1.Understand the question. What is it asking?
This may, at first, sound very obvious – but fact of the matter is that failing to correctly understand the question is one of, if not the most common reason behind a disappointing grade when it comes to submitting an essay. Understanding from the very offset what you are being asked is key. Underline any keywords and be wary of diving straight in too soon. Is the essay question you are answering in your head the same as the one written down in front of you?
2. Plan and schedule
After understanding the question, it is equally important that you manage your time effectively. Students can often underestimate the amount of time and effort required to write a good essay, which results in three things: (1) late nights at the laptop, (2) rushing your work and (3) no time to reflect and review. If you want to achieve a good grade, you should start planning your essay the moment you receive the essay question. You don’t have to do it all at once, you can go for a walk and come back to it. But allow yourself enough time to achieve your best by being strategic in your planning.
3. Libraries give you power
Although the writing part may feel like the most integral activity in doing an essay, reading is what enables you to have the foundation from the very beginning. Therefore, before you start writing your essay, you should seek to find relevant literature. Once you have found authoritative and trustworthy background reading, learning how to then skim through it is a vital academic skill. You should begin by looking through literature databases – Google Scholar is a helpful tool for this, before you then read ruthlessly through content pages and final paragraphs of chapters to help you decide if the material is connected to the very heart of what you are writing about.
4. The magic of PEE
In academic writing classes at SBC I often tell my students that they are the tour guides of their topic and that writing is very much about keeping your reader with you. In helping me keep to a logical structure what always helped from my first essay on Julius Caesar in year 8 right until my dissertation as an undergraduate was the rule of PEE.
Having a clear and logical structure will help ensure that your essay stays focused, and doesn’t stray from the question being answered, but above all the rule of PEE enables you to go into more depth. So if we use our tour guide analogy as an example, you’ll never simply stroll past a landmark in your town without explaining in more detail why it is significant. So don’t forget, always PEE all over your essay.
5. Own it
During lockdown I took up sewing and I asked my aunty for lots of advice at every turn, and truth be told essay writing can very much feel like you are stitching together the thoughts of other people to the point that it can feel quite impersonal. Academic writing at times can feel like you lack ownership, when in actual fact what the marker is looking for are clear signs that you own the topic you are writing about. The best way to do this is to paraphrase concepts and ideas, not by sewing big patches of quotation together, but by always striving to present theories and ideas in your own words. Paraphrase wherever possible, and quote only when necessary. This shows the marker that you own it.
6. Find a ‘study buddy’
Finding someone to talk your essay through with will allow you to have more confidence and clarity in your writing. If you talk through what you want to write, it can really show in your ability to put ideas across clearly. Not everyone is as lucky as Ron Weasley in that they have a Hermione Granger in their life, but all you need is someone with a good pair of ears, who is as focussed in their studies as you are.
7. Write academically
A big thing to overcome when first adapting to writing academically is tone and style. Try and avoid non-academic language:
Always strive to use clear, concise, and precise language as it is a hallmark of effective academic writing. Remember you are not chatting to your best mate on messenger, nor are you talking to The Queen, but usually writing somewhere in the middle. In the chart below you can see a selection of examples of non-academic and academic language.
||however, in contrast, even though
8. Why not attend a summer school?
At SBC we offer a variety of different courses which can help greatly enhance your ability to write…where all of the above pointers are supplied in abundance. Whether it be the wise soundbites of a tutor who has seen it and done it, finding study buddies at every turn, or finding the most inspiring library in which to soak up new knowledge. SBC can provide you with all.
Learn more about our summer courses that support students with general English.