So, I’ll be honest with you…I am writing this as a form of procrastination from writing my essay that is due next week. However, I figured that as it is potentially helping other people get through the intensive and shitty task that is writing essays it may be worth doing.
I am a third year undergraduate student, and throughout my time at university I have achieved pretty consistently good grades. This is not so much to do with exam performance, because after being in education for nearly 16 years of my life I still can’t seem to find a suitable method for revision. I can attribute these grades to my coursework, which usually achieve A’s or B’s.
I have quite a distinctive method that I use for essay writing, which I’ve adapted during my time at university to suit me best, and it makes the process a lot less stressful for me. I have a few tips that I thought I’d share. Even if nobody finds these useful or even reads them, I figure that future Amy might enjoy reading this in the future when her back is breaking under the weight of deadlines and stress.
1/ Make a plan
This seems quite an obvious tip, but I find it really helpful to have a brainstorming session before I do anything else. Oftentimes when I get a piece of coursework, I get the option of more than one essay question. Once I have these questions to choose from I usually pick the one I would most like to do and then I write down as many ideas for paragraphs as I can. I write down bullet point ideas of paragraph subjects, arguments and counter arguments. This helps me decide if I am confident or not in pursuing the essay question I’ve chosen and being able to reach the word limit comfortably. If yes I then move on to…
2/ Research before writing
I know a lot of people who when writing essays simply research as they go. I used to do this at school however at university where you are expected to cite everything you mention and read widely across articles this does not work for me. I instead do all of my research prior to writing anything.
I use a website called goconqr.com, where you can create mind maps and flashcards etc. for revision purposes. I love the aesthetic of this website as well as how concise I can make my work. I usually create a mind map with the essay question in the centre and my bullet points from my brainstorm coming away from the question. I then find all the resources I want to read or reference, and I write the Harvard references out in full (it saves a lot of time when it comes to doing a bibliography later) and I then bullet point any relevant information from the texts I’ve read and put it on the mind map. I often spend more time doing this than I do on the actual essay, as once the information I need has been collected I feel far more prepared when it comes to writing. It also means that once I print it off I only need to reference one piece of paper, opposed to rifling through countless journal articles and textbooks. This is doubly handy when you are studying with limited space. I often enjoy essay writing outwith the house, for example on my university campus or in a coffee shop. This way all I need is my laptop and the mind map. Additionally, you are condensing all of the information you deem relevant into a small and accessible mind map, meaning you don’t have to read and reread the same journal article countless times to remember what you wanted to reference.
Here’s an example of a goconqr mind map I made in my second year of university, in case what I have tried to explain does not make sense.
3/ Jumbling paragraphs
Sometimes starting an essay is the hardest hurdle to overcome when writing it. I often find myself struggling to get started, and so I oftentimes don’t start at the beginning. I used to do my introduction first and continue in that order until I reached the conclusion. However now I pick one aspect of my mind map that I have made and start writing the paragraph. Sometimes just picking somewhere (normally one of the paragraphs I’m most confident about) and just getting going with it eradicates that feeling of writer’s block for me. I sometimes start on the third paragraph, dot back and forth between the conclusion and the introduction in a way where all the paragraphs end up existing independently of each other.
Once I have written each paragraph and am happy with them, I then establish an order. I often tweak this a couple of times, as my original order doesn’t necessarily fit or look right. I then tweak the opening and closing sentences of paragraphs (where necessary) to link them together in the order I’ve chosen. This just helps the essay flow a bit better and make more sense.
5/ Give it a few days
I normally finish my essays with a few days to spare before the deadline. Once I’ve finished it I tend to give myself a day or two without looking at it. Once I’ve done this I revisit the essay and read it through thoroughly, looking for any mistakes that I may have made, any sentences that could be altered or any bits that are not relevant that need removed. I find giving myself a break from the essay means I can come back to it with a fresh motivation and a more critical mind. I have found so many mistakes in the past when I’ve done my rereads, so it can be really important!
6/ Personal deadline
This is a tip that I try my best to do with every essay. Slip ups can happen and it is always useful to have an extra few days wiggle room in case you run into issues with your essay. For me, as I said above I use this time to iron out any issues I’ve found with my work. Plus, handing it in early means you can rest easy in the lead up to the due date and put it out of your mind.
Those are my golden tips, which I should really be putting into practice right now. I hope this helps even one person. And to those of you writing essays at the moment, I hope you get through them and make it to the other side!