Essay tips from an English Literature student
Today’s blog post is going to contain some general tips for writing essays, including referencing, finding resources, ways to structure essays, and things to bear in mind when you write.
Referencing is something that can be daunting, but it’s not that bad once you know how to do it. It gets easier with time as you begin to familiarise yourself with the format. After two years I now only need to check the structure either to refresh myself after a long break from essay writing or to learn how to reference an unusual source.
I use this guide for MLA citations, which is the standard citation system English Literature students use: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html
I’d recommend keeping a bibliography as you work on an essay. This helps you keep track of the sources you’ve been using and saves you panicking when you’re done as you try to find where you got a source from.
The main place I go to find sources is the module’s reading list, and if I’m looking for a wider variety of material, the search function on the library website. A lot of results can sometimes come up when you search on the library website, and not all of it relevant to your subject, so don’t forget about the filters on the side of the page.
At the moment it’s not always easy to get to the library on campus. They’ve recently introduced alternative ways to access books, such as postal loans by main and scans of books. There is also a wealth of resources online that you can access as e-books or as articles on archives such as JSTOR.
Many primary texts, if they are scholarly editions, will contain lots of useful information, often with introductions or even essays included within. Many will also contain a further reading list detailing where to go to find more secondary criticism.
Formatting your document:
Be sure to check the undergraduate handbook for details of what is expected when you submit essays. This will include guidelines to follow about things such as double spacing and inclusion of page numbers.
Structuring your essay:
For a while I fought against this, but recently I’ve found the three point structure to be useful when writing essays, especially long ones that need breaking down into smaller pieces. In school I felt constrained by the PEEA (Point, Evidence, Explain, Analyse) structure we were made to use, finding it too simplistic. Which it is. But now that you’re at university you can use it creatively to your own style. What’s important is that an essay should have all the necessary pieces in it, placed in a cohesive manner. Take creative license where you want, and you’re not beholden to a set way of structuring an essay. Sometimes though, you may find a simpler structure to be the best way of conveying your points. There are lots of pieces to an academic essay, and presenting them cohesively is part of the challenge. Academia is as much about facts as it is about learning how to convey an argument.
Things to bear in mind when writing:
Keep it relevant to the title or thesis. It’s okay to stray, so long as you’re able to link your point back to show how it’s answering the question.
We can get so caught up in secondary research that it’s easy to forget that the most valuable resource is the primary text itself. Don’t forget to do close reading, and include relevant quotes to prove or flesh-out your points.
Ask yourself why you are writing this essay (aside from the obvious: to pass your degree). Of all the topics on the module, why did you choose this one? What can it give to the academic community? This is a daunting question, especially as we are only young academics, and often I feel that my ideas might be unoriginal. Remind yourself that you’re a better writer than you think you are, and your professors were once in similar position to you. We learn subconsciously with every piece we write.
If you want more essay writing tips related to the essay writing process itself, I wrote a blog previously about my process, which you can read here: https://our.warwick.ac.uk/my-essay-writing-process/