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How to Write Better Essays


Wait, what, better essays? Yesterday's post was on going shopping dressed as a Superhereo and today you're giving me advice on academia? What the hell is going on with you Morag? Well, the truth is this post is for a give away being hosted by Megan of Charade for a free place on her happiness eCourse. There was a toss-up between Halloween Hijinx (but it's, huh, not Halloween) or Ultimate Amsterdam on a Budget Part 2 (I have never been to Amsterdam and only would have picked that because I asked her question in Part 1 and she answered it in Part 2). This may not be an exciting topic, though this article, when originally written, helped me develop a new (and much needed) approach to essay-writing! 


Image thanks to net_efekt


Whoever invented the essay was a cruel, cruel being but, unfortunately, those little slithers of paper and ink are now a fact of student life and we must learn to deal with them.

But what if we could learn to do more than just deal with them? What if we could ace them every time? What if we could get essay structure down to a fine art so that they would be so easy to churn out, our stress levels could come back down where they belong?

Let’s try it.

♥ Brainstorm. Write down every idea you have, even if it might seem stupid, no one has to see this scribbling, you’re simply organising your own thoughts. Once you have a couple of ideas group them on a new page to form the basis of your paragraphs.

♥ STOP! No writing yet. Talk about your ideas with someone. You should have a clear argument before you begin writing, not expect it to arrive whilst you’re staring at a blank word document. Speaking your thoughts aloud is a great way to develop your argument. If you take this seriously enough, you’ll have the essay formed in your head before you sit down to write it.

♥ Wait! Don’t start writing just yet. Plan, plan and plan some more; the more you plan the easier the writing process. Know exactly what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it, using bullet points in a rough plan as a hard copy to refer back to. Break each point up into small 150-200 word chunks so the whole thing seems less daunting. Aim to blitz each segment individually, not the whole essay in one go.

♥ Now is the time to just write, no pressure, leave the introduction for now if you want, start anywhere you can. If you’re at a place where you’re thinking ‘I have an idea, but how am I going to make x amount of words out of it?’ then start with a killer conclusion and work backward. This should be easy for you and hopefully, as you write it, further ideas will emerge. If you’re thinking ‘I have no clue what I’m supposed to say about this' then start somewhere in the middle, start with anything you have, spew some keywords that sound clever into your word document and then start linking them somehow. Think of your initial writings as merely a first draft, we want words on the page that’s all; we can play around with them later.

♥ If you get at all stuck, immediately move on to the next point. Don’t run the same ideas around in your head thinking ‘crap, crap, crap’ or you’re just going to completely bum yourself out. You’ll probably find the best ideas about one point come to you when you’re supposed to be focusing on another point!

♥ Have the question or guidelines in your sight at all times and stop after every point to review and make sure you’re on track. This is essential because it's all too easy to run off on a tangent and end up wasting your own time because you'll only need to cut it later.

♥ Got a first draft? Now be your worst critic; admit what’s bad. Cut it. Then be your best critic; admit what’s excellent. Go get yourself a treat.

♥ Come back. Review, rewrite, reassess. Cut and paste, move points here and there so that your argument develops coherently on the page. You could even print a copy, snip it up into paragraphs and key sentences then rearrange to your hearts content, a really practical option for organising your argument.

♥ Where necessary, back up what you're saying. Rarely are you allowed to make big, sweeping claims without some kind of reasoning or proof. Be sure to check if quotes come under your word count.

♥ Got a second draft? Try getting some outsider opinions, ideally from your tutor, but classmates are also great if you can coax them away from their own essays.

♥ Tighten your writing: check grammar and turn sloppy turns of phrase like ‘much more bold’ into ‘bolder.’ Lose excess adjectives; as a rule of thumb, one per noun should be sufficient, don’t let yourself say the same thing three times just to appear eloquent e.g. ‘as a writer he was eccentric, unconventional and incredibly original’ this will just annoy your tutor, eat up your word count and make your argument sound too flowery.

♥ Most importantly: try and learn something! Don’t think of your essay as merely an inconvenience – what can you learn from the specific topic? What is interesting about it? What makes you go ‘hmm...’? What original ideas can you bring to the subject that might just make your tutor sit up and think ‘hey, they're on to something there’? Step back from the assignment and remember why you’re at University. This is your topic, this is why you’re here, you have incredible potential waiting to be unlocked or else you’d never have got this far. Take the essay between your teeth and ace it; deep down, you know you can.

What tips do you have for writing better essays?



Post originally written by Megan. Part of 'Archive August' on CharadeStyle.com. Join in the fun and win!
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