How to tackle your first essay

Lucie Hamilton

Faculty: Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care
School: School of Education and Social Care
Course: Early Childhood Studies
Category: Education

21 August 2017

Some people enjoy writing essays, and for others it can be the most stressful part of studying. I fall between the two.

I love writing. The written word is beautiful and so expressive, however writing academically does not come as easy to me as creative writing. So I have found the following tips to prove helpful with getting the essays completed because, as a student, you cannot get away from writing them.

1/ Planning.

As with essay writing as a whole, some people find planning easy and for others, it is just as difficult as eating soup with a fork. But planning will most definitely help the essay with its form and will save you hours of stressing. Make a list of points that you want to include in each of the sections for the essay so that you have prompts to work from. When you come across interesting pieces of information which you think you will include, add it to your list – don’t forget to write a reference note so you know where it came from!

2/ Mind Maps

Sometimes writing lists can be difficult if you don’t even know where to start. This is where mind mapping may be useful. Start with your topic in the centre and just write down everything you think may be relevant for this particular essay. Even if you aren’t sure where to place it, for now, just write it down - you can organise it at a later stage. The important part about mind mapping is to go with the flow of your thinking and get ideas down. Once you have all the points down, you can then organise and categorise these, whittling them down into a shortlist of key points. Then you can plan the essay.

3/ Freewriting

If making a list isn’t working, and mind mapping doesn’t give you some ideas, you can also try free writing. I absolutely love this way of working and use it for many different things. Freewriting is exactly what it says – writing freely without thinking. Set yourself a time target – say, ten minutes – and set a timer. And then just write. Don’t think about it, write whatever comes into your mind. Try to stick to the general theme of what the essay is about, but write down everything you can think of. You don’t even have to worry about references right now because this is just your basis for further research. If you get to a word and you cannot think of the word you need, just draw a line and carry on. The key is non-stop writing. You will find at the end that probably 80% will be babble and unusable but you will be surprised how valuable that 20% is and it can really help you to get a ‘feel’ for the essay.

4/ Break it down.

Try not to tackle the essay as a 3000 word piece as a whole. Break it down into sections. Some lecturers work like this anyway and will provide you with a breakdown of what they expect to see included. Every essay will need an introduction and a conclusion. Then it is just down to how many sections are in the middle. Most of the essays I have completed so far follow the format of Introduction, section one, section two and conclusion. By breaking it down, you can tackle each section at different times and instead of writing 3000 words in one hit, you can allocate times. Today you write your 200 word introduction. Next you can work on your section one which could be 700 words. Before you know it, you have reached your 3000 word target.

5/ Don’t leave it all to the end of the semester.

Again, some lecturers work like this and will set you targets throughout the semester to have certain sections drafted. When I first experienced this with a lecturer, it was as though a lightbulb went off in my mind - what a great way to tackle essays. Each week the lecturer would say “bring a draft of section one/two to class next week” and we would peer review and gain feedback from the staff. By working like this, you reach the end of the semester with drafts of every section and the final weeks are just a case of putting it together and editing it ready to submit. Even when the lecturers do not give you targets, it might work to set yourself some of your own.

I hope some of these help you to get through those essays. It is such a proud moment when you complete them. Good luck!


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.