How to write politics essays at university
The Easter holidays may have arrived, but, for me, it doesn’t yet feel like a break. Why? Because I have five essays to submit by 4th May, with three exams from 16th May onwards (timetable yet to be released). I’m aware of the long, hopefully rewarding, summer I will have to look forward to upon completing all my assignments, so I viewing working over Easter as a short term pain for that – finger crossed – long term gain.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about my methods for planning politics essays. Specifically, I discussed the importance of building arguments around the academic literature and the importance of making great notes. This time, I want to turn to actually drafting. What do you do once you’ve finished your essay reading completely and put a plan together?
Well, firstly, if the opportunity is available in your department, you should definitely send your essay plan to your seminar tutor or module director. It is not cheating but a core part of the essay process. They are allowed to look at one plan (up to 500 words) containing your key arguments, offering points for improvement or clarification. I’ve found these invaluable for helping to reinforce my arguments and ensure my points are as strong as possible. Given it’s often argued the best way to prove your knowledge of something is to try explaining it to someone else, this is an immensely valuable tool.
With your re-drafted as necessary essay plan to hand and all your academic reading, it’s time to start writing. This can often be the most terrifying part. There is nothing like a blank page to strike fear into the heart of any student. The antidote to such a problem is to just write. I always have half of my laptop screen taken up by my reading notes with the essay plan and soon to be essay in a separate document on the other half of my screen.
In my early days at university, I used to try and write a complete first draft in one day. Though I was able to do this, it was an often immensely stressful process. I was aware, just out of sheer tiredness and exhaustion, that the quality of my paragraphs diminished as my writing continued. This meant the editing process would take even longer and that my interest in the topic at hand would decline more quickly.
Instead, when I’m working on an essay, I draft one section every single day. Usually this will be a paragraph, but can sometimes be longer depending how much information there is in the reading on that particular part of the topic. This both makes the essay writing far less stressful, as it is spread over a longer period of time, and ensures my interest in the topic remains.
I always try to make sure as many of my points are grounded in the literature as possible. I don’t think it’s possible to ever over reference, but I always want to ensure any ideas that are not directly mine receive the credit they deserve – and require – within the essay. By simply getting ideas onto the paper, it makes it far easier to redraft later on. As someone who always goes over the word count on my first attempt, I have to start essay writing early enough to ensure there is that time for perfection and refinement later on. Now it is just a case of getting on with the writing. Good luck!