Student blog: how to write a good essay
Terrified of actually sitting down to get that essay done? Finding ways to procrastinate and avoid doing it? You’re not alone.
Writing a good university essay is a daunting task for international students who speak English as a second language. But fear not - I have some tips on how to make your experience of writing an essay in English less stressful, and as a result, help you become more confident. Believe me - with a bit of extra practice, you can ace it!
Make good use of the resources available
Before you start with the essay (or any assignment), the first thing you should do is to fully utilise the resources around you. Some of my go-to resources are:
University: Besides the library and the database, get familiar with the academic support in your university like workshops provided or study tips in the blogs. Some universities also provide peer-assisted programs, such as UQ Peer Writing Support, QUT Notetaker Program and ACU Peers Assisted Study Session (PASS). If you are aiming high on the academic goals or get stuck in any lessons, seek help from the learning advisers or counsellors.
Internet: Google Scholar is your friend. Keep in mind that you have to identify the credible and reliable sources, which usually means reliable news reports, government statements, and education institutions’ websites. If you’re not confident in your ability to communicate in English, you can also have a quick check of your grammar with online tools, like Grammarly (but never rely on it too much).
People around you: If you have questions, reach out and discuss with your partner, friends, family, peers and tutors for ideas.. I often find it helps me relax and concentrate by writing down ideas on paper.
Identify the topic
In order to stay on topic, you need to make up your mind about what you are going to write. I find it helpful to identify the topic by categorising the keywords in your essay assignment as content words, task words and limiting words.
For instance: “Is exam anxiety affecting students’ academic performance? State your position with evidence from at least 5 peer-reviewed references. (1000 words).”
Content word: exam anxiety
Task word: state your position
Limiting word: student academic performance, 5 peer-reviewed references, 1000 words
Plan the structure
If you dive into the writing without a clear outline of the structure, it will end up becoming more time-consuming. First, brainstorm and list out the main proof points that you’re going to put in the body paragraphs. You can draw a mind-map or just write down a bulleted-list. After you have a clear structure, briefly write down the supporting sentences (evidence, description, or examples) you have and the explanation for it.
After that, plan the introduction, which usually contains a general statement, any definitions (if needed)and the main points you’re about to make. Lastly, the conclusion which normally has a restatement of the theme, a summary of the main proof points, and the final comment (if you have any solutions or recommendations).
Craft your language
Understanding the essay topic also helps you identify the writing style that you need to adopt. Besides sticking to serious, academic language, there are also other language features that need to be taken into consideration:
Specific (avoid generalisations)
Objective (avoid emotional language)
Concise (avoid unnecessary language)
Inclusive (avoid bias)
Tentative (to show how certain you are with the statement)
Connective (to link the ideas)
Start with a draft
After you know what you are going to do with your essay, you can start your first attempt at writing it (I bet it feels easier now). On this first try, stay with the outline and focus on writing out clear sentences that help you make your points.
After the first draft, make more edits by reading the sentences (to check the grammar, spelling, delivery) and revising the topic to make sure the ideas stay on track. Remember, the more edits you make, the more refined the essay will be.
Referencing is a serious task you need to complete in order to avoid plagiarism. It is one of the factors that affect your grades, so make sure you cite all your references correctly.
Try to keep track of every single reference in your essay. You might find it easier to list your references on a separate document as you go, to make sure you didn’t leave out anything. It’s also important to keep in mind that all your references need to be from reliable sources.
Pro tip: avoid using any online referencing tools as most of those do not give the correct citations. Get used to the referencing that you are going to use, and it will get easier bit by bit.
Proofread before submission
After finishing the final draft, walk away from it for a while before proofreading it. It works better if you can proofread it after a good night’s sleep. Read it out slowly and carefully to make sure it aligns well with your theme. Pay extra attention to grammar and spelling if you’re writing in your second language.
Before your final submission, find a friend to proofread it for you, as you might miss some mistakes when you have read your own essay too many times – an extra set of eyes can work wonders!