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Top tips for essay writing success

Steven Tannason

Thu May 17 2012

Top tips for essay writing success

AS deadlines for essays and assignments draw near, we talk to three university lecturers about how you can you write smarter and faster. 

Spend some time planning and conceptualising

As a guide, University of Melbourne Academic Skills Unit Manager Guido Ernst says students should start working on essays of 2000-3000 words at least three to four weeks prior to the due date.

He insists the earlier you start, the easier it will be to write a good essay, especially if you set some time aside to plan.

“It’ll be very difficult if you don’t have a plan,” he says.

Of course, if you have more than one essay to submit then you’re going to want to start even earlier.

Monash University has resources on essay planning. Flinders University’s resources are worth a read as well.

Go to your university’s learning unit

Attending essay writing workshops and reading resources on essay writing are some of the fastest ways to improve your writing skills.

Media and Communications lecturer Nick Sharman advises students to get assistance from their university’s learning unit. For example, The University of Melbourne’s Academic Skills regularly runs workshops for students and RMIT’s Study and Learning Centre provides essay writing sessions for students.

Read, read, read

If you want to be a good essay writer, learn from examples. Mr Erst recommends finding other students’ essays and reading them. Reading books and articles from academic reviews can also be a good way to see how a well written essay is structured.

Keep an eye out for how they construct components like a good introduction, clear arguments and a consistent referencing style.

You can also ask lecturers and tutors for sample essays.

In fact, plenty of academic essays are available from your university’s digital library.

Help each other

Peer reviewing and workshops with other students are good tools to improve your writing skills.

All the university professors we spoke to agree that getting together with other students to discuss an assignment and brainstorm ideas can help you better understand the question and how to tackle it.

Just don’t copy each other’s work as that could get you in trouble for cheating.

Take a stance

Being critical and being able to substantiate an argument is at the crux of good essay writing. Whether an essay asks you to analyse or discuss, nearly all of them will require you to look at both sides of the issue and formulate your own point of view.

But Melbourne University Marketing lecturer Anish Nagpal reminds students that it’s important to always back up your point of view with academic evidence and always state where your recommendations come from.

James Cook University has resources on critical essay writing.

Pay attention to details

Dont underestimate the importance of paying attention to detail – and it shows when a student has done his/her research, Mr Sharman says.

“After you’ve read lots of essays, you can differentiate between someone who has gone to a lot of trouble and paid attention to details,” he says.

“Also, if the essay is not so good in some areas, people may make allowances for those if the essay is well-researched and if the student pays attention to details. Those will overcome other limitations.”

And finally… work hard

Talent will only get you so far, and the rest is dependent on the focus effort you’ve invested into getting the work done.