My first essay at Lancaster University

By Sagarika (Student Blogger: MSc Human Resource Management)

Student typing on a laptop








Do the words ‘ESSAY’, ‘SUBMISSIONS’ and ‘GRADES’ scare you? Some might say ‘Oh no!’ but for some it might be ‘Ah, a piece of cake’.

For the first essay I had to submit, I honestly had mixed feelings. I think I was well versed with what the question was asking me to do and how I was going to structure my essay. I was confident on what I wanted to put forth and how I would convey my analysis on it. In my opinion, the essay turned out well and I was happy that I gave it my best.


Of course, I had after thoughts and dilemmas once I’d submitted the essay. I’m sure you guys have also gone through such a phase at some point in your life. But I was trying to calm down and compose myself thinking – “it was fine, you did what you had to do to the best of your ability and now all you can hope for is the result to be positive”.


And just like that time passed by keeping my thoughts engaged in other classes and modules. But Ta Da! Our professor told us that the results would be out next week, which resumed my stress.


We had our class feedback one day before our results came-up. And this scared all of us a bit more than we already were. Have you ever experienced this feeling when people were talking in general, but it felt like everything was being pointed at you? Ah yes! That’s what I felt sitting in the class with my classmates hearing the general feedback. Every flaw seemed like it was mine, everything that could go wrong sounded like my essay.


Oh, but wait, the result hasn’t even come yet

. So I had to put my stress and tension aside. I was trying to hope for the best result and hoping tomorrow would be a good day.


Finally, the RESULTS DAY had arrived. And BOOM! The result was in no comparison to my expectation. Oh wait, you must be thinking it was something more than what I was expecting, right? Naah. I wish it was that. But NO, it was completely disappointing to me. I have always been a A/B slider in all my academic life and now I was nowhere compared to it. Stress, anxiety, depression, tension, frustration, irritation was all that I was feeling.

It took me to time to accept that this is my score, and it is not where I wanted it to be. I needed to work hard to make sure I improved for next time. I tried to reach out to few of my class mates for help and I also accessed the Learning Development team for more insights on how I could make my essay writing bett



Things change, life changes. It is not what you always expect. For a high flying student like me, it was a shock. But what really matters, is how you overcome the challenging times. How you try to improve yourself to get back to being your best. And right now, that is what I’m working on.

I know many of you might have faced this or may panic after reading my story. But hey! It’s me not you! You may be totally shocked by your result in a positive way, but if you are facing what I am, let me tell you there’s always help and scope for improvement. I know you might be disheartened like I am. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Work on it and you will achieve it.

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!


Close reading

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

Reading as a student, or as a scholar, is not necessarily as obvious a skill as we might first think. It certainly doesn’t mean reading lots of difficult texts, or peppering said texts with highlighters and post-it notes (though these are often involved in the process). Scholarly reading is about making sure that you are getting the most out of your learning.


Firstly, I’m going to look at how we read the text.

This often starts with creating an environment that is right for you. Different students will tackle this in different ways; I like to stay at home where I have quick access to a tea pot and kettle, however, some people will find the temptation to slack off a little too intensely when working alone. If this sounds like you, you may benefit from studying in the library. Working at the library has the benefits of providing you with a work friendly atmosphere as well as significant resources. If, like me, you worry about spending money on snacks while studying away from home, you may want to pack a banana or energy bar to keep you going.

Being able to concentrate on your work is fairly important if you want to connect with your text. One good way to check you have understood is to try to summarise what each paragraph has tried to communicate to you, and maybe make a note in the margins to remind you later.

Your tutor may have set you some focused questions. These questions are a good way of helping you to engage with the text, and it’s a technique you can apply to yourself. You can question a text based on its themes, or even your own expectations.

The next step is to see whether the text agrees with or challenges you. You don’t need to write a formal response, running these questions through your mind will be enough to form good habits.

One good question to ask yourself is where does this text exist in lieu of other discourses. This can be relating to texts on your course, the past decade, or just in relation to anything you have read that you think has relevance.

This exercise is all about considering the text as more than just a standalone thought, but as a response, and part of a greater whole in literature.

Another good question; how reliable is this text. What is the context of it, and how will this have affected the author? Could the author be biased, and how will this affect your ability to use this source? For example, when in need of a word definition, the Oxford English Dictionary is far more reliable than a quick Google search, but as a scholar, you should also be asking yourself what version of the OED you are using, and whether it is up to date.

Sticking to the topic of bias, you will also have your own biases. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, we all have them, but they are things we should be aware of. Keeping check of your own biases will help you to maintain an open mind when encountering a theory you are unfamiliar with, and help you to avoid forcing a theoretical perspective that may not lend itself to the text you are currently studying. This gives you the opportunity to consider other (potentially better) alternatives.


