1.3: Essay writing stages overview

This section gives you an overview of what stages go into the essay writing process. After all, it is not as easy as just sitting down, typing out the words, and printing it out or sending the send button.  There are eight different stages to your essay writing process, which you will need to remember because this will be your framework going forward on each and every essay you do throughout your university career. There are places, of course, which may require modification based on the type of essay you are doing or because your professor or tutor has some preferences, but this is an excellent framework to use so that you make sure you approach every aspect of the essay correctly every time.

Chapter 1 Pt 2 contents:

  • 1.3 Essay writing stages overview
  • 1.3: Essay writing stages overview

    1.3.1: Title and question

    The first stage may sound easy, but it is one where often the most mistakes are made, which is that so many students make a mistake in not answering the essay question, prompt, or title correctly. There is no reason to not understand it because, unlike an exam, you have the time to ask for clarification as well as carefully think about what it means. Besides asking for further assistance, here are some other tips you can employ:

    • Look for keywords in the title or essay prompt that describe the topic, including subject matter, concepts, and the like. See how these relate to the concepts and subject matter you have from lectures, notes, and reading.
    • Identify any function words that are used in the essay title or prompt, including compare and contrast, discuss, and analyse.
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    1.3.2: Data

    Gathering considerable data and research – and, more importantly, locating the most appropriate research and data – is a significant stage in the essay writing process. There are often questions about the places to get the research – library, books, articles, notes and/or online evidence. Here are some ideas to help you:

    • Your library at university and in your city will have a librarian who has been trained to understand different subjects and the kind of research material that could help you with your essay. All you need to do is go and ask!
    • You may not realise the kind of resources you already have at your disposal from classes, including books, papers, notes and assignments that contain key information, statistics, data or findings that could help you write your essay.
    • While many assignments may not approve of certain online sources, there are numerous scholarly databases available on the Internet that you could also use as well as news websites and sites like Google Scholar and Google Books to access what might not otherwise be available.
    • When you do have your research, be sure to take notes on the information that ties to those keywords to make sure you stay on topic with what you write in the essay. As you take notes, be sure to mark down source information and page numbers.  This will help you later on ensure you properly attribute the ideas and words to the right source as well as save you time from having to look it up again later. You will also want to make sure you get website links down as well that will be necessary for the reference list on the essay.
    • Upcoming chapters will provide you with additional information on collecting research, reading and what to look for, and taking notes.
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    1.3.3: Planning and timetable

    While it often seems like you have weeks or even longer to write your essay, time quickly passes before you realise it and suddenly you find yourself writing the essay the night before it is due. This drastically reduces your chances to get the grade you are aiming for, so it is important to create a timetable and plan to work on your essay a little bit each week.  Here are some great tips to follow to keep you on track to meet your essay deadline:

    • Prioritise what assignments you have so that you spend the most time on those that are worth the most to your overall grade, and this most likely means your essay or series of essays.
    • Check that you have all the information you need to get started, including notes and instructions.
    • Mark down all your obligations on a calendar for the coming weeks and block out time each day to spend on your essay even if means only carving out a 30-minute period. This will mean you have made an appointment with yourself to sit down and do something related to your essay.  For more information on how to do this, refer to later on in the book where we discuss time budgeting in greater detail.
    • When budgeting your time, remember that certain stages of the essay will require more time than others, including researching, reviewing, and revising.
    • Be sure to still insert fun and rest into your study schedule.  This will provide you with time to relax and unwind so that you can recharge your brain and feel energised to think deeply about your essay subject matter.
    • If your class does not require interim deadlines on certain aspects of the essay, create your own so that you make sure you stick to your schedule and meet that deadline.
    • Post your timetable somewhere so you can see it and be reminded of what you need to stick to and help you see just how quickly time passes – even if it seems like you are not really having fun!
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    1.3.4: Creative process

    While we termed this section the 'creative' process, it is really about brainstorming ideas rather than stretching your imagination through creative writing. This process involves taking all that you learned from your notes and reading and dumping it onto a document and then grouping the ideas into concepts that can frame an outline for your essay. Of course, some of you may still prefer to do this with paper and pencil, using diagrams, linear notes, or even index cards with colour coding.

