Coming back to university after a couple of years’ break from studying has had its challenges I have to admit, and one of those challenges that I’d like to talk about today is writing essay assignments. Regardless of the programme of study, you’re more than likely going to be required to write at least one essay in your time and I’ve pulled together a few of my top tips for when it comes time to sitting down and tackling those assignments.
1. Look at the assignment title early on - I mean weeks before the deadline. Get familiar with it. At least try to get an idea of the sort of thing it’s asking you to write about, even if you have no intention of sitting down to start writing. That way you know what to keep an ear out for in terms of valuable material in lectures and you can start building up a bank of notes early on to give yourself something to work with. By the time you come to start the real business of writing, you’ll have a list of references, notes and ideas for what you want to talk about, and you can hit the ground running.
2. Keep a record of references as you go along – it doesn’t matter how you do it, just try to do it and keep on at it! I like to download PDF copies of each journal I access and saved them into a folder, as well as keeping a basic list of the author and date of publication, of everything I’m referencing in my writing. That way, I shouldn’t forget anyone, or lose track of which journal article I’m quoting from. Referencing is essential at undergraduate and postgraduate level, so make it as easy for yourself as possible.
3. Take regular breaks – if you’re anything like me you won’t find this one hard… Be it every hour, every 45 minutes, or even every half hour – take a five minutes break. Walk out of the room and grab a drink, get away from the screen (so try not to jump straight onto your phone), whatever works for you. And then crucially, come back for another session.
4. Drink plenty of water - The brain is 70% of the stuff. So keep hydrated as you work. You’ll feel the difference in your working believe me.
5. Aim to get a draft of your essay finished a good few days before the final deadline - Then take an evening or a day and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees, and having some time away from your work will help immensely in that final period of proof reading, and editing before you submit the final version.
Those are my big five tips for working as efficiently and calmly as possible on your essay assignments. I know everyone works differently, and some may be more effective for you than others. But give them a go and see how they work for you!