Tips and Tricks for Essay Writing

by Ruth (Student Blogger: BA Hons History)

Writing essays are never easy. And unfortunately it’s not something you can just master overnight.

Writing essays takes time, practice and a lot of persistence. (Plus, caffeine administered in large dosages). Essays are a scary mix of references, structure and technique, which often changes from department to subject to lecturer.

In the first term, especially, essays can seem like this mystical skill only a few chosen ones seem to possess. It does take a while, as even in my second year I’m still figuring the whole treacherous path of essays out.

But my aim here is to break down some murky areas of essays writing that confused me when I first started.

  1. There is no such thing as starting too early.

Many problems start because of one simple thing. A lack of time. Although I’m aware I am repeating the advice given to me countless times through school and now uni. I now get it. The biggest favour you could do yourself and your essay is starting early. It gives you enough time to plan and figure out not just your essay but the paragraphs and its structure. Planning is key to giving all your different ideas a chance to formulate and specifically order them, so your essay doesn’t just become a stream of consciousness. Try a mind map or brain dump to get your first ideas flowing. Then move on to a more structured plan of what will be in your introduction, main body and conclusion. Starting early lets deadlines and sources not overwhelm you, in turn making your essay better.

2. Referencing

Now this word might not strike fear into you now, but give it a few months and referencing could become the bane of your life. BUT, it shouldn’t be. Getting over that fear of referencing and what it means when using source material in your essay is something that can be learned. Also, check with your department on what specific referencing system they use such as Harvard systems. After this, you can then move on to creating examples of how books, journals and sources need to be structured in the referencing list. Also as I’m writing an essay I have my list of references and then when I cite them in my writing I can refer to the information that I need to include, for example the surname and the year. It means you are reducing the mistakes you could make, as you know the first one is accurate.

3. Technique

Technique is often mostly found in structure. Getting the key structure in your paragraph is key. Look at the question, and answer it. Make your point, then provide the evidence, often through paraphrasing source ideas or including the occasional quote and offer some explanation or comments. It’s the classic point, evidence, explanation. However, I have to point out here that there are times when this doesn’t work, and there are many exceptions to this rule. But if you are really stuck at where to begin this a good basic structure to start with. You can then move on to make sure you are analysing the sources in a critical way, using it to support and push your point on further.

This blog post could go on a lot further exploring different essays structures and the key, crucial tips for each department. But that would be an endless post, especially as there are books written by experts tackling the specific issues. They can be found all over the library, so if you need more help head there, as well as your learning developers who are there to support you. Also, keep your eyes peeled for writing workshops that are aimed towards ironing out any problems you have with your essay!