How to write a University Essay

Writing essays at university is nothing like your school days.  Your essays have to be more complicated and thorough.  Studyhood argues that writing an essay comes down to research, planning, writing and revising. 

Researching and planning

Despite how many students pull this stunt, university essays aren’t something you can write in a panicked, red-bull fuelled all-nighter.  Doing this is just setting yourself up to fail.  Your prose will be sloppy and your ideas vague.  You’ve been given weeks to write them for a reason.  But what goes exactly into the planning phase?

Research.  Start by reading up on your subject matter.  Read up on the relevant existing scholarship and collate the research, which can help nuance and bolster your argument.  More on that later.

From here, you can start planning your essay.  Planning is a chore, but it’s vital.  When your professors are reading your essays, they’re looking for the clarity of your argument.  If you’ve planned your essay properly, then your ideas should flow smoothly from one to the next, rather than just jumping around.

You will also know where your arguments begin and end, which is a great way to stop you from waffling on about something irrelevant. 

Writing

PEEL.  This acronym stands for point, evidence, explain and link.  You make a statement, find appropriate evidence, explain why the evidence is relevant and then link it back to your overall question. 

To illustrate this, look at this article, which is akin to an essay.  In my introduction, I made a broad statement about your ideas needing to be complicated and thorough.  This was my point.  I then used evidence from Studyhood and Leeds University to demonstrate my ideas. 

After, I explained the importance of researching and planning.  In doing so, I delved deeper into my sub-title, explaining its significance.  This is something that your professors will love: having a detailed argument about a few ideas, rather than having many ideas and little detail. 

Finally, I’m concluding by relating my argument back to my title of ‘How to write a University Essay.’ Furthermore, my ideas are linked by a clear structure of ‘research and planning, writing,’ and in the next section, ‘revising.’

I also began this article with an introduction, which is exactly what you will have to do in your essays.  What you should never do is rewrite your question in your introduction.  Rather you should introduce your readers to your argument, define any big theories or topics that you may be engaging with and briefly outline your essay. 

You could also contextualise your argument by discussing the surrounding scholarship.  Just remember to keep it short.  Any detail should be saved for the body of your essay.  How short? 5%-10% of your essay which would translate to a few hundred words.

And to end an essay, you need a conclusion.  In your conclusion, don’t just summarise your ideas.  You need to synthesise and evaluate your argument and take it further.  Do this by applying your ideas back to your scholarly framework and ensure you don’t bring in any new ideas. 

Revising

Once you’ve written the first draft of your essay, leave it for a day or two and then edit it.  First correct any SPaG errors.  Look for any arguments that you think might be a bit weak or difficult to believe. 

Did I use enough evidence for this point? Did I use too much for another? How relevant is this idea for my whole essay? And be ruthless.  Maybe you have a beautifully written paragraph of prose, but if it’s not relevant to your overall argument, delete it. 

Once you’ve identified these weaknesses, edit and rewrite.  Sending your essay to a friend to beta-read is a great idea too. 

Secondary Critics

I’ve already written an article about this so I’ll keep this short.  Secondary critics are scholars who have already written about your essay subjects.

It’s vital that you use secondary criticism, like books, articles and essays, to nuance and bolster your own ideas.  When you use them, make sure that they flow with the rest of your argument.

And a footnote on referencing.  Whenever you use a critic, you have to reference them correctly.  Your lecturers will always be on hand to help you with referencing, but there are lots of great resources you can use.

Plagiarism

Don’t plagiarise.  It’s lazy and dishonest and you’ll never get away with it.  You also run the risk of being kicked off your module or even your degree.

And to conclude (for the record, never conclude an essay by saying “to conclude) writing a university essay is tough.  But in the end, it will all be worth it.  Being able to write a good essay will give you great written communication skills that you can take into your future career and beyond.

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