ASSC intern Lisa’s Guide to Essay Writing

Essays are the bane of every student’s existence.

Whether you’ve written one, ten or one hundred, they can be quite the pain. Just be glad we don’t have to use typewriters anymore.

But don’t worry! As a literature student, I’ve written a fair share of essays. I’m here to offer some helpful tips to get you through the essay – or start it, at least.

  1. It’s all in the preparation. Essays are far more difficult to write when you have no idea what you’re writing about. So make sure you know the deadline first, and then decide what question you are going to answer. If you need help in clarifying exactly what it is you are going to write about, talk to your peers, or organise a meeting with your academic.
  2. Reverse-engineer your essay. Ask yourself these questions: What do I need to include? What theory or evidence do I need? What’s my argument? How will I get there?
  3. Write up an essay plan. Whether it’s brief with bullet points that only have one word or a question next to it, or it’s an in-depth, paragraph by paragraph plan with quotes and reasons, just get something down. You can always come back to it and remind yourself of ideas that might have since slipped out of your head.
  4. Give yourself enough time. We’re all guilty of leaving assignments until the last minute, but if you’re prepared enough, it shouldn’t take as long. Make sure you have enough time to read the essay through once its done, even if it’s just once. You’ll be surprised at the little things you’ll need to fix.
  5. Don’t force yourself. If you’re not feeling inspired or motivated, don’t push yourself to write something that you don’t want to, because I can guarantee it won’t be as good. If the feeling strikes while you’re writing, take a break.
  6. Taking breaks is important. It gives you a chance to clear your head, refresh your energy, and when you come back, you see things you may have missed before or make a point that strengthens your essay that little bit.
  7. Get someone else to read it through, or read it out loud. We often miss things when reading back on our own work, our brains autocorrecting spellings and grammar, and even incoherences. Something might make sense to you but not to the reader. Get your proof reader to make marks in a different coloured pen to what you use, or use the tools built into your word processing software.
  8. Remember that the reader doesn’t see your thought process. We know what we mean, what we’re trying to say and where we’re getting our ideas from, but the audience does not. Make sure your argument is clear and coherent, don’t divert or veer off in a direction that doesn’t link to what you’re saying, or you don’t explain in more detail.

Those are just some general tips, but here are some of my personal processes that I go through.

  1. I always use the words in the question. It’s one of the easiest ways to show the marker that you’ve answered the question or statement. I use them in my introduction, sprinkled through the argument and in the conclusion.
  2. I think of my essay as a story. I basically use my love for creative writing in my essay plans. I think, ‘So in my introduction, I’m saying this, and in my first paragraph I can talk about this, which links to this, and I can go on to talk about this, which links back to that point, and I can make this connection in this paragraph, and summarise everything in the conclusion’. It also keeps me from writing over the word limit (it’s a bad habit), and from falling victim to the next point.
  3. Do not waffle. Put away the maple syrup, waffles aren’t welcome at this restaurant. The more you waffle, the more incoherent your essays will be, which just makes it more likely to get a lower grade (harsh, but true).
  4. Go quote-hunting. I’ve been doing this for years now – once I know what I’m looking for, I make sure I have all the information I need on it. For example, if my essay is about the idea of money, I’ll write down every quote and corresponding page number to do with money in both the primary and secondary sources. That way, I don’t have to frantically find anything as time goes by.
  5. Print it out. There have been studies that show we remember and see things better when we physically write things down on paper; we see more mistakes and retain information better. This also gives you a chance to mark more corrections down, and more often than not, you think of something you might have missed before.
  6. Lastly, don’t stress too much. Some urgency is good, but the more you stress out and work yourself up, the worse the experience will be. Just remember you’ve done this before, you can do it again. Besides, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get exactly the grade you want, no one is going to punish you.

One thing I have to remind myself of constantly, is that you don’t have to be perfect all the time. Situations, lifestyle, mindset all change as time goes on. You can’t replicate something every single time, we are not robots, we are human and we have limits. Don’t beat yourself up. Essays are not the be-all and end-all and they don’t define you.

I’m by no means an expert in essay writing, but I hope these tips help! I know it’s hard to get motivated at the moment, but maybe these steps will make it that little bit easier.