Sorry it’s been a while, but I’ve been HELLA BUSY recently, with my 24 Hour Radio Show on Sunday/Monday (in which we raised over £100 for St David’s Hospice!) and with generally university stress- if you know me, I get stressed out when I have one week until my essay is due and I haven’t started writing anything yet, which was me earlier this week. So, I thought I would give you my top tips on how to start writing an essay you know nothing about!
So, for some context, this particular essay is for my postmodern age module, and postmodernism is kind of notorious for being generally horrible and complicated. All of the essay questions kind of made sense, but at the same time they didn’t because of how they were worded, so my first tip is READ THE QUESTION. Look at them all carefully and look up anything that sounds weird or confusing. Don’t just choose a question because all your friends are doing it.
Next, make sure you do your research. You can’t really start an essay without knowing what you’re writing about. Realistically, you’re going to start with the introduction but you can’t start writing about your argument if you don’t have an argument. So, go to the library, search for whatever books they have on your chosen topics, and take some useful quotes from them. Trust me, from here it all starts getting easier. I would say there isn’t really a limit to how many secondary sources you use, but try not to go overboard.
Now, here’s the important bit: if you haven’t read the text which the essay is based on, you’re going to struggle. This does kind of link back to the “choosing an essay question” point. I have written a few essays on books I’ve not finished, but I’ve felt like I’ve known enough about them to be able to write a solid essay. Last semester I wrote a 2,000 word essay on Middlemarch and North and South and I only read about 200 pages of both- and these are long books! (Middlemarch is about 900 pages long, North and South around 500…) However, I wrote a lot about a little, and that’s what got me to the word count… and two hours in the library looking for three quotes right at the end of the novel…
And next, the most important part: PLAN YOUR ESSAY! The amount of essays I’ve written without a plan is beyond ridiculous. And your lecturers will know if it’s not been planned and just thrown together. Trust me. They’re big on essays that flow nicely, and if it’s an unplanned essay, it ain’t gonna flow. So I always start off with a mind-map, putting down my initial ideas. I try to have around six points which will then become my paragraphs. Be prepared to adjust this, however. You may start writing loads and loads about one point, which is good because you’re developing your ideas, but you may have to cut down on another idea, or get rid of it completely if it’s going to be too much over the word limit.
Once you’ve planned your essay, you should be good to go! The hardest part is always starting, and it’s okay to leave your introduction to the end, if you haven’t quite figured out what your argument is going to be yet (although in theory, you should know this after planning your essay). But sometimes it’s hard to word it until you’ve actually written the main body of your essay.
So there we have it! Those are my essay writing tips! My only other thing would be to make sure you send drafts to your lecturers or have fresh eyes reading them if your lecturer only takes one essay draft per student. (If your mum is an English teacher like mine is, then make use of that too!) It’s just as important for you to read over your own essay as well as other people so don’t just submit your first draft without anyone looking through it!