Writing up permaculture designs - top tips from Helen White

by Helen White

At the March 2020 Permaculture Gathering in London, I ran a workshop on ‘How to write up a design’. My diploma journey lasted 8 years (I finally accredited in December 2018). Along the way, I did many designs (big and small), saw lots of permaculture projects, went to numerous permaculture and related events/ training/workshops but persistently failed to actually write things up. 

I finally worked out how to do this, so the workshop was a reflection on what I had learned, and a discussion with others about how they approached writing up. Lots of these points come from people at the workshop.


I wanted my diploma in applied permaculture design to be unusual – lots of variety in the styles of writing up as part of my learning (I have an undying loathing of powerpoint and wanted to produce a powerpoint design write-up to see if I could help this).

I was going to do one design in cartoon form (I was told at school that I couldn’t draw…), set up a Weebly website, learn Prezzi (I’d seen a presentation in it and decided I should learn that too), and so on. However, after writing a poem and one on the back of an envelope, (albeit with lots of paper inside the envelope to show my workings out), I got completely stuck. Here are 12 tips to help you.


Don’t be daunted by seeing some diploma presentations – they are always amazing.  Yours will be amazing too.  


Paper is fine – I did a lot of design work in notebooks, and on bits of paper.  The final designs were mostly written up in bullet points in a word document. I am sure tutors don’t want to read 10 dissertations.


Sort out stationery - different folders/notebooks/rolls of paper for each design to reduce sorting and muddle.


Procrastination can be quite a strong trait - Most of us can find half an hour every few days to get thoughts down on paper/into a computer.  Do a survey of how you spend your time, and then a bit of reflection.


Don’t write up designs you did two years ago - it is hard work and possibly not very honest as they often get changed, with hindsight, from what happened at the time.  Old designs are part of your learning and there are many more designs to be done. 


Show your tutor what you have so far – they are on your side!


Set up a guild or others doing their diploma – either face to face or on line - or find someone to be your Diploma buddy, and you can hold each other to account, set each other deadlines, have a bit of friendly competition.


Appreciate that this is a Diploma, not a PhD - you don't have to work on it relentlessly.


Get some Zone hygiene - We do so much at one computer – work, rest and play - and computers can be very draining of energy.  If you feel like this, keep your computer input to a minimum. Think about moving rooms to do different things on the computer.  Or have different music playing for different computer activities. Check out Cal Newport (www.calnewport.com) and many others about digital detoxing.


Get organised – I produced a cover sheet so I knew where I was and what I had done on each design.


Give yourself rewards - for starting to write up the design/present a design to your tutor/get to your IPA.


Most people get stuck on their diploma journey – we start with enthusiasm, realise that it is hard to maintain, but then appreciate that the diploma is a way of getting permaculture completely embedded into your life.  Once you get this realisation, it gets much easier!


Good luck with it all!

From Dan Wheals’ website (Dan accredited in March 2020), a quote from Heather Jo Flores about why we self-sabotage and procrastinate:

"Self-sabotage and procrastination are ways that we try to reinforce the notion that we don't deserve love. But if we ground down through self-care, self-love and boundaries with the sureness that we do deserve all of that , then the success and completion of projects becomes less about pleasing (or disappointing!) others, and more about letting our light shine."

You might also find Helen's 7 tips to help get unstuck with your Diploma article helpful.