Don’t let essays daunt you. As long as you have the right working frame and mindset you can boost your writing and results. Here are some useful hints and tips that can help you plan and progress when writing essays.
Stages in the Writing Process
Break the writing process up into manageable chunks; this helps you to excel at each stage and plan your time so that you hit your deadline. Follow these 7 stages to achieve optimal results from your writing:
Analyse the title: Work out properly in advance what the question is asking for. Note keywords and function words (for example ‘;compare’, ‘;analyse’ or ‘;discuss’).
Make a timetable: Remember the 80:20 rule 80 per cent on preparation (Stages 14) and 20 per cent on writing up and finishing (Stages 57). Make your essay timetable fit in realistically with your other commitments and put a copy up at your desk.
Gathering data: Keep in mind what do you need to know and where are you going to get this information from. Highlight key info in your notes and use online resources carefully and wisely.
Planning: Get your data down in the most helpful way you can and plan out the structure of your essay in detail before you start it.
Write the first draft: Remember to write for your reader, and guide them through your argument. Assume and maintain an academic voice and style.
Revise your draft: Print your draft out and read it through. Mark up any changes you need to make on the paper, then, back on computer make these changes to a copy of your original version and rename it.
Check and polish: Tidy up the finished version, paying attention to the main areas: content and presentation.
Proofread your work carefully before submitting.
Tackling Your Essay-Writing Demons
Turn those little negative thoughts about essays around. You may feel self-conscious about your writing style or apprehensive about those large word counts, but rethinking those depressing thoughts can help you to see the situation in a whole new light and give you a confidence.
When I hand in my essay, I’ll be exposed as an imbecile
who should never have come to university.
You won your place at university fairly and squarely and have a
right to be there. Many other students are feeling exactly the same
Writing’s such a solitary business how do I
You have lots of people to talk to! You can discuss assignments
with your tutor and your classmates, and although only you write up
the final product, you have lots of opportunities for supporting
one another along the way.
How on earth can I produce assignments of, say, 3,000
You can break any big task down into chunks, and
writing’s no different; it’s completely manageable and
everyone can do it in the end.
I don’t know all the academic words for things, and what
I write sounds childish.
You’re here to learn, and through reading and attending
lectures you pick up the jargon. You’ll soon start writing
like an expert!
I can’t write anything original.
As an undergrad, you don’t necessarily have to. You read
and acknowledge the work of other writers and researchers
who’ve been there before you and comment on what
they’ve written in your own way and in your own words.
Originality can come later (when you’re doing your PhD or
heading for a Nobel Prize).
Key Websites for Essay Writers
Here’s a list of some key websites that can help you research just about any topic for your writing projects or for discovering new areas of interest. Remember to reference any material you use, where appropriate:
Google scholar: Peer-reviewed journal articles and extracts from books, without any of the usual commercial links.
IngentaConnect: You may have to pay for a full article, but you can access abstracts for free and many academic libraries have a subscription.
Internet Public Library: An enormous virtual public library.
Infomine: A virtual library of Internet resources for users in universities. Created and maintained by librarians, it’s an American site with a wide scope and useful help pages for searching.
Questia: Another massive virtual library of books and articles, although you need a subscription for full access.
The British Library: 10,000 pages of information and an endless gallery of images.
Research Papers For Dummies
You’ve got a subject (&”human-bear interactions&”) and a topic (&”the relationship between Goldilocks and the three bears&”). Now it’s time to come up with a thesis statement &- the point that you want to make about Goldie and the furry guys. A couple of possibilities occur to you &- &”bears that hang around people end up eating porridge and sleeping in beds,&” &”both blonds and baby bears like medium-firm mattresses,&” and &”humans and bears share forest resources.&” As you tease out a few more ideas, you search for the middle ground, avoiding a thesis statement that is too broad or too narrow. You want one that, like Goldilocks’s porridge, is &”just right.&”
As soon as you’ve got a chunk of research, a deck of index cards, or a few files on the computer, take a few moments to reread your material. Think about what you might prove with all those facts and quotations. A couple of techniques will help you decide.
As you review your notes, do any questions occur to you? Is your curiosity piqued by anything you’ve written? If not, check out the next sections, &”If only,&” &”I recommend,&” and &”Relationships,&” or go back to note taking and try again later.