    This is where you can then create groups of ideas that are similar and begin to slot them into an outline for the essay. Once all the main points are there, see which ones actually tie to that essay title, prompt, or question. If something you have down does not seem to logically apply, then there is no reason to keep it. Once you have this creative process in a framed outline, you can jump to the next stage. Be sure to consult our table of contents so you can jump forward and read more about this stage later on in the book.

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    1.3.5: First draft

    Now is the time to put meat on those bones by trying your hand at the first draft of the essay.  You will not only use the outline you created, but you will also benefit from any other notes and ideas that resulted from further reading or reflection on the essay topic. This is the point in the essay process where you are now creating a public piece of writing that someone else will be reading, so it is important to have the perspective that you are writing for an audience and no longer for you alone. This means ensuring that what you write will resonate with others and not skipping over anything because you know what you are trying to say. It also means that you should provide specific examples to help the reader understand what you are trying to argue.

    Because the public is involved, you need to help them navigate through the essay so that they understand how to follow along through the argument. You can never assume that they will just get what you are trying to do or say. They need to be shown through connecting words or links between paragraphs so that they can follow how you are going from one point to another and how these ideas all link back to the essay topic or essay question.

    You may also need to think about how to sound more academic in your choice of words, sentence structure, and ideas, which means formalising your essay rather than taking any type of conversational, casual tone to your writing. There will be more on this concept later in the book. Here are some tips designed to help you work on your first draft:

    • There are no rules that say you have to start writing your essay from the first sentence to the last one in that order. Start on a section you feel most comfortable with where you feel you know the most and work from there. This will build your confidence and help you tackle the more challenging sections of the essay. From there, you can bring the sections together and create linkages between the sections.
    • Take your outline as the basis of the essay and fill in that way, making the main sections of the essay outline into subheads so you can map where you are going. If the essay is long enough and it is approved by your professor or tutor, you might even want to leave these headings in there to help guide the reader and break up the essay text. However, in some cases, you may need to take these subheads out of the essay before you submit it for marking.
    • Check the other chapters that specifically cover first drafts later on in the book.

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    1.3.6: Essay revisions

    There is no hard and fast rule about how many essay revisions you should do. Much of it depends on how much time you have left to make essay revisions and what feedback you might have received from anyone else who reviewed it. Here are some steps for revising an essay:

    • Always read it out loud to yourself so you can hear how the words, sentences, and ideas sound. That often changes it for you in terms of seeing more clearly how disorganised or confusing it might be if someone else was to read it.
    • Do not just rely on looking at the essay on your computer screen or tablet. Print it out. Seeing a hard copy often also helps you catch things you might not have otherwise spotted.
    • Call out your changes in red so you can see where they need to be made on the computer version.
    • Always make a new version of the essay on your computer in case you want to go back and use something you deleted in one of the drafts. That way you do not have to recreate it but can easily transfer it back into the new essay draft.
    • Put the essay draft aside for awhile so that you do not become blind to any mistakes because you have looked it at it too many times. Also, this may be a good time to have another pair of eyes study it for things you might have missed.

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    1.3.7: Spit and polish

    It is easy to keep on making changes as all writing can always be improved as you think of things over time and reflect on what could be said differently. If your timetable is on schedule, you may have still to make further changes that help to polish the final version of the essay.  At this stage, it is important to focus on presentation and overall content. Here are some areas that can be fixed as you ready the essay for submission:

    • Check every point you make as part of your argument to make sure it adds to what you are trying to prove in relation to that essay title or prompt.
    • Do not be afraid to pull anything out that you feel is not adding to the argument.
    • Check spelling, punctuation, and grammar one more time. They say the devil is in the details and these are areas where you can quickly lose points with the person reading and marking your essay if you have been sloppy.
    • Review all essay instructions to ensure you have followed the format in terms of font, spacing, indentation and quotations just to name a few examples.

