It has already come to that point in the year where the essay writing has started (how on earth is it November already?! This year is going far too quickly…) but even after having survived two and half semesters I still get myself so confused when I start writing essays because I have pages and pages of notes but I don’t know what to do with them. However, I feel like I might have finally cracked it (or at least figured out some things I seem to be doing right…) therefore I felt I should dedicate a blog to giving my tips on essay writing for first years (and even second, third years and A-Level students). So here are my tips:
- Don’t let the question scare you: It is very easy, when given your essay questions, to straight away think to yourself ‘I can’t do this’. You might think you don’t know enough or the essay is worded in a way which has left you feeling confused but don’t worry, this happens to me all the time. It’s just part of learning, it’s something you have to accept will happen. To get round it just break the question down. Think about what it is really asking you. Is it asking you to critique something? Or discuss something? Bear in mind that your lecturers are meant to have made it difficult for you (because well that’s what a degree is about) but not impossible. Look back over your lecture notes and you will find something which will get you going.
- Don’t worry about word limits as you’re writing: This is something I have only just learnt to do. Many people worry about them as they’re writing which is likely to affect the quality of your work because you’re concentrating too much on how many words you have and not your writing style. There is nothing worse than an essay which makes use of unnecessary words because you have been focused on the word count. Instead I suggest writing your essay at the bottom of another word document (which has already for words in) or turn the word count off so that you can’t see the number of words going up as you’re writing. Then, when you’ve finished, you can go back and delete the words which aren’t needed (of which there are many for me!). This way you make your essay focused and straight to the point.
- Read before writing: I have before started writing an essay before I had read for it. This was a total mistake. With a degree like sociology where there is endless amounts of reading it is best to find and read your suitable readings beforehand. Without doing this I found it took me ages to write an essay because I kept stopping to read up on things, whereas if I had done the reading before the difficult and time-consuming bit would have already been done and I would have a better sense of the knowledge needed for it.
- Plan but don’t plan: Planning is an important aspect in any task, especially essays where you have tons of lecture notes and notes from readings but no idea how to form an essay out of them. If you start writing straight away you’ll probably get yourself confused and end up repeating yourself. I find the best way to overcome this is to create a plan which sets out headings for each paragraph, perhaps in the form of questions (for example- introduction: what is the Enlightenment? Paragraph 1: Why and how has it emerged? Paragraph 2: How has it changed society? Paragraph 3: How did it contribute to the birth of sociology? Conclusion). In doing this I can read through my notes with a clear and more specific question in my mind to ensure that everything is put into a sensible order and everything is covered.
I hope this helps!