The first essay outline for your course has been handed to you and you don’t have a clue regarding what to do. Here are some tips on how to write a great essay and save yourself the stress or panic.
The first thing you will need to do is read the essay question carefully. Go through it once or twice and highlight any keywords you may find in there. Once you have done that, think of a way to “deconstruct” or break-down the question into manageable parts. Try and simplify the question. By simplifying what is being asked, you will find that your initial research will become a lot less difficult to conduct. A good way of going about the deconstruction of an essay question is to read it to a friend and see if they comprehend the question in the first place. If it sounds like mumbo-jumbo to them, try and rephrase the question into something a little more understandable.
Once you have found your keywords and deconstructed your question, it’s time to visit the library and find some books and journal articles concerning your topic. The point of finding keywords in the essay question is to assist you with locating information on your given topic via the library catalogues. The one rule about searching the library catalogue is never just stick with one search. If you have been given a question that refers to a specific case, try and conduct a catalogue search on that case. If you have been given a question regarding a specific piece of legislation, do the same as above – try and find some information in the catalogue about the piece of legislation. If you’re still unable to find anything on your topic or the catalogue is bringing up irrelevant information, it’s time to employ the “keyword search” technique. Use your list of keywords to find this information. Combine your keywords with other words.
For example, let’s say you have a group of keywords relating to company law in Victoria, Australia. Your keywords are “goods, services, retailers and insurance”. Your first port of call would be to look up company law in Australia. If some information is found in the catalogue, you can then add the keywords and expand your search. More information should then be found. After you have noted down all the relevant call numbers for each book and article – the fun of tracking down each book and article begins!
Apart from using the library as your first port of call for locating information on your given topic, another very valuable resource of information is lying right under your nose. That’s right, lecture and tutorial notes are your best friend. Those crumpled up, scribbled on pieces of paper hold the key to writing a great essay. In most lectures and tutorials (if not all of them), key points and theories are put across to the students. Most of these key points and theories relate to work which will be undertaken during the semester. That’s why it’s always a good idea to take notes during lectures, they don’t have to be whopping great essay styled notes. Just write down what you feel would be the important parts of the discussion. From there, approach your lecture and tutorial notes just like your essay question and highlight all the keywords. You can then read up on a lot of the points which were conveyed in both the lectures and tutorials.
Two final resources which will assist you with writing a great essay are the Internet and text books (yes, those big heavy ones that give you a sore back if you’ve been carrying your backpack around all day). The Internet is a marvellous resource for finding information on your essay topic – though it’s best to read the article written by Evan Sycamnias titled ‘The quality of Internet resources‘ first, as there are some downfalls to this new found technology.
A text book can be your best friend as well. Usually, when you are researching an area such as a very recent piece of legislation, it’s wise to make sure you are using the latest edition of a text book. New laws and cases are popping up everywhere and keeping up to date with them is important. As a general rule, if a piece of legislation was introduced in the last 5 years, try and locate the newest edition of a text book which would have information on this piece of legislation and compare it with an older version of the same text book. If there are any changes, note them down. Text books are also a great resource because the majority of them contain a reference list located just before the index pages. The reference list contains all sorts of valuable bibliographical information about articles or other quoted material. You can use the reference list to expand your research.
Now that you have gathered all your information, raided the library and borrowed the books that you will need to assist you, scoured the Internet and printed out any relevant articles – what next?
It’s now time to begin writing that essay. Hopefully you will have allowed yourself sufficient time to write it all up. Writing an essay up the night before it’s due can be catastrophic, but that’s not to say that it’s neccesarily a bad thing. Some people tend to work better when they are under pressure, others tend to panic. It all depends on the individual themself. Just a general reminder, never attempt to write an 8000 word essay the night before it’s due. Sleep deprivation is an academic’s enemy.
Essay writing is like learning to rollerblade, after you have done it once or twice, you slowly get the hang of it. Once you have all your information organised, you can now go about the task of drafting it all up. The drafting process can be very helpful. You can set out all your ideas on paper and see if everything flows together in a smooth and coherent way.
Seeing as you have already deconstructed your question, it’s time to begin writing the essay itself. You may think that all essays have a beginning, middle and end – right? Wrong! It all depends on the style of essay you are writing. You could be writing a research report that contains a lot of statistical data. You could be writing a critique of a journal article. There are so many possibilities.
The general rule is, understand the question and begin by outlining and introducing the question towards the start of your essay. Build your developed hypothesis slowly, ease the reader into the points you are trying to convey. Use your gathered information wisely and when you do use someone else’s work, always remember to reference, reference, reference! Many educational institutions impose severe penalties for any form of plagiarism, so, be vigilant when you are quoting someone else’s work.
Sometimes when you have been writing an essay for a few days, you may lose track of what you have been writing. Yes, that does happen even to the best of writers at times. A simple trick to help you get back on track with what you were doing is to look at your essay’s introduction. If you can understand it and it doesn’t sound like gibberish, the whole purpose of your essay will probably return to you.
Essay writing can be very tiring sometimes. Always take a fifteen minute break every two hours. Go for a walk, do some exercise, have a stretch, go make some coffee – just try and clear your head for fifteen minutes at a time. It will save you from feeling very dizzy and sick after spending ten hours non stop in front of the computer typing up a 5000 word essay.
Neatness is also an important part of writing an essay. Organise your paragraphs so that they flow in a coherent and understandable fashion. By using a systematic approach, your essay will be understandable to anyone, even if they are not altogether familiar with the subject which you are writing about.
Now that you have finished everything and summed up all your points in a nice, short and concise manner, it’s time to write the bibliography. Once again, refer to the Citation Guide to help you with that, as there are numerous ways in which you could approach creating your bibliography. Way too many to mention here.
Once everything has been totally completed, have a read through your essay. Does it sound intelligible to you? Does it make sense? Could you add or remove some parts of it? Read the essay to a friend or a family member. Does it sound reasonably intelligible to them? Can they explain some of the points you made? If the answer is yes, congratulations, you have just written a great essay. Don’t miss your deadline, hand the essay in and good luck!
Written By Maria Andritsos.