Essay Writing Tips: How to Write Your Best Academic Essay Yet.

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

Start reading!

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.

Plan it

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.

Introduction:

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?

Body Paragraphs:

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?

Conclusion:

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.

Writing time!

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!

Review

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:

  1. Did you answer the question? Did you really answer the question?
  2. 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?
  3. Read it out loud. You’ll be able to more easily identify grammar and spelling mistakes this way.
  4. 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.
  5. Review your in-text references and list. Reference managers aren’t foolproof.

Submit!

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!

Congratulations!

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!

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How to Choose your Thesis (or Dissertation) Supervisor.

In semester one of my third year, I was already stressing about narrowing down my options for my Honour’s thesis topics (also known as a dissertation, depending where you are).

There were so many things I had enjoyed in my undergrad, and so many topics I could see myself enjoying in the Honours year, that I was overwhelmed.

It can be super hard to choose your thesis supervisor!

I was left to my own devices while I tried to navigate my potential options in my third-year.

My lecturers were saying that students should “perhaps meet with some potential supervisors toward the end of the year,” but no one was explaining what I should look for in these potential supervisors.

I want to share with you the five steps I took to choosing my thesis supervisor and why you shouldn’t stress too much about picking the perfect topic. How should you choose your thesis supervisor?

Questions you need to ask yourself to choose the right thesis supervisor

1. Brainstorm Topics

Reflect on topics that peaked your interest during undergrad. This could be from the class curriculum, discussions with your peers or professors, or everyday musings.

Think about:

What modules most interested you? Which subjects did you choose as electives? What readings did you enjoy?

As a whole, what drew you to your degree program in the first place?

What do you talk about – in regards to your degree – to family or friends outside of university?

2. Review your Favourite Professors & Lecturers

Sometimes, topics that you enjoyed are not necessarily parallel to teachers you enjoyed having. And this also works vice versa.

Students often first turn to their favorite topics when deciding on their thesis supervisor – but you do not want to neglect thinking about the relationship you will have with your supervisor.

You will be spending an entire year with this person as your guide. Reflect on who you want to have weekly meetings with (someone you can comfortably converse with), share your problems, and even maybe cry with (not that I hope you get to that point – but it happens!).

I can assure you, the supervisor-student relationship you have will be absolutely crucial to navigating the Honour’s year.

Take it from my personal experience, with the COVID-19 crisis, I am so grateful for my supervisors. The unwavering support they have given me through the many Zoom meetings (and the added bonus of cats in the background, pyjama bottom morning meetings and virtual coffees).

3. Look at their Published Papers & Research Methods

So you know what and who you like – which academics in your university tick some of your boxes?

Check out their published research and see what directions they could take you. You can easily do this on Google Scholar.

It is important to review their style of project: what research methods do they use? Is this something you can see yourself doing?

In Psychology, the classic dichotomy is qualitative vs. quantitative research. This usually means working with numbers and statistics, or working with more complex (and usually wordy) data like interviews and stories.

For me, I crossed out a lot of options, as I knew I wanted a neuroscience focus and to work with some electrophysiological data (EEG).

Think about the types of skills you’d like to gain from your project.

4. Assess their Work Environments/Office

Where would you be working if you choose that supervisor?

Some supervisors may be a part of a larger research team. This would mean you’d have access to a larger group of people if you ever needed help. It can also expose you to a wider variety of research projects and give you an office to work in during your Honours year.

Some supervisors may not be part of a research team, and thus you won’t have the opportunity to mingle with many of their colleagues. You might be left to your own devices more than you would within a larger research group. This may be okay for you – but that just depends on your work style.

5. Technicalities

There are also some smaller technical questions you could ask yourself:

Is said supervisor going to be around when I need them? Will they have any periods of leave over the year?

What are their specialties? What are their weaknesses? Will you need co-supervisors on board to assist in other areas of the project?

Will said supervisor help to lead me to the career / future I’d like to follow? Does the project you could potentially do with them align with the skills you’d need for a future job?

Final Things to Consider…

At the end of the day, I would prioritise finding a supervisor that you can see yourself having a healthy working relationship with.

While it can seem overwhelming trying to perfect every aspect of your choice, you should know that your Honours year is about developing your skills and showcasing your research ability.

