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Essay Writing Tips

What you do before and after writing your essay is just as important as the writing itself: good preparation and thorough proof-reading can make a huge difference to the overall quality of your writing.

Before:

1. Allow yourself enough time. Start reading for your essay well in advance of the deadline. You need time to digest what you have read. Also, if a lot of students are studying the same topic for an assignment, you may find it difficult to get hold of library books in the days before a deadline (and this will NOT be considered an appropriate excuse for requesting an extension).

2. For a 2,000 word essay you should read 6 or more articles or books.

3. When taking notes from an article, book or website, remember to record the page numbers of quotations and statistical information from that source, as well as all relevant publication information, so that you will be able to reference that information properly. If you're making notes regarding the general information or the general argument in an article, book or website, always make the effort to change the author's words into your own at the note-taking stage AND make a note of the relevant page numbers, as you may need to reference this information as well.

4. Visualise the structure and/or make an actual plan before you begin to write. Think about all the different things you will have to discuss in order to answer the question fully and then organise the points you want to make into a logical order. This will help you to articulate your overall argument much more clearly and will help you to avoid repeating yourself. Having a clear, well-organised essay will also make it easier for the reader (marker) to understand what you're saying.

Writing:

1. State clearly in the introduction what issues you will address in the rest of the essay, and sum up your argument in the conclusion.

2. Wherever possible, write in the ACTIVE voice instead of the passive voice (click here for examples). This will increase the concision and assertiveness of your prose, and cut down on your word count.

3. Learn how and when to use commas, semi-colons and colons. If you're unsure about when to use semi-colons and colons, in particular, just write shorter sentences and avoid them altogether. Brackets and hyphens should be kept to a minimum.

4. Use connecting phrases when you're moving from one point to another, rephrasing the words from the question if necessary. This will add focus to your argument and help the reader to follow your line of argument.

5. The essay questions for these literature modules are intended to assess your own critical responses to the poetry and fiction we study, as well as to assess your ability to understand and analyse the secondary reading that relates to these texts. As such, your essays should be balanced between summing up the existing scholarly debates regarding the texts we look at, and giving examples from the literary texts, discussing their content, language and imagery.

After:

1. ALWAYS proof-read your essay for grammatical and punctuation errors. This may seem like a minor thing but having a lot of mistakes of this kind not only gives the reader a bad impression but it also makes your prose unclear and difficult to understand.

2. Think: have you answered the question directly? Sometimes, you can get diverted away from the point of the question in the process of writing. Also, check to see that your conclusion matches what you have argued in the essay as a whole. If not, change it!

3. Feedback: I try to give as detailed written feedback as possible so that you'll be able to refer back to it when you're writing subsequent essays. It is highly recommended that you also meet with me to discuss the feedback on each essay, as this will be more detailed, you can ask questions, and get any points of unclear commentary clarified.