to use statistics from your research to back up the rationale behind your essay. For example, you may write:
Stress, depression and anxiety account for 44% of work-related ill-health cases and 54% of working days lost (HSE, 2019). Therefore, it is essential that care organisations have policies in place that protect the welfare of their employees. In this essay, I will be looking at my organisation’s existing Stress Management Policy and recommending improvements.
- Health & Safety Executive. (2019). Tackling work-related stress using the Management Standards approach. [online] Available at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wbk01.pdf [Accessed 16 Jan. 2020].
5. Further research
In step 3, I will have usually identified gaps in my knowledge where further research is required, so I will now allocate some time into increasing me depth of knowledge in these areas.
Again, this usually starts with Google searches (paying close attention to whether the source is reliable) but sometimes, it may be necessary to purchase books or subscriptions to journals to get the requisite information. As my knowledge increases, I copy+paste, I make notes of facts that will support any arguments I plan to make in my essay, along with their source. I do this in my notetaking document.
6. Write content
Having done the groundwork, I am now ready to write up the bulk of my essay. Using the paragraph layout I developed in step 3 along with the evidence I have gathered during my research, it is just a matter of revising the notes into properly structured sentences that flow naturally.
As I am writing I will often bring in my own reflections on my work practice as this is often something assessors will be looking for. For example, if I am working on ‘4.1 Describe ethical dilemmas that may arise in own area of responsibility when balancing individual rights and duty of care‘, I may discuss a related situation that I have been directly involved with, how I managed it and what I would do differently if a similar situation arose in future.
I will also discuss times when I have put related theoretical knowledge into practice as part of my job role. For example, for ‘1.7 Compare methods of addressing conflict within a team‘, I may write about my own experiences with using conflict resolution strategies.
When writing academically, there are a few rules that you should be aware of:
- Numbers should be written as words e.g. two, not 2
- Abbreviations and acronyms should only used when the full name has already been provided e.g. National Health Service (NHS). After it has been written out in full once, the abbreviation can be used in the rest of the essay
- Pictures diagrams and charts should included at the end of the essay as appendices and referenced withing the essay e.g. appendix 1, appendix 2 etc.
- Apostrophe words such as can’t, don’t, won’t should be replaced with cannot, does not, will not etc.
7. Write conclusions
With the majority of the essay complete, I now take some time to think about what I have learned and how this will affect my practice going forward.
For example, in my essay on Initial Assessments, I concluded that my inexperience resulted in me being a little naive and disappointed with some of the partners that I worked with.
As well as personal, experiential conclusions, it will also be necessary to conclude where your research has taken you and how it differs (or is the same as) your original viewpoints.
8. Citations and references
When you refer to information from other authors within your essay, this is known as a citation. You could use a direct quote (within speech marks “”) or paraphrase the author’s arguments in your own words. Citations are used to back up your own arguments and any facts that you use.
All citations must noted at the end of your essay in a ‘references‘ or ‘bibliography‘ section, in alphabetical order of author using the system dictated by your tutor or training provider. This will usually be the Harvard Referencing System but other systems such as the British Standard System may also be used.
9. Proof read
When you have done all this, it is imperative that you proof read your work for spelling, grammatical and factual errors. I usually leave it a couple of days after completing an essay before proof-reading with a fresh set of eyes. If you have someone in your family that could proof-read for you, this is also very useful as they pick up on things that you would usually overlook.
This is how I approach essay writing for Level 5 and I find that it works really well for me. However, that does not necessarily mean that it is the best way for you. You may find that you don’t need to do certain steps or want to flip around the order in which you do them. That’s fine. You should experiment to find the way that works best for you.
I hope this has been of some use to those starting out with their Level 5. If it has, please provide feedback using the red face in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen or email via firstname.lastname@example.org. Similarly, if you think this page could be improved, please let me know.
Good luck with your qualification 🙂