My Guide to Structuring, Formatting and Editing Essays Correctly
Hello Everyone! I realised recently that one of the biggest challenges I faced when starting university was learning how to taper and edit my essays, how to format and structure them properly, how to reference correctly and how to avoid plagiarism. It can take a while to get used to university level essay writing, but hopefully I will be able to give you all some pointers on how you can improve as it is a very important basis of many degrees, especially History of Art.
Firstly, the title or topic of your essay is extremely important as you have to make sure that you are sticking to it throughout your writing or you will just use up your word count needlessly and not gain any marks as your points won’t be relevant to your topic. You would be surprised how easily an essay can go off on tangents and how many people end up moving further and further away from their intended topic as the essay progresses – either stick to the title if it is a given question or title, or change your title if your essay has ended up going in a different direction. Also, try to make your essay topic as original and genuinely interesting as possible – tutors may read hundreds of essays all on the same topic so try to make it new and enjoyable for them to read.
Make sure you read thoroughly around and about your topic before settling on the it as you may find that there is very little to talk about, finding good sources may be difficult or you may find that after reading into it more you become less interested by it and it definitely helps if you are curious or passionate about the thing you are writing about. Try to find reading that is relevant and use primary sources where possible. Avoid using sources from websites that aren’t reputable as their information is often unreliable. Don’t just do your readings, make notes using your own words and highlight relevant areas so that you can easily find what you’re looking for if you come back to it at a later point. Also, try to get into the habit of writing your bibliography as you go along or you can find yourself spending hours going back and trawling through books and websites to find the correct quotes, page numbers and referencing information.
In my experience, it is often more effective to isolate a smaller topic to write about in great detail rather than trying to cram lots of topics into one essay as you end up glossing over them because your word counts will often be quite limiting. You also have to construct an argument that flows throughout your introduction, main body of the essay and your conclusion so that your essay becomes coherent, compelling and persuasive so try to write in a chronological, thematic, contextual or comparative manner that clearly proceeds from one point into the next. The constricting word count will also require you to reach your points in a decisive way and you will have to cut down on any use of waffle and filler in your essays, you can’t afford to be too descriptive – always try to be critical.
Make sure to spend the time proof reading and editing your essays properly and don’t rely too much on autocorrections and spellcheckers, read through it from start to finish to make sure that your sentences make sense and that you haven’t missed anything in terms of punctuation, spelling or grammar. Once your essay have been proof read, you can tinker with the formatting and presentation (or you may want to do this at the very start of writing it) of the font, font size, spacing, justification of the margins, adding page numbers, adding your university ID number for the header, formatting your footnotes and bibliography and adding any images and captions.
Once all of the above has been achieved, you should have a well-structured, captivating and methodical essay but if you still need help with anything to do with essay writing, the Guide to Presenting Written Work on the History of Art website under the Handbooks and Guides section has been my saviour many times and I often read and reread it religiously while I am writing my essays as it has information on every aspect of the process. You will also receive feedback comments on all of your assessed essays and will have the opportunity to discuss them with your tutors which I would highly recommend as you can gain a much better understanding of the aspects you may be struggling with and you can then change your approach to improve your essay writing and it has certainly helped me refine many areas of my writing.
Thanks for reading! Kristie