guide to essay writing

An English Lit student’s guide to essay writing

The hardest part of writing an essay is getting started. Staring at a blank page is overwhelming (and very boring), but this guide to essay writing gives you a few tips and tricks to get over that fear of getting started.

Plan

Every good essay starts with a plan. Although planning seems like an extra step that will just waste time, it’s actually the opposite. Planning your essay will help you write much quicker, as it’ll keep you on topic and you’ll spend less time sitting there thinking.

Outline your essay using the good old PEE (point, evidence, explain) structure that you might recall from college or secondary school. If you have a few different coloured pens, it helps to colour code each point to make sure your paragraphs are well-balanced.

Research

Some people like to plan first and research second, and some like to start with researching. Whatever your choice, make sure your research is effective and streamlined – don’t waste time going down unrelated rabbit holes. Check your uni library website for free access to eBooks and online journals. JSTOR is every student’s best friend, as it provides access to hundreds of academic articles and it’s perfect for finding all the secondary sources you need without setting foot in a library.

Essay Writing - Research
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Start Writing

Using your plan, start getting your thoughts written into actual sentences. Don’t worry too much about your first draft, you’ll come back and tidy it up later. Sometimes it can help to set timers; for example, some students like the Pomodoro technique, which includes working for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break.

Make sure each of your paragraphs or points link together, that way your essay won’t jump all over the place. If you’re writing a comparative essay, you can either compare the texts alongside each other, jumping back and forth between the two, or you can write about one text, then the other.

Editing

Once you’ve written your essay, you’ll most likely need to proofread it. Print out your essay and annotate it with a red pen, or send it to a tablet with a stylus. Sometimes it helps to vary the medium that you’re working on.

Have a look at your university’s style guide to ensure you’ve checked all the boxes in terms of word count, paragraph spacing, page numbers and referencing. Don’t lose unnecessary marks for incorrect formatting.

Essay writing - editing
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Introductions

Every student often finds themselves asking how to write a good introduction. One trick is to leave writing your introduction until the end because a good introduction briefly sets what you’re going to argue, and sometimes you don’t know exactly what you’re going to argue until after you’ve written the essay. Once you’ve proofread the essay, go back to the start and write your introduction, making sure it has a strong thesis statement. A thesis statement is essentially your argument summed up into one concise sentence. Ensure your thesis statement is specific and precise – don’t make broad, overused arguments.

Conclusions

Conclusions are much easier than introductions. Use your conclusion to sum up your argument and overall themes and give some sense of why your essay matters. You can use your introduction to inform your conclusion, but don’t repeat it. Your conclusion should never introduce new topics or themes; stick with what you’ve already written about, and make sure your closing statement leaves the reader with something to think about.

Essay writing - Conclusion
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So, that’s a wrap for our guide to essay writing. Remember, the sooner you get started, the sooner you can finish and go back to normal, essay-free life! For more helpful tips, check out our guide on how to write your dissertation in a week. 

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