Don’t worry too much about your exact topic! Instead, focus on what you will be able to learn from the process, and preparing to put in the effort to present a final project to the best of your ability.

Hopefully these tips can help you to choose your thesis supervisor!

Have a look at my latest posts here!

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7 Chrome Extensions for Students to Revolutionise University Life

Hitting deadlines is all about being smart and efficient with your time. You can make researching, note-taking and essay writing more streamlined by simply downloading practical browser extensions. Here are 7 Chrome extensions for students that I use on a day-to-day basis as a fourth year Honours student)!

You can easily add these extensions to your browser through the Chrome Web Store.

Google Scholar

If you do absolutely any type of research online, you need to download this chrome extension.

When you are chatting to friends or supervisors about new research articles, this extension makes it super easy to quickly find what you’re looking for.

OneTab

If there’s anything that grinds my gears, its looking over at someone’s laptop next to me with 32 browser tabs open. Seriously! It’s a big clutter you just don’t need.

The OneTab extension neatly shrinks all your open browser tabs into one succinct list! This means that firstly, you won’t need to leave a whole lot of browser tabs open while completing one assignment AND you get a clean, tidy list (so you can easily find the webpage you’re looking for when you return to working). This extension for students is one you don’t want to miss out on.

Notion Web-Clipper

I use this extension every time I want to save something into a Notion links database, making it easily accessible later on when I want to come back to it. It works like a bookmark, but can be easily integrated into your notion workspace. I have used this one lately for post-graduate planning and sorting through options for travel accomodation.

Zotero

The Zotero extension makes researching and referencing super easy. With just one click, you can transfer the details of your open webpage to the Zotero reference manager, and use this later on to quickly add in-text references to your essays.

If you’d like to know more about how I use Zotero, check out my blog post: How to use Zotero for Students: Master Reference Managers.

Momentum

Momentum is by far my favourite Google Chrome extension. It has less practical use than all my other extensions (for work-focused students) BUT it creates an absolutely beautiful workspace every time you open up a new tab on your browser. And sometimes, having something pretty to look at when you open up your computer can be very helpful to get you stuck into your work!

The Momentum extension gives you a new wallpaper everyday, and allows you to set your main priority for the day. You can also customise the new tab screen to show you daily mantras, and add to-do lists in the bottom right or your favourite links in the top left.

Dualless

Dualless is another extension you cannot miss out on as a student. Especially if you have to do a tonne of reading and internet researching. This browser extension allows you to quickly ‘snap’ your current window into a certain size across you screen, allowing you to have multiple browser windows open side by side. Super useful for reading and taking notes simultaneously.

AlphaText

On top of Dualless for researching and reading, the Alphatext extension is also super useful in this domain. Some content on the internet can be difficult to read, with strange fonts or interesting colours. With the Alphatext extension, you can alter any page to present content in any font and size you most prefer. It’s a real saver for those tired eyes on late night study sessions.

Hopefully these Google Chrome extensions for students can help you become more efficient at university.

Let me know if you have any extension recommendations!

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How to use Zotero for Students: Save Time with Reference Managers.

When you start writing your first assignment in university, your lecturers and tutors will insist that you pay close attention to your references. You must format them correctly: dot point here, italics here, ‘quotation’ here. In this case, you can be one of two types of students: someone who painfully writes up their references manually one at a time, or someone who works smarter – and downloads a reference manager. Here is an easy to follow, quick guide to Zotero for university students!

Let me show you how you can stop wasting your time and focus on perfecting your essay instead of perfecting your references.

There are multiple programs that you can use as a reference manager. Throughout my undergraduate degree, we were encouraged to use Endnote. My university allows students to download this program for free, but it is normally a program a user has to pay for. If you have access to Endnote and would like to know how to use this program click here.

However, in my Honours year I have chosen to migrate to Zotero. This is purely for the fact that Zotero is a free program anyone can download and is a popular reference manager in my laboratory. Read below for how to use Zotero for students!

How to Download Zotero

Firstly, head to the Zotero website and download the installer. On the front page, there is a button to ‘Download’ and then click on whichever system you are using (Mac, Windows, Linux) and follow the prompts.

You most definitely want to download Zotero itself, plus the browser extension (Google Chrome in my case) and also the Plugin for Word. You can find the plug in by clicking the ‘browse plugins’ towards the bottom of the download page. There is lots of information on how to correctly install these onto your computer.

