by Mollie Broad, PR Assistant, SAGE
Constructing a clear, concise argument that is well developed through a paper is no easy feat to achieve and it is one of the skills students find most difficult to cultivate and deploy throughout their academic careers. I know from my time at university that any advice is useful when facing this time-old challenge.
Eveline Powell, creator of The Essay Writing Kit, a resource to help students develop the skills needed to construct a well-formed and succinct essay, has spoken to us to give all of you out there grappling with essays some top tips.
Q: Writing essays is often a daunting task for students; what would be the one key piece of advice you would give essay writers?
Trust the process and trust yourself. Search for good sources, starting with your reading list; read pro-actively, so not every word, but using skimming and scanning to find the relevant bits to read in full, discarding the rest. Try to take notes, so avoid just highlighting or cutting and pasting as it is too passive. Think about what you are reading, is it convincing, is it useful, is it complete, does it link to other information? Then start to plan, and finally write.
Q: Do you have any guidance for students to keep in mind before they begin drafting?
Spend time thinking about the information you have collected, specifically how it can fit together. One way to do this is to color code and/or number key themes, then slowly rearrange content into groups i.e. the draft paragraphs, and keep making sure they relate to the title. These themes are probably not in the texts because you are combining so many of them; they need to come from you, from your analysis of the connections and relevance of the information. This organisation of information into a meaningful flow to serve a particular purpose (i.e. the title/question) is really what essay writing is about. However, many students skip this stage in favour of an awkward cut and paste, not because they are lazy but because they lack confidence to impose themselves on the essay. My advice, it’s your essay, use other people’s work for your ends, so don’t be timid.
Q: You talk a lot about the watch- read- try method, how can we implement this to construct the perfect essay?
These steps will give you the tools to get to the start of the process, so the knowledge of how to write an essay. For a perfect essay, you need to add endless practice to this knowledge. Once you have this skill of finding and ordering information, it is something that is incredibly useful in all aspects of life.
Q: What do you think are the main differences between a good and a bad essay? How can we avoid or harness these?
A good essay should be easy to read with a strong flow that takes the reader with it. A bad essay is jerky and makes the reader work, and is less a bad essay than an unfinished one. This means you need to plan thoroughly so you know what your points are, and you need good sources so you have strong evidence to support these points. You don’t start at this point, but you slowly get there as the process makes things clearer and clearer. Make rewriting a key part of your essay to pass on this clarity to the reader.
Q: What would be the one tip/ mantra that you would want students to learn from you?
Have complete confidence that you can write a good essay, because with time and effort, you can.
To find out more, check out the full Essay Writing Kit here.
Read past Connecting with the Community interviews:
- Connecting with the Community: Wendy Naus on advocating for basic research
- Connecting with the Community: Matt Owens on obscure research that makes a big impact
- Connecting with the Community: Dr. Richard Gargiulo on writing textbooks
- Connecting with the Community: Angie Thorpe on the Discovery Experience
- Introducing “Connecting with the Community,” our new interview blog series