Essays are part and parcel of university life. You know this. You may even feel that you know how to write a pretty good essay; after all, you were good enough to get into university, weren’t you? But there is a big difference between school essays and university essays. There is also a big difference between university essays and business writing.
Not only should university essays show a clear understanding of the subject matter, but they should also show your ability to present logical and lucid arguments based on your analysis of the resource material. They should show original thinking. And, they should show a good grasp of English grammar.
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You’ve got a topic, now you need to understand it. Usually, the topics are very broad. It’s up to you to familiarise yourself with the reference material so that you can find an angle that appeals to you and explore it more fully.
Try and break down the process into three sections:
- Research Using the Internet- this is mostly to familiarise yourself with the topic and to find leads that could turn into more valuable resources
- Research Using Academic Databases- this is where you’ll find more in-depth information from specialist sources – people who, like you, are taking the time to really understand the subject
- Research Using the Library- get out from behind your computer and spend time physically thumbing through books. You’ll get much more information than from academic papers and journals. Make sure to use a library’s resources too, with many offering referencing and study tools to help you find exactly what you’re looking for
Use all of this new knowledge to narrow down the topic and pick your angle of attack, or thesis.
2. Define Your Perspective
Determine what stance you wish to take on the subject to work out exactly what you’ll be discussing, arguing and supporting throughout your piece. From High School English papers through to PhD Thesis work, just about every level of essay requires a certain direction, view or basis that the entire piece will be based upon. Work out your own perspective on it, what research and study support it and delve a little deeper into any journals, articles or research papers that conflict the essay topic. This is a really good way to discover arguments and start to shape a really unique perspective that can stand out from generic essays.
Define the thesis so that it’s clearer in your mind what you need to do in terms of further research and analysis. For example, list your reasons for each claim and then ask a series for questions:
- What are the alternative explanations?
- What is the supporting evidence?
- What is the conflicting evidence and does this have any flaws?
- Have you made any assumptions?
When you are happy with your thesis, you can move onto the next step.
3. Building the Essay Body
Different people propose different strategies for the actual writing part of the essay. For example, Pat Wyman, who founded HowToLearn.com, suggests you start in the middle, giving each idea its own paragraph, and then write the conclusion, linking all your key points in a logical summary. Only then tackle the introduction. These introduction and conclusion are easier to write in a more succinct way when you truly have an understanding of the topic and have explored it in depth. This will make your work more enticing, readable and make it look like you really know your stuff!
There are at least three things that essay writing experts agree upon:
- You need a killer title
- You need a killer introduction
- You need a killer conclusion
Your lecturer will read your essay no matter what, but if you can engage them from the get-go, your chances of a good grade are that much better. So, don’t beat about the bush. Be concise, be specific and be interesting.
Remember to lay out your thesis logically; your ideas and arguments must flow into one another from paragraph to paragraph.
4. Looks Count
Your essay is not done just because you’ve finished writing it. You need to proofread it for correct format, spelling and grammar. You need to ensure that your arguments are indeed valid and that they do support one another. And you need to ensure that you’ve cited all of your sources – and cited them correctly.
Incorrect citations drive down marks, so make sure you know how to do them properly. Try a handy site like Cite This For Me to get an idea of how to use your resources information in the correct format. Pay attention to the referencing style your essay is supposed to use as well, with Harvard-style referencing often being the most popular choice for University and TAFE’s.
5. Be On Time
Finally, don’t be late.
Plan to finish your essay at least a week before it’s due. That gives you a little breathing room if you run into unexpected stumbling blocks; for example, if the library has to order a book for you, or you have to wait for a book to be returned, of if you discover a major flaw in your reasoning and have to backtrack some of your research to reconsider your new stance. You don’t want to have to ask your lecturer for an extension because you made a mistake in deductive reasoning or based your thesis on unsound assumptions. Most schools penalise marks for every day late, so aim to have it finished a few days early (at the least), that way you have some lee way if something does go wrong.
An essay is only as good as the work you put into it, and trust me, teachers can certainly tell. If you want to get top marks this year, then follow this guide through to the end and start shaping your killer essay-writing skills today!