Make sure that you create an account on Zotero so that your references can be accessible from anywhere and are backed up!

logo-zotero-for-students

How to Use Zotero When Writing Essays

Using a reference manager will save you time and effort when writing your essays. But you have to start using Zotero from the very first stages of your research, because back-tracking later just creates problems.

Research

In the research stages of your essay (when you are collecting your information), the browser extension does all the work for you. First, open up Zotero on your computer and create a collection (file -> new collection) on Zotero to save your references in. I usually create separate ones for each essay/assignment.

Whenever you find a webpage or journal article that you will use in your essay, all you need to do is click on the Zotero extension (shown below) in the toolbar of your browser, click on your chosen collection, and Zotero will automatically add the reference to your reference manager.

The more information that Zotero can extract from the webpage, the more correct your references will be later on (check the review process at the bottom of this post).

extensions-for-students
To learn about all the browser extensions I use as a university student, click here.

Please note: You will need to have Zotero open anytime you wish to save a reference using the browser extension.

Writing

When you have finished writing up your notes and essay plan, you can move on to actually writing your essay.

This part is super easy! Whenever you write a sentence that you need to reference, simply click on the Zotero section of the tool bar, click ‘add/edit citation,’ search for the reference you need and click enter. Then, Zotero will automatically add in the chosen in-text reference in your selected style! You can just continue on writing.

how to use zotero in word documents
The first time you do this, Zotero will ask you for which type of reference style you would like (APA, Harvard, etc.). This will depend on your university and degree program. You can also download new types of references if the one you need is not already integrated into Zotero.

If you wish to use an alternate style of in-text references at any point (different from the usual Name et al., 2020), just edit the in-text reference itself and then tell Zotero not to make any further changes when the pop-up arises.

Adding your Reference List

When you have completed your essay, you will need to add your reference list for your readers to see the information about references you have used.

To do this, click on the add/edit bibliography. And just like that – Zotero will create a reference list of all the in-text references you have previously used, in the style of your selected reference. So easy!

how to use zotero to make a bibliography on word document

Review

Unfortunately, while a reference manager makes the job easier, it doesn’t mean that your references will automatically be perfect. You still need to review and check over your references once they are added in. You can do this one of two ways, depending on your preferences.

First option: Check over all the information for each reference in your chosen collection. Open up your Zotero program, and scroll through each reference, ensuring that all the correct information is in the necessary rows. The information you will need varies according to referencing style (APA, Harvard, etc.) so you may need more or less parts filled out depending on style. Next time you open up your essay in Word, this new information should be updated into your references.

how to use zotero program on desktop

Secondly, you can change your automated reference list on your word document to text only by clicking unlink citations and manually check or change anything that needs to be altered. You should do this in a second saved version of your essay, as it will unlink Zotero from your document, meaning that if you make any other changes to in-text references or in the Zotero program itself, your reference list will not include the new changes.

And that’s it!

Hopefully this How to Use Zotero for Students guide has helped you to successfully navigate your reference manager! All reference managers are pretty similar so it is likely you can transfer this process to other programs.

All the best with your essay writing (you can thank me later for the extra time you now have!)

If you enjoyed this How to Use Zotero for Students, but would like to try an alternate reference manager… click here to see my guide on using Endnote.

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How to use the reMarkable Paper Tablet for University Students.

How being a paper person just got a whole lot cooler – and more sustainable!

The reMarkable tablet is a very cool and very neat little device. When I first saw the advert, it ticked all the right boxes. But the company doesn’t delve too deeply into everything this the reMarkable can do for university students.

I am a sucker for a notebook full of neat hand-written notes and I kept feeling absolutely rubbish about myself at the end of every semester – throwing away stacks of lecture print outs and highlighted journal articles.

So when I stumbled across an advert for the reMarkable, I was hooked.

the remarkable paper tablet for university students exams

It’s advertised as a tablet with a ‘paper-like feel,’ and it can help you free yourself from distractions. But I’m going to show you how you can actually use the reMarkable paper tablet as a university student everyday.

Taking notes

The easiest and most straightforward functionality of the reMarkable tablet for students is taking notes as you usually would on a lined piece of paper.

lined paper on the remarkable paper tablet

After adding a notebook, you simply select a ‘lined’ template (which mimics a classic notepad) and start jotting down whatever you need. There are options for different types of writing tools (ballpoint pen, fineliner, marker, pencil, brush) and each can be various sizes to suit your writing style. There is also a ‘highlighter’ option to mark out important bits!

