At university, it is very unlikely that a semester will pass by without you writing an essay!
A lot of students can feel like they are either good at writing essays or exams. But there shouldn’t be such a split!
If you feel like you need a little improvement in this area, these essay writing tips will help to tailor your essays to the question at hand, and make sure that you are ticking all the right boxes.
Not only will these essay writing tips help to (hopefully!) get you the grades you want – your essay writing ability may be one of the most important skills you can gain from your degree! Knowing how to succinctly and successfully argue your opinion can help you perfect future job applications and get you where you want to be.
Here are my essay writing tips to get you on track in your written assignments!
Essay writing tips to write your best academic essay yet.
Understand the question.
The number one thing you will get wrong when writing your essay is not answering the question.
Imagine writing your entire essay and missing the whole point of the assignment.
Don’t do it. Read your essay question again and again.
Make sure that you know exactly what each part of the question means. Are there multiple questions within it?
Keep the question handy at every point of the writing process.
While you are researching, planning and writing – keep that essay question handy.
Do your research
A heads up for any first-year university student: don’t use random websites for your research.
In high-school, you probably referenced the first google website listing that supported your opinion.
In university, you’ll need to up your game.
Start learning how to read scientific journal articles. This is where you will get your information from now on, whether you like it or not. You can ensure your resources are a little more trustworthy by using Google Scholar. Read my guide to scientific journal reading here.
Before you start any reading, make sure that you download a reference manager (like Zotero!) to keep track of all the articles you’ve skimmed.
These programs will collect information about your resources with just one click. If you’ve never used one before, have a look at my How to Use Zotero for Students guide here. It will save you sooo much time later on in the writing stage.
You’re not using your time to your best potential if you are not using a reference manager.
When you’ve got your reference manager and articles all ready to go – open up an empty Word document (or Notion or OneNote page) and start noting some material.
Be both thorough and speedy here. If an article has points that are relevant for your essay (remember to keep looking at your question!), take the time to write fleshed out notes.
If you’re not getting anything important, just move on.
Students can often think this is a waste of time – why put in the hours to research and not write anything?
Trust me. Those are two entirely separate steps. If you write and do your research at the same time – it’ll be obvious. You need to understand all the available information before you can clearly spell it out in an essay.
Lecturers and tutors at university will tell you again and again to plan your essay. You probably still don’t do it, hey?
Just do it.
Do you want your essay to sound like a jumbled mess of thoughts, with each bit of your research randomly here and there? Or do you want it to sound like a thoroughly planned, well thought out, piece of academic writing?
I know what your answer is – so make it happen!
Your essay plan should look something like this, with each section dot pointed and containing important pivotal points in your story.
Introduce your topic. Follow this very simply framework:
What is it? Why is it important? Explain it’s prevalence, common issues, or consequences. This will all depend on the exact topic.
Say your essay was about dementia treatment funding. You should explain what dementia is and why it is such a health burden: how many people it affects, how much money it’s management costs, quality of life consequences and outcomes.
Then, explain your stance on the essay question. Should dementia funding be increased or decreased?
Clearly state your stance, along with three or more arguments to support your stance (that you found when researching).
This statement of your position should also neatly outline your body paragraphs. These three (or more) reasons will be each paragraph of your essay.
You can also add a statement of your solution to the research question. For example, if you plan to argue that dementia funding should be decreased – where should the money go instead?
These are three or more paragraphs giving the reader your arguments and supporting statements from scientific journal articles.
Each body paragraph should start with an opening sentence. What are you going to start talking about? Introduce the paragraph.
Add in your supporting research points. What three dot points support your opinion here?
Anytime you reference something, don’t just re-summarise their work.
Write a sentence that explains the information from the source directly, then a follow-up sentence about what that means for your essay question.
What bit of new knowledge does a statement bring to answering your essay question?
Then you finish up your paragraph with an overall concluding sentence.
You just spent an entire paragraph telling your reader some new information, so what does it mean for your essay question?
This part is nice and easy. No new thinking here.
Rehash your introduction.
Summarise again why your topic/question is important, summarise your supporting arguments from the body paragraphs (basically this should be a re-phrasing of your three final concluding sentences from each of the three body paragraphs).
If you’d like, you can finish it all off with a statement of a solution to the question or problem. Let society know what they should do with this new knowledge from your essay.
Thanks to your plan – this part is so much smoother.
Write up your dot points in prose. It will be coherent and straight-forward thanks to your planning. You can sit down and know that you already know where your heading with your essay!
It’s all dot-pointed right there for you.
There is no doubt that a thorough plan will save you time in the writing stage.
To save yourself more time, you can simply add in in-text references using the Zotero extension. If you want to learn how to do this, check out my How to Use Zotero for Students to be a more efficient essay writer.
Reference managers can also add a reference list with one click!
You want to aim to have your essay completed 4-6 days before it is due. Give yourself adequate time to review.
Make sure that you check these final things before submitting:
- Did you answer the question? Did you really answer the question?
- Check the marking proforma (this should have been given to you by your lecturer – it will outline what they are looking for when marking your essay). Have you met the criteria outlined?
- Read it out loud. You’ll be able to more easily identify grammar and spelling mistakes this way.
- Is your essay formatted correctly? Are you using APA, Harvard? Do you need a title page? Don’t lose easy marks by not following formatting conventions.
- Review your in-text references and list. Reference managers aren’t foolproof.
You’ve put in the work, now it’s time to submit.
Once you’ve reviewed your work, feel the weight lift off your shoulders as you press that submit button!
These essay writing tips were the foundation of all of my university essays. With one last one coming up this semester, you can be sure that this is the structure I will be following!
Check out my essay writing checklist before you submit!