It’s easy to take a wrong turn when writing an essay, even if you have a good understanding of what you’re writing about. Follow these five tips to avoid making five really common mistakes.

Write a Clear Introduction and Conclusion

As per the last blog entry, your introduction is vital as it sets out what you are attempting to achieve in your essay. Without mapping out any aims, there is nothing to measure your essay against, so make sure you make clear what topics or arguments you will be exploring in your essay’s introductory paragraph. Similarly, ensure your essay is concluded fully by briefly summarising the key points in one or two paragraphs at the end of your essay.

Create a Logical and Relevant Structure

Most essays are written chronologically, but there can be exceptions to this. What is most important is that your essay flows, not only from beginning to end but from one paragraph to the next, and this is usually accomplished by diving the content into time periods, and exploring each one in turn. Most important, the structure of your essay must relate directly back to question you are answering. Marks are often lost through a lack of focus so take care not to go off on tangents.

Don’t Merely Summarise

The importance of placing your essay in context was discussed in the last blog, and whilst it’s useful to provide a small, brief history to provide some background information, don’t adopt this approach throughout your essay. For example, if you’re exploring a character in a novel, there is no need to re-tell the story in your own words, and this will garner few points – your lecturer has also read the book. Instead you should be grappling with the facts and the arguments, and viewing things from alternative perspectives. If you find you are merely recounting something, stop, and consider what your original argument was and what point it was you wanted to make.

Plagiarism illustratedDraw in Other Academics

At Undergraduate level you are expected to draw in other academics into your work. You can draw in other authors to support an argument or viewpoint, or to counter it, and indeed you may use one academic to contradict another. Avoid long quotes which may be seen as an attempt to pad your essay. It is essential to reference your entire essay correctly; otherwise at best you’ll lose marks for sloppy referencing, or at worst you’ll be accused of plagiarism. A later blog entry is devoted entirely to this subject, and a whole section will follow on the many ways to reference essays correctly.

Always Proof Read Your Work

Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation, and don’t always rely on Microsoft Word to do this for you. Lots of students are unsure about where to place commas and tend to over-use them. Similarly, lots of student’s don’t know how to use the possessive apostrophe, and if you didn’t spot the mistake in this sentence, you don’t either. If your grammar and punctuation is weak, a useful and simple guide is Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots and Leaves. If ever you’re unsure about a word, don’t use it, because if you use it incorrectly this will leap out of the page (more on this follows later on the blog entry on language and tone). Likewise, if you don’t know how to use a colon or a semi-colon, either avoid them entirely, or better still, learn how to use them correctly.

More on writing essays