Whether you’re writing your first university essay or just want some pointers and tips, as a recent graduate I thought I’d share the most efficient method I came up with to write a great essay. In a nutshell, organisation is your friend!
Make an essay plan
The first step to writing a great essay is to make a structured plan; all essays follow the pattern of introduction, main body paragraphs and conclusion so I would usually start by creating a document with the essay question and headings for each of these sections. Then I would go through and read all my notes and any powerpoints on blackboard for that module and copy and paste anything relevant to the question into the bottom of my ‘plan’ document. Once you have all the content together it makes it easier to pick out a few points you want to discuss (less is more when it comes to this – don’t make my mistake and try to talk about everything, the idea is to expand on a couple of key points with your own opinion and secondary sources.) Once you’ve done this you can begin to group together your relevant notes into two or three paragraphs, I usually like to bullet point these under subheadings, and begin to beef it out by adding in secondary sources.
Read and take notes
If you’ve been prepared and on top of things you’ll probably already have notes on all the weekly reading – well done you – you can slot those relevant quotes straight into your plan! If you’ve fallen behind on reading however, or can’t find anything relevant in your notes I’ve got some great tips for speedy reading! You can actually find a lot of books and articles online these days such as on educational eBookstore Kortext and Google Scholar which allow you to search for key terms within the book, saving me a lot of time and many tears over my three years at uni, and then copy and paste those quotes straight into your plan. Just remember to always put the book name and page number in when you do this to avoid getting marked down for plagiarism. Thank me later! If your secondary reading isn’t online don’t panic, go to relevant chapters only, skim reading and underlining in pencil saves a lot of time as well!
Make it concise
Don’t spend ages explaining the concept you’re writing about, you just need a brief outline and then to get straight into that critical evaluation. No waffling! Make sure you either give your opinion on the argument or evaluate it against other texts. Keep to the word count as some subjects can be really strict on this, I’d definitely recommend checking if your module allows the 10% leeway on the word count.
Following on from my last point, referencing becomes very serious at university level and you can be penalized if you don’t do it correctly even if it’s an accident. For this reason it’s super important to get into good referencing habits from uni day one! Luckily there are some great time saving resources out there such as Refworks and Endnote, referencing software that allows you to enter a book name and gives you the full book details with the correct formatting for your course and saves them all in your account.
Finally, take time to read through your essay slowly focusing on spelling and grammar (or better yet get someone else to proof read while you do theirs), make sure you haven’t used contractions (shortening do not to don’t for example) and make sure it makes sense to an outside reader who doesn’t know about your subject.