My Essay Writing Process
We’re deep in essay/exam season right now, and I have 4 essay projects to be working on in May. Having this amount of work to do has made me grateful that I’ve developed an effective essay writing process over the years, and I’m going to share it here in case anyone is in need of a little essay help.
Writing a long essay of 3,000-4,000 words that juggles with a lot of complex ideas can be a struggle to comprehend without a good system, and I have to pull together all of these ideas into a comprehensible piece that a reader can follow easily. I basically begin with the complete opposite…that is a very messy Word document plan.
The key to an essay for me is having this plan. I need to keep all my ideas together in one place and will gradually work through them. I don’t ‘write’ an essay as much as piece it together from scraps and random sentences.
Here’s the step-by-step of the whole process:
1. Re-read the primary text/s, and leave sticky note tags on anything relevant to the topic I want to write about. Have a look through the question sheet beforehand so you have a general idea of the kind of thing you’re looking for. These quotes and scenes can be analysed and used as evidence for a point later on. Textual analysis is something I know my essays often lack in, so I’m trying to improve on that.
2. Write up my seminar notes onto a word document. This is going to become my planning document where I type out every idea that I think of. Seminars often provide a lot of useful context, and the debates you have in the classroom can provide some starting points for your own argument in the essay.
3. Generally at this point I will have decided on a question, and so I paste it into the top of the document. If it’s a wordy, complicated question, I will break it down so it’s easier to comprehend by highlighting the key points that need to be addressed. In the main body of the essay, I will re-use the terminology used in the question, to help make sure that my argument remains relevant to the question I’m answering.
4. All the while, I will have been doing secondary reading. I will insert any theories and quotations that I find useful into the document, and jot down my own analysis of these ideas, as well as how they may be useful for my argument. I keep a bibliography as I go, so that I don’t lose track of my sources.
5. Next I will type up quotes from the primary text, and jot down any of my own analysis.
6. Now that there are loads of ideas on the palette, I start to see themes and connections between them, and I begin grouping ideas under headings by copy and paste. These will become the main body of the essay and my key points that I aim to make. Generally I aim to hit word count in this plan, which helps me to ensure that I have enough content to reach word count in the final draft, as well as helping me to be more critical of how relevant a point is to my argument, and generous in terms of what I cut out or rework.
7. Even though this is one of the last steps in this list, I now finally start to write. But because I’ve already put down such a detailed plan, all I really have left to do is link it all up together neatly so that it’s ready to be read.
8. When the essay is practically finished, I will proof-read for spelling mistakes and loose points in my argument. I will play around with sentence structure and cut out anything unnecessary if I’m over word-count. I format the document properly as per undergraduate handbook guidelines, and then I’m ready to submit!
Some bonus tips:
A whole load of unorganised text in my plan can be pretty hard to comprehend, so I use colours to get around this. Primary text quotes I put in purple, and secondary research quotes in blue. Anything I have a problem with or trivial things I need to return to, I will mark in red.
I also make use of the review tool in Word to make comments about what I need to come back to, and because they appear at the side of the document, I will also use them as a place to display tips/advice/feedback from previous essays to bear in mind, so that I can be reminded of my goals for this essay.
It’s difficult for me to stay focused on essays, especially while at home and having to utilise a lot of brainpower. I’ve been using an app called Forest to help give me motivation to work while keeping me off my phone. The more time I spend using the app to focus, the more coins I earn to buy pretty trees ?