Planning and Writing an Essay

Tags: Student Life, University, Academia

There are many guides and tip sheets available on how to write an academic essay. However, students -especially those in their first year- often find the task of producing a couple of thousands of words on a certain topic, adhering to certain rules and norms, quite difficult and even confusing. In this article we provide you with some helpful tips and general advice on how to plan, write, and submit an essay. After all, this will become for many of you a central task throughout your time at university -especially if you do a degree in the social sciences or humanities.

Please bear in mind: The most important document that will help you would still be your department's official guide for assignment parameters. You should try to get a copy as soon as possible, since it ideally contains all crucial guidelines for the formal aspects of a written assignment due for revision.  

Picking a Topic

Most tutors provide for each course a list of relatively specific questions or essay topics from which you can choose. Depending on your personal interest, your tutor might also agree to an alternative yet still relevant topic. Visit your tutor in her/his office hours and discuss a potential topic for your assignment as soon as possible - it will give you the chance to clarify the aims and goals of the assignment as well as to potentially choose an alternative topic. Many tutors make it in fact manadatory to visit them at least once during the term in order to plan your assignment. Don't hesitate to ask any questions you might have! It's your tutor's job to provide advice and guidance. However, don't forget that it still is your job to plan, write, and submit your essay.

Best pick an issue that was most interesting to you in the course of the class and to which you were able to contribute the most. You should also go through your notes and see in how far you can use them as a basis or draft for the final essay.

Time Management

Managing your time efficently is of vital importance for completing and submitting your document before the deadline expires. You really want to submit your assignment in time, as the penalty for late submission can significantly decrease your prospects for a good grading. A little foresighted planning can do wonders in this respect.

Be honest with yourself and try to assess your writing skills realistically. Some might need only half a day to produce a 1000 word piece that is viable for submission, while others struggle to get the first paragraph done within a week. Do not overstimate yourself, as you might have to realise that you are not the wonderous genius you might thought you are. It is therefore crucial to start working on an assignment as early as possible to avoid unpleasant surprises at the end of the term. 

Developing a logic Argument

A good essay has a coherent, logic structure, provides a comprehenisve summary of the relevant theoretical background, includes concise empirical examples (or "evidence") and thus produces a strong and convincing argument - finished with a brief conclusion that also points to possibilities for further research. Sounds easy enough, right?

Still, achieving this goal demands a lot of discipline, motivation, and some creativity. Once you have an idea or argument, check the relevant literature to see what other authors have already said about it and in how far you can contribute new insights - even if it is only on a very small scale. You really need to show awareness of the key texts that are of importance to your field of investigation! Otherwise there will be nothing original about your contribution. Even worse, an examiner could criticise you for not knowing enough about your subject.You should also try to provide some examples for any of your claims or observations. This will increase the validity of the point you want to make.

Once you have completed the first draft, read your text a couple of times and make sure that it tells a kind of story - including an introduction, a mainpart, and an ending. See that each parts logicalyl complements the others and that you argumentation does not take an odd, confusing direction.

Formal Consistency 

Consistency is absolutely central. Using the wrong letter size, text formatting, and referencing system in an uniform way is not even half as bad as jumping between different styles and techniques. The chaotic result will quite probably translate into a less enjoyable grade. Therefore, you should spent some time for polishing your paper. Best ask your tutor to which formal criteria for academic writing you should stick to. He/she should be able to tell you how to handle quotations, references, footnotes etc. etc.

Fine-Tuning your Text

When you plan your assignment, save some time for fine-tuning your document a couple of days before the dealine ends. Read it thoroughly, exterminate the last typos, and see that your argument makes sense, i.e. is delivered in a coherent, logical structure. Best give it to a friend or two for proof-reading. Bear in mind that you should give them enough time for doing this. best leave some space for corrections in the overall time schedule for your essay.

This will increase your chances to impress your tutor with a clean, thoroughly written essay and thus to get an adequate grade. There is little that is worse for both you and your tutor than a badly worded, typo-ridden, and altogether low-quality paper. 

These are indeed rather general tips and guidelines. However, by considering them you can ensure that your essay will meet the most important criteria of academic writing.


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