You’ve finished your essay- now what?
I had three pieces of coursework due over the break, so I thought I would run you through my process once I have a first draft complete! University coursework is unlikely to be like anything you’ve done before, so it takes a bit of getting used to 🙂
1- Make sure my argument is clear. I like to just make sure all of my paragraphs are necessary and I’m not just rambling, so I try to ask myself how such and such paragraph answer the prompt, and why it is important for me to have them in my essay.
2- Edit to match word count. For one of my essays due I found myself 300 words over the limit without even including my conclusion! Editing essays down can be a struggle, because I tend to get attached to the way I’ve phrased things and to (possibly unnecessary) stylistic choices, so I hate to have to cut them down. Really though, you’ll probably find that your argument ends up being a lot stronger when you cut some of the words off, as that forces you to make the sentences that you do have count 🙂
3- Reference my heart away. Ideally, you’ll be doing your footnotes along the way with your sources, and ideally, these will be perfectly formatted to OSCOLA (the referencing system we use for Law essays, we have a handy and slightly terrifying 50 page online booklet to explain it), and even more ideally you’ll have pinpointed the pages for all the quotes you’ve integrated as you wrote… This rarely happens to me! So, the first thing I do once I have my main body of text done, is work through all of my footnotes (the quality of which is sometimes reduced to just an article title and nothing more) and fill up all of the missing information. I find it helpful to go back to where I found my information and make sure that I jotted the right source down, because sometimes I’ve found that I’ve gotten my sources mixed up, attributing a quote to the wrong text which isn’t the most helpful.
4- Ask someone else to read it. This is both for proofreading and for general ‘does my argument make any sense at all?’ worries. Sometimes when you’ve been writing for days/weeks it’s possible your point might seem crystal clear in your head even though it makes less sense on paper… I’m lucky to have a sister doing a Master’s degree at Warwick, so she has the great joy (I’m sure) of spell-checking a lot of my essays! Another proofreading tip is to wait at least a few hours or ideally a day or two before re-reading your essay, that way it seems more fresh and new, and you’re less likely to accidentally skim-read through it.
5- Know when I’m done. If you finish your essay early, it’s very tempting to keep on tweaking it endlessly. While some changes might be helpful, at some point it’s also important not to overthink it too much as that could just end up stressing you and make you edit your essay in ways that don’t really make sense.
Law essays are weird and confusing at first, and then they remain weird and confusing but you get used to it! My very first legal essay was Tort Law in Term 1 of my first year, and I still remember how completely lost I felt, so I can definitely say that it gets easier with time! 🙂