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Cheat Sheet

Writing Essays For Dummies

Don’t let essays daunt you. As long as you have the right working frame and mindset you can boost your writing and results. Here are some useful hints and tips that can help you plan and progress when writing essays.

Stages in the Writing Process

Break the writing process up into manageable chunks; this helps you to excel at each stage and plan your time so that you hit your deadline. Follow these 7 stages to achieve optimal results from your writing:

  1. Analyse the title: Work out properly in advance what the question is asking for. Note keywords and function words (for example ‘compare’, ‘analyse’ or ‘discuss’).

  2. Make a timetable: Remember the 80:20 rule – 80 per cent on preparation (Stages 1–4) and 20 per cent on writing up and finishing (Stages 5–7). Make your essay timetable fit in realistically with your other commitments and put a copy up at your desk.

  3. Gathering data: Keep in mind what do you need to know and where are you going to get this information from. Highlight key info in your notes and use online resources carefully and wisely.

  4. Planning: Get your data down in the most helpful way you can and plan out the structure of your essay in detail before you start it.

  5. Write the first draft: Remember to write for your reader, and guide them through your argument. Assume and maintain an academic voice and style.

  6. Revise your draft: Print your draft out and read it through. Mark up any changes you need to make on the paper, then, back on computer make these changes to a copy of your original version and rename it.

  7. Check and polish: Tidy up the finished version, paying attention to the main areas: content and presentation. Proofread your work carefully before submitting.

Tackling Your Essay-Writing Demons

Turn those little negative thoughts about essays around. You may feel self-conscious about your writing style or apprehensive about those large word counts, but rethinking those depressing thoughts can help you to see the situation in a whole new light and give you a confidence.

If you think . . . Tell yourself . . .
When I hand in my essay, I’ll be exposed as an imbecile who should never have come to university. You won your place at university fairly and squarely and have a right to be there. Many other students are feeling exactly the same as you!
Writing’s such a solitary business –how do I cope? You have lots of people to talk to! You can discuss assignments with your tutor and your classmates, and although only you write up the final product, you have lots of opportunities for supporting one another along the way.
How on earth can I produce assignments of, say, 3,000 words? You can break any big task down into chunks, and writing’s no different; it’s completely manageable and everyone can do it in the end.
I don’t know all the academic words for things, and what I write sounds childish. You’re here to learn, and through reading and attending lectures you pick up the jargon. You’ll soon start writing like an expert!
I can’t write anything original. As an undergrad, you don’t necessarily have to. You read and acknowledge the work of other writers and researchers who’ve been there before you and comment on what they’ve written in your own way and in your own words. Originality can come later (when you’re doing your PhD or heading for a Nobel Prize).

Key Websites for Essay Writers

Here’s a list of some key websites that can help you research just about any topic – for your writing projects or for discovering new areas of interest. Remember to reference any material you use, where appropriate:

  • Google scholar: Peer-reviewed journal articles and extracts from books, without any of the usual commercial links.

  • IngentaConnect: You may have to pay for a full article, but you can access abstracts for free and many academic libraries have a subscription.

  • Internet Public Library: An enormous virtual public library.

  • Infomine: A virtual library of Internet resources for users in universities. Created and maintained by librarians, it’s an American site with a wide scope and useful help pages for searching.

  • Questia: Another massive virtual library of books and articles, although you need a subscription for full access.

  • The British Library: 10,000 pages of information and an endless gallery of images.

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