Why you should read other essays before you write your own

Each student will have their own personal challenges when it comes to writing an essay – whether it’s time management, conducting research, or putting ideas onto the page in a well structured and flowing argument.

If you’re struggling to achieve the grades you know you can, or if you want to take your essay writing skills to the next level, here are a couple of fantastic tips to steer you in the right direction…

Read other essays

Writing an essay is very much like listening to music. Every composer is only able to write their own score because they have been influenced by other musicians, and have learnt from other people. You can read all the books and guides you want on how to write the perfect essay, but without actually seeing other examples of great essays, you are not going to fully understand the whole process.

If you were to ask the greatest classical pianist in the world how they managed to forge their own style when playing a particular piece, they would reply by saying they’d listened to several other musicians play it.

Settling on your own essay writing style and learning how to bring out the best in your self can only really be achieved by reading lots of other essays. Don’t forget to only read essays that have been marked very highly, otherwise you run the risk of picking up some bad habits – you can only truly learn from the best!

Consider stepping out of your comfort zone when reading other material, and researching different topics will provide you with a good amount of diversity and the ability to be flexible. You won’t always get a topic you like or are completely knowledge about, and the more diverse material you read and learn from, the more likely you are to achieve a higher grade.

Stepping into other worlds will also show you lots of other different techniques that you might not have otherwise seen if you only stick to your own area. Again, if we go back to comparing writing an essay to writing a song, a musician or composer will always listen to other styles of music and not just stick to the one style. Inspiration can come from anywhere at anytime, but only if you subject yourself to lots of different aspects available.

Be critical of other essays

When reading other essays and conducting research, never take things at face value and always be critical. Here is a great list of questions you should constantly be asking:

  • What do I like about this piece?
  • What don’t I like?
  • How persuasive is the writer?
  • Is the argument balanced?
  • Has evidence been used to support the argument?

You always want to write a balanced essay, and not everything you read will take this approach. By asking lots of questions you are developing your critical thinking by not assuming everything is correct. Again, like music you will not always like what you hear, but you can cherry pick all the best ideas and approaches and use them for your own work.

Critical thinking is what will make your own essay stand out from the rest. It demonstrates to the teacher that you are not just regurgitating other people’s arguments, and instead are willing to explore other avenues and put existing theories to the test. When reading published articles you will notice that the writer has not just summarised previous studies, but provide a critique of their own which leads the reader onto their own research.

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