Preparing to write an essay
Find out what you should do before you start writing your essay
Writing an essay is just a part of the overall process you'll go through at University. A large part of this process is preparing for the essay, which can take longer than writing the essay itself. Follow these five tips to get the most out of essay preparation.
You will get your course readers for each subject at the beginning of each semester and as these often contain the essay questions, you have plenty of time to prepare for your essay. If you identify early on which essay you want to write, you can more easily get all the resources you need before everyone else starts checking them out for themselves. In addition, you'll also know which lectures you absolutely can't miss – not that you should be missing any of course.
Use the Library
Your lecturer will likely have provided you with a number of handouts, but as good as these will be, don't rely on them entirely in preparing for your essay. Your lecturer is looking for evidence of independent study, and this includes more than including books in your bibliography which you don't refer to in your essay. Where appropriate, draw on journal articles or information from web-based resources, and never rely on just one type of source alone.
Be Wary of Internet Resources
Ensure that, if you're quoting anything from the internet, you have chosen a reliable source. Many, if not all Universities, forbid the inclusion of any material from Wikipedia, because anyone can edit it. However, if you're a lazy student in a rush, Wikipedia can provide a brief overview, but at best this will only be a starting point. Wikipedia does have other uses – see my later blog entry on writing an essay against the clock for more information.
Read and Annotate
Checking ten books out the library is only the beginning – you now have to gleam all the relevant information from them. However, it's unlikely you'll have time to read ten books cover to cover and, quite simply, you don't need to. Use the contents pages and index to identify the chapters or even pages most relevant for your essay – the essay question is your starting point. As you go through your reading, key passages and quotes should hopefully leap out. Make a note of these as you go along because you won't remember where you found them later on: this can save you hours of time! Additionally, don't overlook any handouts you've been given, or your lecture notes, but as discussed avoid relying on these entirely.
Draw on Additional Perspectives
Even once you have a clear idea on what issues and arguments your essay will explore, seek additional perspectives if you're aiming to produce first class work. Ideally, drop in to see your lecturer during his or her office hours to talk through your thoughts – even if you haven't missed anything out, your lecturer will likely provide further food for thought, or at the very least be impressed that you've evidently gone to great lengths to answer the question fully. Also speak to your classmates as you may learn something from their approach, even if they're answering a different question.
Your ultimate companion during the essay writing process is plagiarismchecker.net, a handy free website with a tonne of information to help you reference properly. Check against billions of online resources including web pages, electronic journals and books. Scan your essay for free and use it throughout your studies to ensure you don't get marked down for plagiarism.
- Tackling your first university assignment
- Basic essay ingredients
- Preparing to write an essay
- Developing ideas for your essay
- Finding source material for your essays
- Finding sources for a better grade
- Evaluating source materials for quality
- A step by step guide on how to write an effective essay
- Formatting essays
- Structuring an essay
- Rules and conventions of the English language
- Selecting the appropriate language and tone in essays
- Common mistakes in essay writing
- Why you should read other essays before you write your own
- Writing first class essays
- Writing essays against the clock
- The perfect guide to writing an essay
- More essay writing tips
- Making your work stand out
- Transforming your essay from good to excellent
- Polishing your work
- Presentation masterclass
- Quick essay proofreading tips
- Proofreading and editing
- 10 things to avoid in your essay
- 10 reasons students lose marks and how to avoid them
- Using feedback to improve
- Learning from poor grades
- Questions and answers
- Our top 6 essay writing tips