UnCOVered tackles how to write, right. Struggling with essays? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back with our top tips for writing at university level.
#1 – There is no ‘right’ way to write
Ok, I know, you read the title and thought that I am coming to save you from all of your essay-writing woes, but I’ve now completely shattered that illusion. Sorry about that, but this first point is important: there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way when it comes to writing. Different disciplines will have different expectations of what makes ‘good academic practice’, but there is no right or wrong. It just depends on what is appropriate for your subject. For example, in the hard sciences it would be frowned upon to write from a first person perspective. However, in social sciences the researcher’s own perspective is often crucial to the process, so it’s fine to write as ‘I’.
#2 – Read, Read, Read!
Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write. Simple as that”. I couldn’t put it better myself. Think about it logically; reading informs your understanding of a subject, it lets you know what others in your field have already done and how they arrived at those conclusions, and most importantly it allows you to see the way they write. If you’re unsure on what style you should be writing in for your discipline, a good bet is to start by reading existing published works in your field. Look at how they have laid out their argument, what perspective they use and what kind of styles they have written in.
#3 – It doesn’t have to be hard
Writing shouldn’t feel like you’re chained to your task whilst the world is coming to an end around you. This is your opportunity to share what you know with other people. It doesn’t matter if there is one person reading it or twenty thousand, you’re sharing something important and you have something worth saying. You might just need to figure out what that is, which brings us neatly on to number 4…
#4 – Have a plan
I always find it much easier to construct the layout of an essay or paper first, before adding any detail. Note down your subheadings and play around with the order until it makes sense to you. You’ll end up with a clear structure of what you’re going to say, but don’t let it constrain you. If you suddenly come up with something important and relevant to the topic, don’t exclude it because it’s not in the plan. Your essays need to evolve as your ideas do, so be prepared to move things around and chop and change things as needed.
#5 – Long words don’t make higher grades
In the words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. Seriously, academic writing is not about how many long words you can fit into one sentence. I know it’s hard to believe. Think about it this way though, if the average person on the street can’t pick up your work and understand what you’re saying, what good is it doing? I want my work to mean something outside of university, and if you really care about your subject, you will too. This means it needs to be understood by a wide range of people, not just other academics and people in higher education.
#6 – You shouldn’t know what you’re doing!
If you knew what you were doing, you wouldn’t be learning. Your degree should be difficult, otherwise everyone would have one! But it’s not impossible. If you feel that something is too hard to understand or you’re just not getting anywhere with it, don’t let it get you down. The real progress is made when you begin to realise that dealing with difficult work or hard-to-read texts is helpful in the long run. By asking questions, re-reading and researching until it makes sense, you will gain a thorough understanding of the subject. If you’re finding writing impossible today, take a break from it. Think about what else you could do to get through some of the difficulties you’re having. Try drawing out a mind-map, revisiting your essay plan or looking over some of those notes you made whilst reading! Progress can’t be measured by your word count alone!
#7 – Just write!
That blank document can be terrifying, but just write! First drafts are always rubbish, that’s why they are called drafts! It is the ideas that are important at this stage. If I’m struggling, I always find it helps to try and summarise the essay in one sentence. Then explain to someone else what you’re writing about, write down exactly what you say – word for word! This is a first draft remember, it doesn’t matter how it looks on paper at this stage. So don’t get hung up on how well written it is or even if your spelling is correct, just write something. I promise, once you let go and just type that first sentence, the rest of the words will flow.