Written by Kristýna Hřivnáčová |
Regardless of what course you’re doing, chances are there’s an essay or two lurking somewhere in your assessments, and regardless of what year you’re in, essays are a pain. They require some originality and independent thought, but at the same time, you have to have evidence for every statement and painstakingly write up your sources in accordance with your hell book of choice. (Are you more of a Harvard or MHRA person?)
In any case, here are some tips for writing an essay – a result of two years of shedding blood, sweat and tears on blank sheets of paper.
1. What’s going on here?
Nobody knows. That’s why you should very, very carefully read your assessment brief. Are you asked to compare, describe? Are you defending a statement or proving somebody wrong? If actual books are mandatory for the bibliography, how many do you need? On the more basic level, when is your deadline and how many words are required of you? You can’t go on any trip, even one as miserable as essay-writing, without knowing the time, place and conditions, so get your information straight.
2. Where is this going?
Similarly, you wouldn’t go to a theme party without knowing the theme. If your essay question is set, there’s less space to get creative with it, but it doesn’t mean you have to do the most obvious thing. Think around the topic and if something strikes your fancy but you’re not sure about it, just ask your lecturer.
If you’ve been given a choice, I’d suggest you pick the one that plays into your personal interests the most as it is much easier to spend several hours researching something you actually care about. On contrary, if you’ve been given free rein over the topic, don’t go with your absolute favourite thing; chances are you’ll get overconfident and a tad overexcited and ramble on without proper evidence.
3. “To write is to be human, to edit is to be divine.”
– Stephen King
Starting an essay with a clear idea of where you want to end up doesn’t necessarily mean the way there will be clear. Don’t worry if you go off on a tangent while writing the draft of your essay; editing is your best friend.
4. Have the bullets, have the points
In other words, know your topic and organise it. With your word count in mind, write up a number of sub-topics in response to your essay question – each one of them a bullet. Then make they all have the potential to support your argument – have a point. Say you’re comparing the main villains of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings and trying to prove which is better. They might be both called Dark Lords, but Sauron came first – a clear point in favour of the LOTR. Arguably, though, Lord Voldemort is a much more developed character and influences the storyline more – a point for Harry.
If one of your points seems to not improve your argument, see if you can rephrase it. If you can’t, ditch it. There’s nothing more frustrating than writing up a paragraph just to find out it doesn’t quite fit in.
5. Cite this for me, would you?
Referencing is honestly a traumatising experience but not doing it correctly or sufficiently can lower your grade hugely, even get you investigated for academic misconduct. So, pay some heed to this:
Find evidence for your statements as you make them and have a list of the sources on the bottom of your document – even unformatted and messy, it’s better than nothing. When you’re done essaying, you can pop everything into CiteThisForMe and get the whole bibliography correctly formatted.
6. ASK for help
If you feel completely lost or just need a bit of reassurance on the correctness of your approach, you can book a one-on-one appointment with the Academic Skills. They are all amazing and helpful people (I can say this from personal experience) and a bit of academic guidance never killed anybody. The StudyHub also offers a wide range of tips on planning, researching, time management and much more.
7. Run it past Grammarly
Even if your spelling and punctuation feel flawless, you should run it past a third party because the grammar of your essay is as much of a sign of your work as the actual argument you’re making. Leaving in mistakes is, quite frankly, unprofessional and lazy. The grammar check in Word does a lot in itself, but I’ve found that Grammarly uncovers not only blatant mistakes but also the more niche ones. And hey, it’s free, so why wouldn’t you use it?
Essays are a necessary evil and as much a part of the university experience as student nights are. What would we have to complain about, without them?
(That’s a rhetorical question, please don’t answer. I’ve got my own lot to complain about.)