When essay time rolls around and deadlines loom, even the best students can struggle with the actual writing part. That’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s not uncommon for a person to be learned in their chosen academic field but not much of a writer. The fact is that you don’t have to be an amazing writer if you can just get a handle on good essay-writing practices. Here are a few foolproof but often overlooked techniques that can ease the pressure.
Have a Plan
This is old advice, but worth repeating. The key to any long project, like an essay or thesis, is planning. For many, this feels like procrastination—putting off the actual work. Think of your planning phase as a foundation or a roadmap that will support and guide everything else you do. The first part of this plan should relate to your timeframe, based on your deadline and how much time each week you can commit to work.
Remember to leave time for research, editing, and travel, because for each block of actual writing you do, there will be a corresponding set of peripheral tasks. Work out how long it takes you to write a section of, for example, 500 words. Then, as a rule of thumb, double that time to allow for research. This varies depending on your field, but the point is that you must leave time for all aspects of work, not just time spent sitting at the keyboard. Consider your personal strengths and weaknesses when estimating research or editing time.
This ties in with planning but applies throughout the essay-writing process. The fact is that planning is twofold; one part concerns writing your essay and the actual act of typing it out, while the other part concerns managing your life. You cannot write a good essay without sleeping, eating, and relieving stress.
The key is to know what you’re facing. Factor the resources you need, such as books, into your plan. Consider the cost and budget for it, so you don’t find yourself panicking later. Manage your stress levels and time by delineating work time and breaks. You cannot write a good essay if you have Facebook open in the background or a TV on in the room, nor can you write all day and night without taking a breather. With a little discipline, you can have a break every so often to de-stress and still be productive.
The Question Is Everything
Most essays will begin with a prompt in the form of a question or problem, which you are expected to answer. Some find it frustrating that they’re expected to expound for several pages based on just one line of text. Good essay writers know that the opposite is true; the question is there for a reason and it gives valuable insight into what the examiners are looking for. Even the language used is important. There is a difference between “compare” and “analyze.”
To put it another way, the question is your springboard; let it do the work for you! Start by considering all the ways that you could answer it. Each of these is a potential avenue for your essay and should be written into your plan. Some answers may not be viable for the core of the essay, but they can be mentioned as part of your argument. Look at how other people, such as experts in the field, have answered your question. Even if you disagree, drawing comparisons between your answer and theirs can only improve your work and show that you’ve understood the task.
This important skill is valuable in all aspects of life, not just academia. Critical thinking is simply the act of methodical, clear thinking in an objective fashion. The basic idea is to be rationally critical of everything, including yourself. This kind of analytical thought is intended to eliminate personal bias and uncover new avenues of inquiry.
When you begin building your essay, examine your arguments objectively, as if they were written by someone else and your task is to disprove them. This should spark plenty of ideas for further arguments within your essay, demonstrating to readers that you’ve thought your work through and haven’t just picked one route and followed it blindly. Even better, you may discover flaws in your theories that would have gone unresolved.
You do not have to be a great writer to improve your vocabulary. Think of words as tools in your work belt; the more you have, the better prepared you will be. Essays written with an overly limited vocabulary can be confusing or even misleading. More to the point, working with a word limit requires a certain economy of words, so wherever possible you should use one word instead of five to express an idea.
There’s no point in mastering your field if you can’t express your brilliant ideas. That’s what an essay is all about—your big opportunity to communicate your understanding of a topic and what you have to say about it. The first step is to invest in a thesaurus or find a reliable online alternative. Then, to ensure that you learn the words, use them in real life. Consider services that deliver new words to your inbox every day. Finally, make note of new words you encounter while researching your subject.