20-second read: Four tips for writing a great essay

1. Start early. It sounds both boring and simple to do, but it’s actually neither. By early, I don’t mean two days before you’d usually start, I mean a good month before the essay is even due. It means you have more time to do all the reading, writing and editing and less stress at the last minute. On a side note, this goes for exams as well, always start early.

2. Do all of the reading. Again, it sounds like a lot of effort and you’d rather go out or have lunch with your friends than read twenty different articles and another thirty monographs. That’s fair, it’s not always interesting; but, if you want to do well, reading everything means you can sift out what’s better for your argument and even help you dig down into the question you’re answering.

This tip applies to if you happen to be revising for an essay exam as well.

3. When you’ve finished writing it, leave it. I don’t mean abandon it entirely and just submit it ten minutes before like usual. I mean when you’ve still got a fortnight left before the deadline and you’ve finished your first draft, leave it for a couple of days and focus on something else. When you come back to it, it’ll be a lot easier to spot any mistakes or find a part that isn’t clear or specific enough. It sounds easy enough, but all great essay writing tips can be the most obvious.

4. Print it out. It might be a week before or the day before, but at this point, you should be on your fifth or so draft. If you print it out and read a physical copy, again it’s a lot easier to spot any issues. Whether it’s a grammatical mistake or your footnotes aren’t in the right order, reading it on your laptop on a glaring screen after staring at it for two hours doesn’t count as editing. Print it, make notes in pen, and you’ll see a huge difference.

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