Whether you’re brand new to university life or you’ve been around the semester a few times, your teachers, lecturers, and professors will tell you the same thing; essay writing is about gathering knowledge and understanding on a topic, forming a position, and only then beginning the actual writing part of the process. Don’t remember to reference as you go! There’s one very important thing to remember about university essay writing: All that is full of bullshit.
‘Educated opinions’ are overrated
They tell you to form an educated opinion but that doesn’t require hours and hours of in-depth research. They tell you to consider the whole breadth of the topic in an unbiased and balanced way, but not only is that an unreasonable thing to ask for, but it’s also a waste of time to try and fulfill that requirement.
No-one needs to read dozens of academic studies, four research papers, and two dry, dusty books, just to understand a topic well enough to write a university essay. You don’t need to understand the intricacies of Ancient Greek philosophy in order to write a 3,000-word essay on Aristotle’s contribution to political discourse of the time and how he would respond to our current political climate if he were alive today. So do what I did with the abstract of a scientific study I found to support my wild claims: skim it. It’s not about understanding the topic, it’s about writing the essay. Just as companies don’t need to be ethical to make a profit, so do you not have to fully understand the topic to write an essay on it.
It's not about writing the essay - it’s about understanding the system
In a perfect world, all assessments would be fairly and objectively judged on their own merit. Inherent bias, time constraints, and faculty resources wouldn’t interfere with a student’s knowledge and the proper assessment thereof. This isn’t the world we live in. Essays are marked in bulk, which means they’re skimmed. That that pun you included 1,800 words into your otherwise dry paper about Mesopotamian folklore? It will never be appreciated by anyone other than you. Do you have a well-written but otherwise unexpected point of view on your topic? Well then that might be a hindrance rather than an asset. Some essays are marked with the help of a marking guide, increasing efficiency but decreasing effectiveness, as markers need simply look for keywords or key-phrases, rather than reading the actual essay. There simply aren’t enough resources to properly read through every paper and appreciate every sentence as the special snowflake that it is.
What about references, you ask? Forget about it! If staff don’t have time to read essays properly, what chance is there that they have time to check references? What will likely happen is that the teacher/s will look at (not read) your essay and judge the distribution of references throughout, before looking at the reference list and comparing it to a pre-prepared list of expected references, and marking accordingly. Someone who has spent years thinking about, researching, and teaching a topic, will recognize most of the sources that a student will use for their essay off the top of their head. So unless they’re running through your essay particularly quickly, don’t expect the marker to actually check your references – and even then, don’t expect more than 1 or 2, tops.
All this may seem disappointing, since it leaves less room for students to stand out and offer creative takes on subject matter. However, if you’re just trying to get a decent result and pass your damn degree, then this is a huge boon. It means that there’s something to exploit; a game to win.
Take advantage of your teachers’ personal bias
Some teachers and professors have their little pet topics and positions that they’re fond of. Take advantage of it. Whatever the person marking the essays likes, talk to that, and you’re sure to get ahead. Making it downright obvious is a bad call, but if your economics professor has a soft spot for Keynesian ideals, an essay discussing the finer points of economic theory which just happens to conclude that Keynesian economic policy is the best way to move forward? Well that might just get you some free finer points on the marking scale if you catch my drift.
Don’t bother with a draft
You’ll hear that you should write up a quick draft. This is a waste of time. Your outline (discussed soon) is the draft, and that shit should already be done before you start writing. Why would you do a draft twice? Make sure you’ve written the essay as well as it can be? How about actually writing it well the first time? What a fuckin’ revelation!
Writing multiple drafts of an essay is for those 97% nerds. You’ll get 72% with your half-arsed essay because you’ve got better things to do. Take it and move on.
Execution: Get to the word count the easy way
Chances are that your lecturer/professor has spent at least some time in class discussing the essay topic. Take another look at any PowerPoint slides, and deconstruct the essay question. These will be your starting points, as well as the final stretch to the finish line. Next, google each part of the question and look them up on Wikipedia. YouTube may he of help here, too. Use what you learn there, as well as the PowerPoint, and what you remember from the lecture (because lets face it - you definitely didn’t make any notes), to throw together a rough bullet-point outline of what you want to say in your essay.
Now, take your outline and spin it into a plausible representation of knowledge that your professor will give the benefit of the doubt. Read through it and find suitable references for your claims, making sure to distribute them evenly throughout the essay, and follow any specific referencing requirements that have been set out. Proof read, spell check, make sure it actually makes some sense, and you’re ready to submit.
Some quick and easy tips on essay writing
A good essay has a beginning, middle, and end – called an introduction, body, and conclusion. The body is where most of the work will be, while the introduction brings the reader into the topic. The essay question is discussed in the body. The conclusion wraps everything up and brings together all of the information in the body. No new information should show up in the conclusion.
While most of the references will be in the body, they can be used in the introduction, but never the conclusion, since everything in the conclusion should have been discussed and referenced in the body.
Start a new paragraph when starting to discuss a new idea. It will make the essay read better and more professionally.
To make a point effectively, first state your argument, then provide evidence, followed by examples. This is good practice in not only essay writing, but also when trying to convince people of your position in everyday situations.