The first thing you should know before writing an essay is know how you write. How long will it take you, how do you like to set it all up (or not)? How organised is your desk/bedroom/living room floor/wherever-you-write? This is something that you will probably feel rather than know.
Some people like to read all their sources and sort out the quotes they want two weeks in advance, figure out what they want to say a week before the due date, and spend the last week just writing the effing thing. I like the idea of this, as it is a fairly stress-free method. The downside here is that you will probably be doing this for two or three essays at a time. Of course you could do this with one essay at a time, but that means you will be writing essays for a month and a half.
Personally (and this probably isn’t healthy, and certainly not recommended), I like to leave everything until about four days beforehand, then read, write, examine and re-write the essay all in one go. That essay becomes the only thing I think about. I hardly leave my desk. The essay is a temporary obsession, and often I lose marks and sleep because the essay is a few days late.
You might already know your style of essay preparation and writing, and that’s cool. If you’re not sure, try to talk about it with other students to see how they operate. You’ll find something that feels right for you. Now, off you go. Start writing, stop procrastinating. Yes, you are. Off you go. GO!
“My essay is done,” you say. “Now I can submit it and have a celebratory drink, right?” Hold on there, tiger. Is it really done? Something that a lot of students are guilty of is missing really little errors, and this costs you a couple of points.
Let me explain it this way: if you were asked to assess a piece of writing full of spelling and grammatical errors, you’re going to cut some marks as punishment for the time you spent editing it, and trying to figure out what is being said. True? Why would your tutor or lecturer not also do that?
So, cut it out of the equation. Find yourself a friend who can read the essay for you. Not for what is being said or how strong the arguments are (although if they can do this, then great), but for spelling, syntax, and flow. For voice. I will talk about finding your voice in another part.
If you’re like me and short on friends, or they have ‘assignments of their own’, read it aloud. Don’t rush it. This has two advantages: firstly, you will hear anything that is a bit clumsy with the essay, and secondly, your reading will improve. Fix up one sentence at a time, then start reading again from the sentence before. Once it reads well, move on.
If you do have a friend to read it, let them know when it is due (try to give them a few days, or be prepared to lose marks for lateness), and let them know to be gentle. Editing should be suggestions, rather than a charge of ten thousand Mongolian horsemen with only one sentence left alive to warn the next essay what is coming.
Once you’ve fixed up your mistakes (yes, you have made a few) then you can submit your essay and go rinse out your liver.
Words by S. Hooley