The best part is, if you’re a perfectionist, the reMarkable has tonnes of options to edit your work as you go. Having to scribble out my hand written notes (and essentially ruining their aesthetic) was the bane of my existence.

tool bar with different pen options of the remarkable tablet

When note-taking on the reMarkable you can erase sections on the page, move chunks around, resize things and copy things. There are plenty of chances to organise your notes ‘just right.’

Marking Up Lecture Slides

If you’d like to take notes on the lecture slides, you can also conveniently convert a Powerpoint into PDF in hand-out layout.

powerpoint lecture slides with mark ups on remarkable

Do this buy selecting the print option on Powerpoint, changing the layout to ‘hand-outs’ (I usually do 2 slides per page) and then save as a PDF using the drop down at the bottom left. You transfer this PDF to your device using reMarkable’s own computer software, and then open it up as your lecture begins.

Readings & Researching

If your course requires you to do a ridiculous amount of readings, you can most definitely do this on your reMarkable. Bonus points for the easier-to-read and less harsh for your eyes Kindle-like screen. Anything you want to transfer to your remarkable, however, must be either ePUB or PDF.

research article PDF on remarkable paper tablet

Sometimes reading a certain PDF can be difficult if the writing is super small, but there is an option to zoom in. It can however be a bit slow to navigate the page, make notes, and seamlessly read all at once. I haven’t yet found writing size to be an issue with typical journal articles.

Calendar & Daily Scheduling

I have imported both a calendar and daily scheduling ‘template’ to my reMarkable which allows me to note down important dates, class times and what I need to achieve in a day. I’ve used PDFs from Journalize (who have created a whole bunch of really functional templates for reMarkable users).

Bullet Journal

With so many templates on the reMarkable, you can also set up your own digital Bullet Journal! Using the dot template, you can create all the usual bullet journal set ups, and with the various writing tools, you can produce creative and artistic spreads just as you would with a real notebook in your hand.

See how I use the reMarkable paper tablet as a bullet journal.

Technicalities…

As I previously mentioned, the reMarkable has its own computer software in which you can drag and drop files to add them to your device.

This program neatly syncs automatically after any doodling you do on the device, and all your work can be instantaneously viewed on your computer and downloaded as a PDF file.

On top of this, the reMarkable also has a mobile app (from both the App Store and Google Play) which gives your phone the same ability to view any notebooks you’ve made and transfer files to your reMarkable.

remarkable computer software with organised folders
The system itself also does a really nice job of allowing you to organise your files.

Something that I don’t use too often, but is an interesting feature – is the reMarkable’s ability to translate hand written notes into text files that you can email to yourself or colleagues.

I have used this feature to transfer my notes to word/Notion and make my notes searchable.

With this device, I have never been in a situation that I cannot access my notes!

Something that can definitely not be done with real life notebooks. It basically means that I can revise for exams at any spare second of the day – productive much?

Final Thoughts…

Overall, the reMarkable has seriously changed the game for note-taking at university.

My tablet was the centre of attention for its first few weeks of classes (and also catches the eye of lecturers and tutors – a nice ice-breaker!).

And you no longer have to carry around stacks of notebooks or print-outs for multiple classes. Honestly a win-win situation.

As an old-school girl, I also purchased this Steadtler Noris Digital Pen to use with my reMarkable which just makes the experience even cooler.

Honestly, the reMarkable is exactly what you need to keep up with the digital world and save the trees, even as a ‘paper person.’

If you’re still unsure: check out my post on 5 reasons why you need a reMarkable Paper Tablet as a student.

the remarkable paper tablet is for students

Read my latest posts!

The reMarkable website now has a tonne more content than when I was first searching for information so check it out here.

You can also find lots of happy reMarkable users on the reMarkable usergroup facebook page. While there are users who have expectations exceeding reMarkable’s capabilities (wishing it worked like an iPad), I find that a lot of people who bought the tablet for its simplicity are very happy.

Disclosure: This blog receives a commission for using affiliate links within our content.  Although we receive commission for using and linking to these products, all of our opinions and suggestions are unbiased.

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