Let’s talk about writing great essays. What it involves and what it does not. It does not involve you typing the last sentence at 5 am and clicking Submit in hope of getting a half-decent mark. It definitely does not involve you beating yourself up for not being one of those superheroes who can churn out a 3,000-word masterpiece in a couple of hours.
However, it does involve a lot of hard work (you cannot escape that!), strategic thinking and reading, good time management skills, and a focussed approach.
While different tutors and higher education institutions will have different expectations and guidelines which you should read and follow, our tips on writing essays will apply to most academic work and beyond:
- Plan: generate ideas, explore the relationships between them and move on to drafting an outline before you write. You would not go on holiday without planning how to get to your destination and where to stay. Likewise, if you care about writing good quality essays, you need to put time and thought into their structure. Your initial plan may be as simple as this one: introduction, paragraph 1: topic 1,…, conclusion
- Don’t overdo it: yes, you may be keen to write about everything you know on the given topic but you will not get good marks if your essay is a random compilation of your knowledge. Think about your tutor – they have little time and lots of essays to mark, so make it easy for them to follow your line of thought. Structure your arguments and paragraphs, stick to the point and do not waste your reader’s time.
- Get over the writer’s block: schedule a daily writing slot, even if it is just half an hour. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish if you switch your phone off and just write. Also, do not expect to have a perfect first draft. It is always better to have something you can work with than nothing at all.
- Read strategically and critically:
oftenyouwill not have time to read whole books on the subject. Instead, focus on specific chapters and take clear notes to avoid plagiarism: page numbers, quotes, your thoughts about the central claims the author is making. When did they write this? Why? Who has responded to them? What did they say? Do you agree? Why yes/no?
- Have a notebook: it is always handy to have a notebook within reach for all those unexpected ideas that descend on us when we go for a walk, brush our teeth or are about to fall asleep.
- Nail your introduction: your essay is not a crime novel so make sure your reader knows immediately what you are trying to convince them of. Explain what you will argue and in what order and state what conclusions you will draw.
- Make your paragraphs perfect: follow a clear structure in each paragraph and order them in such a way that there is a clear development of thought from one paragraph to the next. Use the PEE structure which stands for Point (what you are claiming), Evidence (back up your claim with theories, statistics, etc.), Explain (why does the presented evidence help prove your point). Can you provide counterclaims? Wrap up each paragraph and signal that you will move on to the next one. Having discussed X and Y, I will now focus on…
- Conclusion: tell the reader what you have just discussed and
bringyour arguments together to make a final point. Be careful not to introduce completely new ideas in your conclusion.
- Take a break. Go for a walk. Meet up with friends: return to your essay with fresh eyes as this will make it easier to pick up on mistakes, inconsistencies
andweak arguments. Check your spelling and grammar and proofread your essay thoroughly before submitting.
Before you go, check out the resources below!
Reflect: now that you have read this article, take a few minutes and jot down answers to the questions below. This will help you remember the most insightful points and put together an action plan that works for you:
- What inspired you?
- As a result, what do you want to do more of?
- And what do you want to do less of?
- What will you do next to achieve these goals?