Any questions that pop into your mind arise from issues that are relevant to your topic, and issues are the breeding ground for theses. For example, suppose you’re doing a psych paper on parental influence &- specifically, how parental discipline affects children’s behavior. You’ve read a ton of studies that attempt to describe the relationship between parents’ actions and children’s reactions. As you review your notes, you may find yourself wondering:
- Do children of very strict parents behave better?
- Does a child’s reaction to strict parental rules change as the child grows older?
- Does spanking affect children’s self-esteem?
- Does inconsistent discipline have a negative effect on children’s behavior?
Not one of these questions is a thesis, but each is a possible starting point. Possible because you can’t cover them all in one paper. You have to choose. Right now, suppose that you select the second sample question.
If the question of age interests you the most, read your notes again with question two in mind. Look closely at every note concerned with discipline, age, and rules. Put little check marks next to information about children’s behavior &- the behavior of those children identified as having trouble in school or with the law, perhaps. If necessary, go back to the library or the Internet for more research on the relationship between discipline techniques, age, and children’s behavior. If you can, do some statistical analysis to see which factors matter and which are simply coincidence.
After you’ve finished those tasks, you’re probably ready to take a stand. Express that stand in a single sentence, perhaps this one:
Children of very strict parents follow the rules diligently until adolescence, but not during the teen years.
Now you’ve got the basis for your paper: the thesis statement. (By the way, the preceding paragraphs are just an example, not necessarily a psychological truth!)
Another way to hunt for a thesis is to consider the &”if only&” spots in your paper. This method is particularly helpful for history projects. Again, start by rereading your notes. Look for moments when the entire course of historical events might have changed, if only one decision or one detail had been different. For example, suppose you’re writing about a famous incident involving Humpty Dumpty. You’ve read eyewitness accounts, historians’ analysis of the events, and doctors’ descriptions of the injuries Mr. Dumpty suffered. Now you’re ready to make a thesis statement.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, here are the &”facts&” of the case:
Victim: Humpty Dumpty, male egg
Physical description: Round but delicate build, oval face, pale complexion
Date of incident: Nineteenth century
Place: King’s walled courtyard
Description of incident: Victim had a great fall from a wall approximately ten feet high. Bystanders called 911 immediately. King’s horses and king’s men arrived within ten minutes. Entire battalion of horses and men worked on the victim for 45 minutes, but could not put him back together again.
After reviewing all your material, you think
- If only the top of the wall had been shaped like an egg crate, giving Humpty Dumpty more stability
- If only Humpty Dumpty had eaten a calcium-rich, shell-strengthening diet
- If only the king’s men had had more training in re-gluing than in military maneuvers
The last &”if only&” in the preceding list gives you an idea for a thesis, which you turn into a sentence:
The emphasis on militarism in the training of the king’s men led to the tragic demise of Humpty Dumpty.
Depending upon your topic, another road to a thesis statement comes from the phrase &”I recommend.&” This road is especially helpful if you’re writing about science, social science, technology, or any area that looks toward the future. Review your notes and ask yourself what improvements you’d like to see in the situation or conditions. Then ask yourself what should be changed to bring about those improvements.
Here’s this method in action. Suppose you’re writing about fatal accidents. One of your sources is the Humpty Dumpty incident, described in the preceding section, &”If only.&” As you scan your notes, think about the improvements that you would like to see &- perhaps the prevention of shattering injuries caused by falls. What should be changed to bring about that improvement? The addition of calcium supplements to the water supply, a change in the design of palace architecture, additional training in egg gluing for emergency medical personnel, or something else? One of those ideas becomes your thesis statement:
To prevent serious injury, architects should design safer walls.
Another thesis catcher is the relationship question, especially helpful when you’re writing about literature. As you’re poring over your notes, look for events or ideas that belong together in one of these ways: cause and effect, contrast, or similarity. For example, suppose you’re writing about the murder of the king in a modern drama, Macbeth Revisited (not a real play). You delve into English politics during the Thatcher era and decide that the factions portrayed in the play reflect the conflict between contemporary English political parties. Now you’ve got a &”relationship&” thesis.
The strife between the Googrubs and the McAgues in Macbeth Revisited mirrors the conflict between the Labor and Tory parties in the late twentieth century.
Or, suppose you’re writing about energy and pollution. You contrast fossil fuels with solar power, deciding on this thesis statement:
Solar energy is less harmful to the environment than fossil fuels.