Now that we’ve talked all about how essay mills are out it would be pretty unfair of us to leave you high and dry when it comes to getting down to the nitty gritty of essay writing.
Before we start, have a look at Edinburgh Uni’s PhD student Tim Squirrell’s blog – it’s full of great insider tips on writing a top-class essay. He even has a handy TL;DR version:
For the terminally lazy:
One thing the experts have agreed on is that there are a few key components that will take your essay from bin to win:
You need to poke holes. And we don’t mean nervously stabbing your over-sharpened pencil through your notepad. We mean arguments. Analysing an article, essay, or argument posed by an expert in the field you’re discussing.
It’s a daunting thought, but to tip your essay over the edge you need to be challenging the ideas that have come before you. No one’s expecting you to produce Nobel-prize winning work in under 1,500 words, but considering arguments from a different point of view, or pointing out things that have been overlooked shows the marker that you’re engaged with the material and understand what you’re reading, rather than just regurgitating it straight out onto the page like a mama bird feeding its babies.
This leads us onto the next pro tip: critique your own arguments, not just the ones that come from other experts. Present your line of enquiry throughout your essay in a clearly defined argument that develops from paragraph to paragraph, but don’t be afraid to point out limitations and play devil’s advocate. This again shows how much you understand what you’re talking about, and is sure to score you bonus points.
Have a healthy reading list. Put the vegan cookbooks down, we mean width and depth – your research should show that you’ve been reading widely around a subject, but should also be focused and targeted on the specific area you’re presenting ideas on. Writing an essay on betrayal in Shakespeare’s Othello? Get some general renaissance theatre texts in there for context, but make sure you’re focusing on articles that hone in on the work itself and the key themes you want to explore.
Last of all: your introduction. Wait, what? Yeah, it might seem illogical, but any good scholar will tell you that the art of introduction writing is, well, leaving it until the very last minute. A top-knotch intro needs to be a clear roadmap of where your essay is going to take your reader, and there’s no way you can draw the map if the roads don’t exist yet. Once your content’s there, you can go back through, check your argument is clear and strong throughout, and use your introduction to explain how your key points are going to develop throughout.
As Tim Squirrell says: “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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