Do you struggle with writing essays? Do you put off starting your assignment until the last possible minute, then dash through it to get it over and done with? Do you find yourself making any excuse to stop and procrastinate while you're writing?
Here are five steps that make essay writing easy and even enjoyable:
Brainstorm about your essay topic
When you get given your essay question or topic, you might think "I don't know where to start." Or, worse, you might think, "That's so easy - but how can I spin it out to 3,000 words?" Sitting and staring at your essay topic won't help, though. You need to grab a blank piece of paper.
Got that sheet of paper? Good. Write your essay topic in the middle, and start to brainstorm. Jot down any major points that the topic raises, or any secondary questions that relate to it. Don't worry about your ideas being good, or linking together, at this stage: just write down everything that comes to mind.
Make an essay plan
Once you've spent twenty minutes or so brainstorming, you're ready to mould those initial thoughts into an essay plan. Decide on your thesis first; what do you want to say in your essay? Try to put this down in writing - it'll form part of your introduction and your conclusion.
When you're clear about your thesis, work out two to four points that you're going to use to back it up. Write these down, along with any sub-points for each. Doing this now, rather than launching straight into your essay, means that you won't run out of steam half-way through.
Collate examples to use in your essay
Now that you're clear about the points you want to make, you can look for examples to back up what you're going to say. This means going through relevant books, journals and articles to find experts in your subject who agree with you! Sometimes, you might even want to quote from a source and then disagree with it.
If you're studying a subject like English or History, you'll need to quote from "primary sources" or "first hand sources" (such as novels, in English, or diaries and letters in History). But don't forget to bring in some literary critics or historians too.
Draft your essay in one sitting
Don't get into the habit of writing a sentence or two of your essay, wandering the room for a while, writing another sentence, and stopping for a coffee break. Sit down, switch off your mobile - and your internet connection if you can - and get your plan and all your examples to hand. Then set a timer and start writing.
How long you need to draft an essay depends on how fast you write and on the word length, but try to challenge yourself: if drafting an essay normally takes you three hours, see if you can do it in two.
Leave your essay, then revise
Once you've come to the end of your essay, print it out, and leave it for at least a day. When you come to revise, sit down with the hard copy and a pen, and go through, marking any changes that you want to make. Don't try to edit straight onto the screen, as it's easy to get caught up in "tinkering" and miss the real problems.
If you have time, start a whole new document for the redraft; your writing will often flow much better if you rewrite each paragraph and even each sentence. The first draft was raw creation, this is honing and polishing.
One last thing - don't forget that final proof-read when you're done!
Ali Hale is a postgraduate student of Creative & Life Writing, and runs the blog Alpha Student ("Helping you make the most of your time at Uni"). Ali works as a freelance writer and website creator, and is on the staff of several large blogs. If you're looking for a writer or a website, you can hire her via Aliventures.
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