How To Write Good Academic Essays

As a tutor has said (Creme and Lea, 1997 p41): ‘When my students ask me about essay writing, there are three main pieces of advice that I give them. The Mini Guide: Essay terms explained, and Questions to ask about interpreting essay titles may be useful.

To start you off, and to minimise the likelihood of writer’s block, a useful exercise is to do a ‘brainstorm’ of all your ideas in connection with the essay title. It can be much less stressful to throw all your thoughts down on paper, before you start trying to find answers to these questions.

You can use the writing process to help you think through, clarify and develop your early ideas about how you might respond to the title that has been set: ‘you may not know what you think until you have written it down’ (Creme & Lea, 1997 p115).

As with teaching, it is often not until you try to communicate an argument and its evidence that you find where the gaps are in your knowledge or argument.

Editing your writing as you develop your ideas is a positive not a negative process: the more you cross out, re-write, and re-order, the better your essay should become. The structure may be strong and clear, or it may be unobtrusive and minimal but, in a good essay, it will be there.

Underpinning the structure will be the ‘argument’ your essay is making.So don’t be afraid of writing down your ideas before they are fully formed, or in the ‘right’ order.Writing is an active and constructive process; it is not merely a neutral recording of your thoughts.Instead, you can catch all of your ideas, in no particular order, on a sheet or two of A4.Once they are down there it will be easier for you to start to review them critically and to see where you need to focus your reading and note taking.To produce a high quality essay you need to demonstrate your ability: The need to use such a wide range of academic skills is probably the main reason why the essay format is so popular with tutors as an assignment.The word limit adds to the challenge by requiring that all of these skills be demonstrated within a relatively small number of words.You begin there; you end there; and everything in between needs to be placed in relation to that title.All three of the processes described above will inform your decisions about what you need to read for a particular essay.If left unplanned, the reading stage can swallow up huge amounts of time.Fortunately, there is scope for developing efficiency in several ways: While a certain level of efficiency is desirable, it is also important to remain flexible enough to identify relevant and interesting ideas that you had not anticipated.

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