The Essay Advice You Wish You Knew in First Year

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It’s the first day of your first year in university, and every single lecturer introduces the module and its assessments. Depending on your course, you may have five essays to write or just one, but the dreaded essay still haunts you. When I first came to university, I thought I wouldn’t struggle with essays and, it would be a breeze typing up 2000 words. Considering I did the International Baccalaureate, all my fellow IB students know the cursed 3000 words extended essay that we needed to submit to gain a high school diploma. Little did we know. Even though some courses slowly built up the intensity, when it comes to writing larger essays, we all struggled. The word count held us by our necks, and most of us still struggled with referencing and the fear of accidentally plagiarizing. Now, in my third year, there are many things I wish I was told in first year about writing essays that would make writing my dissertation less of a chore and more enjoyable.

We’re all different!

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One of the first things I wish I was told was that everyone is DIFFERENT! No one is going to have the same methods in writing an essay, and it is okay if you are struggling to relate to your peers. I was told this in my 2nd year, but every student has a way of writing essays that helps them process their ideas into words. While some students start their essays weeks in advance and slowly build it up, some work well under pressure and write it all in one go. That is fine! Just because your coursemate is working on her 4th draft and you’ve not yet started yours; it doesn’t mean you are going to fail. If you work best under pressure and this is how you come up with your best ideas, then stick to it! Lecturers do advise you to start earlier, and there are some pros and cons to starting essays the night before, but at this point, if your grades are shown to be promising, and you are happy with them, you might as well continue. Do bear in mind that starting early can help you think through ideas, and if you come across any issues and questions, you are more likely to get them answered. Plus, writing it in advance can mean you can focus on other essays as chances are you have three other essays due the same day!

Don’t dismiss the set readings!

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When writing essays, a lot of the time, you are graded on how well you link to theorists, academic readings or literature. I wish I was told how important this was as lecturers expected us to know this information already. Furthermore, as much as it can be self-explanatory, the readings set each week by the lecturers or the suggested readings are most likely to be the relevant literature you should be looking at. I noticed a lot of my peers overlooked this and tried to find their own literature which led to confusion and panic. A lot of the times, freshers are nervous and scared, so it’s easy to overthink and over complicate matters, but I wish my lecturers explained to me how to access the readings. Even though they taught us how to read literary articles, we did need more help in identifying the key points. Over the years, I realized one way to tackle this is by addressing the read in parts and, take it slow. It is okay not to understand the readings and the best way to talk about it with your lecturers or seminar/workshop tutors. Furthermore, I also found it useful to verbally describe the reading to someone else and this way, you can see how much and what you’ve understood from the article. I am not sure how many courses offer this, but sociology-based modules offer resource lists where are the links readings are listed, and this is one easy way to find literature that you need for an essay, and this is something I should have learnt in 1st year but discovered it’s crucial far too late in my university journey.

Get clever with your referencing

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On the topic of reading, we have to address referencing! This is something I noticed a lot of students struggle with and are scared of. Luckily, I had a base knowledge of the referencing system and coped but for newcomers who have never referenced before, this was the worst task. One of my best friends when writing essays is “Cite This for Me” and “Easy Bib”. For all those who can’t memorize the Harvard or MLA system or don’t have time to type up the references manually on word, these websites create citations automatically once you give necessary information like website, author name or the title. Plus, it also lists the references in alphabetical order and indented, which helps save time when you have 4 minutes to submit! I discovered these tools too late in first year whereby that point, I assumed it was normal to spend at least an hour trying to sort my references out. Another tip was to invest in Grammarly. I know this can be expensive, but if you can do it, then please download this extension on Chrome! This tool is great in making sure your essays read well, and there aren’t any grammatical errors. It identifies issues with vocabulary and sentence lengths, but even more, it helps recognize plagiarism. This is great in helping you keep your essay well structures but also safe from plagiarism.

Remember deadline extensions exist for a reason

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A few other things I wish I was better equipped for is time management. Some of us know the struggle of having four 2000-word essays due the same day, and I don’t think the department or lecturers emphasize on how stressful this can be. As much as they have their own reasons as to why they do this, we aren’t always ready for the stress or the pressure that is bestowed upon us. What’s even worse is, some of these essays are worth a considerable amount of a module, so they are very important. I wish I was told that it is okay to ask for extensions. Realistically, writing three essays is difficult for one deadline so ask! Try not to leave it for the morning of when it’s due, but it’s still worth a shot asking if you can get an extension because chances are they will grant it. The departments do want you to pass and try your best so a lot of the times, people are in your favour.

I hope these tips and my experiences help you guys plan and write your essays better but good luck for the rest of the year!

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