Understanding methodology, or knowing how to read as a student, will be extremely useful to your university studies. It is not something that comes easily and is unlikely to score you A’s immediately. What it will do, however, is help you employ good working habits to gradually achieve a stronger connection with your course than you might have otherwise.Good luck, and comment your own experiences below!

Overcoming the fear of the blank page

by Ruth (Student Blogger: BA Hons History)

Luckily, there hasn’t been many learning ‘challenges’ for me yet… unless you count learning the dirty dishes do not disappear overnight. But I think the main one is the renewed sense of hope I have now. Coming from A levels, which we all can agree are hell, there was very little motivation left in me, as I have been told non-stop for four years that I will never be able to improve myself past a certain grade due to my dyslexia. That mindset is not ideal, starting an essay with this knowledge that I can’t surpass a certain point. It adds a mental block to difficulties already there. Staring at the blank, white page, waiting for some inspiration to hit is so hard, so having this mindset of negativity becomes a real challenge.


But how do you overcome it? Mental disabilities and challenges are not easy to overcome, not only are they often ignored or brushed off, but they can’t be seen. They’re not constantly on show to other people and can be hidden often easier, but that doesn’t mean they should just be silenced. As a result it is hard to overcome mental learning challenges especially a negative mind set…. So how do you?

Since going to Lancaster my mindset has most definitely improved, this is because of a few reasons.

  1. Surrounding yourself with Positive people.This may seem obvious, but having a supportive, helpful group of people who want you to succeed and want to give you assistance is key . This could be your flat, learning support team, friends, family or tutor. As long as there is some sort of anchor who can rad through your essays or give you grammar or spelling help ( which is what use my family for), it can make you feel like the tasks ahead seem less daunting because you are not now doing them on your own.
  2. Seek specific feedback. There is nothing worse than getting an essay back and the person marking it has just written the most vague and nonsensical notes all over like ‘improve grammar’. This drive me up the wall. In order to get over this negative mindset I wanted to have specific points so I know exactly what to do to improve. Therefore going to lecturers or those marking your essays or writing support in order to know key reasons to improve. This was such a big help for me in overcoming the idea of my personal ‘glass ceiling’ as it gave me a list of things to do in order to break it.
  3. This one may seem slightly ridiculous, but quotes. I found surrounding myself with positive quotes and improving my workspace helped me overcome this learning challenge. I know its cheesy but ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’ is true. Having a space that’s tidy and clean and full of positivity counteracts that annoying voice that tells you, that you cannot improve and helps you overcome that learning challenge.

Perfect paraphrasing, is there such a thing?

Paraphrasing can be a tricky thing to master. Many people tend to explain it as ‘putting things in your own words’, but what this actually means can be confusing. When you write an essay, you may have to refer to other sources to use as evidence in backing up or providing counter arguments for your points. You can include direct quotes to show an author’s point but the main way you may express these points is through paraphrasing.

Let’s start from the beginning…

You have just been given an essay and the essay guidance tells you to refer to theory and the literature around the particular topic. After searching Google Scholar and OneSearch you have found quite a few useful sources to help you understand and answer your essay question. You have a range of books and journal articles to start reading and making notes from.


My advice at this point is that instead of copying chunks of information directly from your sources into your notes, try to read the information, comprehend the main arguments/ideas/concepts as much as you can and then write these down in your own words. Why is this important? If you do this right at the beginning of your reading you will be more likely to paraphrase effectively and less likely to plagiarise in your writing.


The main misconception around paraphrasing is that it involves taking particular sentences or paragraphs from source material, changing a few words or the sentence structure and passing this off as ‘your own words’. This is known as ‘close paraphrasing’ and can potentially mean that you find yourself being penalised for plagiarism. The road to effective paraphrasing is to firstly identify the key/general idea or argument from the source that you want to use as evidence for your own points. Secondly, think about how you want to express this in your own words, in your own style and using vocabulary you are comfortable with. Finally, consider how you will interpret this idea for your own particular purpose i.e. your point or answer to your essay question. Remember, although you have to put the idea in your own words you must try to retain the same general meaning of the original idea. I said it was tricky didn’t I?

The last thing I want to highlight is in-text citations when it comes to paraphrasing. You should cite the author/organisation of the idea/argument you have paraphrased even if you have managed to communicate it entirely in your own words to acknowledge where it originated.


So, in summary:

  • Write notes from your reading in your own words
  • Don’t take sentences and paragraphs and change words here and there
  • Identify the key/main idea you want to express
  • Think about the type of vocabulary that you would use to communicate the idea
  • Remember to acknowledge where the original idea/argument originated from