Five tips on how to write better essays
These tips are lifesavers for a stressed out student.
I remember the first time I wrote an essay – it took me half a dozen drafts, a week of sleepless nights, and several cups of caffeine to produce what seemed to be an easy 700-word write up on a Shakespearean sonnet.
While essay writing is meant to be challenging, I later realised there are ways to make student life a tad bit easier.
Here are some tips I wish I knew from the get-go, which could have saved me countless hours stressing over what to do when assignment week comes around:
1. Pick a topic that interests you
Writing essays and dealing with tight deadlines requires efficiency. When choosing the scope of your research, make sure you are actually interested in learning more about it.
It’s easier to write about something you’re passionate about, as opposed to a topic that bores you.
For example, my essay grades improved significantly when I began writing about postcolonialism, which later became my main area of interest, compared to when I was still experimenting with classical texts and romanticism (which left me yawning whenever I tried to work on them).
2. Plan according to the word limit
As I’ve mentioned before, when it comes to essay writing, efficiency is king. Word limits are there to help shape your argument, and therefore planning within these limits is crucial.
When writing 1,500 words, make sure to write no more than two or three main ideas. However, when planning a 10,000-word dissertation, it is important to have enough material to cover a much larger research scope.
Ultimately, how broad or narrow your scope would be depends on the word limit so it should always be kept in mind.
3. Gather information from secondary sources
I remember feeling ingenious when writing a seemingly complex argument, only to realise there is already a full-on theory or research study out there saying the same.
Gathering information from secondary sources on JSTOR, Google Scholar, or your university’s library should be one of the first things you do to fully flesh out your argument.
Personally, I prefer extracting quotes from relevant sources before I begin writing, but having a feel of what research has already been done also works – depending on how you manage your time.
4. Mimic the academic writing style
Essay writing is intentional, and every word needs to be relevant not only to your argument, but to your field of research. It is important to read widely and familiarise yourself with your academic field’s writing style, as each discipline has its own vocabulary.
Having graduated with two majors, I had to learn the hard way that writing about literature is extremely different from writing about communications. When toggling between disciplines, it is pertinent to know if citations styles, theories, or research foci differ, so as to adjust to a suitable writing style.
5. Reiterate your thesis statement
When writing a longer body of work, it’s easy to get lost in the process and forget the heart of the essay – the thesis statement. Remember to reiterate your thesis statement and link each stage of your argument to your “so what?”, which is the main point of your essay.
Ideally, each sentence should always contribute to or build up your thesis statement. If you’re suffering from mental fatigue, ask classmates or use your university’s writing service to have a fresh pair of eyes look through your work.
I know that writing can seem like the most stressful thing in the world, especially when there are grades and your GPA on the line. Like many things, writing essays is about practice – with experience and careful planning, you will have a better feel of what makes a decent essay.