Guest post: Emily Valentine
Whether you like it or not, essay writing is part and parcel of completing a degree. Even those who usually excel at written work can find themselves feeling the fear when faced with the prospect of putting together a lengthy essay or dissertation. But, fear not. With a few handy hints, you can get on the right track to writing a masterpiece.
Don’t keep putting it off
When first starting an essay, the big challenge ahead can seem daunting. Sometimes it may seem easier to do an ostrich and bury your head in the sand, hoping it will go away, but we both know that’s not going to happen. Procrastination can be a killer so stop avoiding the issue, and get cracking. Starting early allows yourself lots of time to do research, get feedback and rewrite your work, which in the long run is going to minimize stress.
Enjoy what you’re writing about
What happens if you have a completely open topic? On the one hand you’re lucky to have some creative freedom. But on the other – you’re faced with unlimited choice. When in doubt, stick to writing about something you’re passionate about, as you’ll find it easier to stay motivated. If you’re bored to tears writing your essay, anyone reading it will be too.
Research your idea
If you’re writing a critical essay, you’re going to have to do lots of research. This can be particularly daunting at first, but make it easier by finding the key texts and theorists within your subject area to start with. Once you’re familiar with these and know what the leading experts think, it’s time to start developing your own opinions. Don’t be afraid to disagree with the experts – as long as you can justify your theories!
You might also want to do some first-hand research, which could include surveys, data analysis, interviews or market research.
Keep your writing organised
Make sure you’re crystal clear about the basic structure of your essay before you start writing. Most essays, regardless of length, follow the same basic formula - you introduce your topic, discuss your findings and research, and then come to a conclusion.
Also, avoid heading down the plagiarism path by ensuring any sources you use are referenced correctly. Websites such as Cite It Right can help you. Keeping a list of all the sources you use is vital, so get out your sticky notes and highlighters and make sure you bookmark all your online sources.
Don’t be shy about asking for help
Writing comes easily to some people, but if that’s not you don’t panic - just make sure you ask for help. Your university will likely have resources for you to tap into such as a writing centre. Access this at an early stage and your writing can only get better.
It’s also a very good idea to make regular appointments with your tutor so you can talk through your ideas. Perfecting and rewriting your work is to be expected, so don’t feel you can’t share rough notes or arguments with anyone. Even the most talented writers have people to ask for advice and guidance!
Find a way of working that suits you
Even the most motivated writers can veer off track from time to time, but working in a way that suits your own personality can help. Author Joan Bolker says “anyone can write for 10 minutes a day”, so try working in short bursts if you’re finding it impossible to work on the same thing for hours on end. If you find it easier to work when you’re bouncing ideas off other people, try and organize a study group with other people on your course.
You could also try rewarding yourself for milestone efforts. Why not do something fun after every 1,000 words? If you’ve got something to look forward to, you’re more likely to keep going.
Emily writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.
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