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    1.3.8: Handing your essay

    The final stage is the point at which you hand in the essay for a grade. This is where you may be able to start breathing again and let some of that stress disappear. You have handed it in and put it in your tutor or professor's hand to mark. There is nothing else you can do but wait for the grade. Take this time to decompress before the next essay comes up in the year. Then, you know that these stages of an essay will all begin again. Each time, though, your confidence and skill level will grow if you take the advice we have laid out here to heart.

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    1.4: What defines a successful essay writer?

    While there are many talented writers out there many of whom we have worked with, if you were to ask them about success, they would all tell you the same thing – being a great essay writer did not happen overnight. It takes much practice, skill development, and mistakes along the way to get there.  Many people fear writing when they do not have to – it will not bite. Plus, it is a necessity now as part of university life and throughout any type of job or career.

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    1.4.1: Write - let it flow

    The first step you need to do toward being successful as an essay writer is to get over the fear, doubt, and dread about writing. Ignore the idea that anything is 'written in stone.' That is why they invented the delete button. Use it. Just start writing – anything – and let it flow out of you. It does not have to be perfect from the get-go; change it later. Just practice writing. Like anything that you practice each day and devote effort to, you see improvements whether it is running, cooking, and, yes, even writing.  Here's what you can do to make sure you write regularly so that it becomes more of a natural process for you:

    • Keep a journal and pen close by, or, in this digital age, you can type notes onto your smartphone or tablet PC.  Write down thoughts and impressions throughout the day about anything and everything. This will stimulate your brain to regularly transfer thoughts into words that then encourage the writing process.
    • Tell yourself you can write. Positive affirmation does wonders for confidence and opens the mind to focus more on actually doing something than making up reasons as to why you cannot write.
    • Do not give up. Keep at it and it will flow. The writers behind this book can you ensure you that this works.

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    1.4.2: Time - it's not always on your side

    Procrastination does not breed success when it comes to essay writing or much else for that matter. Having said that, you will see this same advice time and time again throughout this book – do not leave your essay to the last minute or burn the midnight oil to get it done. It will not be great let alone even good. Sure, we have all been guilty of procrastination – there are no perfect students. We are, after all, human!

    University is about learning and deepening your knowledge rather than scraping by. The same can be said for the work you produce while there. Make the most of your time and manage it appropriately. As the years progress, the essay assignments will only become longer and more complex.

    Until that happens, do not be discouraged if essay writing seems to come easier to your friends; they are different and may even be studying a different area that requires different levels of knowledge and writing. Also, it is easy to feel overwhelmed as the word count of each project grows; simply break it down into digestible chunks that do not seem as overwhelming to keep the motivation working for you.

    If writing is not coming easily to you yet, then that means you need to allot even more time to the process of essay writing. As you go and the writing seems to flow, then you can pick up speed and shorten your timetable.

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    1.4.3: Attitude - take a positive approach

    What it all comes down to is your mindset and how gaining a positive approach will become an integral part of your success as an essay writer at university. Everyone has fears about writing essays and whether they will do well while at university. Just remember that you were accepted there on your own merit, which means you had to have some talent and ability or the university never would have accepted you.

    While it may seem lonely writing, you have a whole world of friends, colleagues, and mentors to interact with whether that is in person or through social networking circles. If you are afraid you will not think of anything to write and that it has all been done before, you must remember that no one else thinks exactly like you so you are bound to put your own spin on the essay material and create your own voice through your essay writing – just embrace it!

    You may have moments where you fall back into a negative frame of mind, especially if you have had a bad day, not gotten enough sleep, or been struck with something that makes you sad. All you can do is pick up and try again to focus on the positive and reframe your mind around what you can do and what is possible.

    After all, you have made a great first step by getting this book and aiming to be successful at essay writing while you are at university. Now, it is time to keep the momentum going by turning to the next chapter about getting going and staying the course through your essay writing project.

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