One of the most important keys for student life is nailing your essay technique. Once you’ve got that down, you’re pretty much set for any essay you’re ever given. But, finding the technique that works for you is hard and sometimes you need a little bit of advice from others. With that in mind, here’s my guide to perfecting that essay.
Once you’ve been assigned, or you’ve selected, your question the first step is to sit down and think about it. What’s it asking you to do? What are the key elements of the question? How could you go about tackling it? I always then write down my initial thoughts about the question; these could be things that I’ve learnt in lectures and want to include, or areas that I want to look further into. By doing this, you establish an initial direction in which you will study. It prevents you aimlessly working without direction, but keeps you focused- especially when you’re doing mountains of reading.
The only way to do your research is by reading. It’s the bane of any student’s life but unfortunately we all have to do it. (handy tip: online books and articles will be your best friend!) If you have a reading list then you’re one of the lucky few. If not then the onus is on you to select materials. Use your library database, then use sites like JSTOR, Cambridge Core, and sites that are specialist to your discipline (like the ATLA database for theology). You might have to search multiple different phrases to get the type of texts that you want though! When you’re doing your reading, have a notebook to hand. At the top of your page write out the reference for the text exactly as you would in an essay. Then write down any quotes you think might be useful- and don’t forget their page number!! You don’t have to use all the quotes in the essay, you’re just collecting any useful ones for now. Do this for as many sources as you think will be relevant/useful for your essay.
This is where most people go wrong. They fail to make a plan and so their essay has no direction. Always always make a plan. Start with your introduction. What’s your thesis going to be? Then break it down paragraph by paragraph. What do you want to say in each? Make sure that you have a good argument flowing throughout. At this point you should start deciding which quotes fit the argument you’re trying to make and piecing them into your plan. Don’t forget your conclusion. It’s okay if it’s just you summing up everything you’ve said before- the last thing you want to be doing is adding more to the argument. If you want to try spicing up your conclusion, why not try and add a suggestion for the direction of further study?
The last thing you want is to produce the most outstanding essay, only to be penalised for having the wrong layout. Before you even start writing check the layout requirements. Even if you’re 130% sure you know them, it’s best to double check and make sure that you’ve got it right. Nobody wants to risk penalisation for simple things! Also make sure you know what your word limit is and whether there’s an allowance for being above or below it
Now it’s time to write your first draft. It might seem as though what you’re writing is complete waffle, but stick with it. This is only a draft! It’s also perfectly okay if you’re way over the word count at this point because you still have the whole editing process to go through in which you can make things more concise. Make sure that you’re referencing as you go along as it will save you so much time- I always compile my bibliography in a separate document so that I need only copy it over when I’ve finished the editing process.
The editing process will make you want to pull your teeth out. It’s long winded but it’s so worth it. Start by trying to shorten any long winded, waffely sentences- there’ll always be a way that you can shorten them. If need be, take out any bits that you think really aren’t necessary to support your argument. Make a few minor tweaks to wording in order to make sentences flow better. If your essay isn’t completely unrecognisable by the end of your editing then you should probably edit a bit more. Once you’re done editing, read it aloud to ensure that you spot any mistakes that you might have previously missed. Then make sure you add your bibliography
Double, triple, quadruple check that you’ve met every requirement. Check your referencing. Make sure you’ve referenced correctly. Check that you’ve done absolutely everything that is required of you for an essay.
Make sure you’re ready in time to submit your essay at least a few days before the due date. The last thing you want is for you to be submitting last minute and something to go wrong- submit early to avoid there not being time to fix any technical issues. Plus, once it’s submitted you can relax and reward yourself for a job well done! (Perhaps you could reward yourself with some of the best discounts!?)
That’s my guide to perfecting that essay! Do you have a guide to perfecting that essay? If so, then share it with me in the comments below!
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