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Lisa’s Guide to Essay Writing

Essays, the bane of every student’s existence, whether you’ve written one, ten or a hundred, they can be quite the pain. Just be glad we don’t have to use typewriters!

But don’t worry! I’m here to offer some helpful tips to get you through the essay…or at least start it. As a literature student, I’ve written a fair share of students. Although the last time I wrote a full essay was November, in the last week I’ve had to get back into it and so I’ve had the chance to remind myself on how I write essays.

  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 firstly, and then decided what question you want to answer. If you need help, talk to your peers, or organise a meeting with your professor!
  2. Reverse engineer it. 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 if’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 popped into your head at the time.
  4. Give yourself enough time. We’re all guilty of leaving assignments to the last minute, but if you’re prepared enough, it shouldn’t take as long. But make sure you have enough time to read it through, even if it’s just once.
  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. Someone else might read something that makes sense to you, but not to the reader. Get the reader to make marks in a different coloured pen, or make the marks yourself, using pen and paper or the tools on Word or Pages.
  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. In my introduction, sprinkled through the argument, and in the conclusion.
  2. I think of my essay as a story. If I could show you an image of how my brain thinks, I would, but I basically use my second nature as a creative writer 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 based on the theme of money, I write down or highlight every quote and the page number that has to do with that theme in 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 hunt you down or imprison you for it. If you really want to, you can appeal the grade or redo the assignment.

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!

Good luck and stay safe!