19: Essay Trouble Shooting Tips

Chapter 19 contents:

19.1: Too many words

While it may seem impossible to you, there are times where you will find yourself going over the word count beyond the allotted ten per cent extra you are allowed. There are number ways to cut some words out and hit the word count target on your essay:

  • Ensure you didn't count your reference list, footnotes, or bibliography as well as any long quotes when you did your calculation.
  • Use tables where appropriate to consolidate some of your data.
  • See what you can move to the appendices.
  • Don't overuse headings and sub-headings. These can easily be trimmed back.
  • Look for places where you have used extra words or you are waffling on. There are many places where you might be able to replace a number of words with just one or two words.
  • Identify repetition and delete.

19.2: Too few words

More often than not, you will find that you have not hit the word count with what you have said in your essay. There are ways you can make your word count painlessly without resorting to adding fluff:

  • Look at the flow and logic to see if you can fit in more examples or scenarios that explain the main ideas. These add colour and interest and, more importantly, get you to your word count target.
  • Go back to your research and see if you can add more from the books or articles, including a few short quotes.
  • Ask your tutor based on your subheads and outline what would be the most important areas to expand. Then check back and see how you could expand those further in terms of ideas.
  • Consider adding one more idea that could be expanded into a paragraph or two with supporting information if all the other ideas have been fully explained.
  • If nothing works as recommended here, you may need to go back to the question and make sure you have covered all the concepts.

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19.3: Time is running out

One of the most challenging things for students to accomplish is effective time management. It's easy to get distracted or overwhelmed with what you have to accomplish as a student and maybe even as someone with a job on the side. What happens then when you don't start your essay early like you probably should have but are now looking at a tight deadline? Here are some tips on managing what time you have left:

  • Go get some support from your tutor or a learning centre on speeding up the process. Set new goals within the limited time frame just as you should have done when you had more time.
  • If you have had some type of personal crisis or emergency that has you behind schedule, go speak to your tutor and work on getting an extension. This does not mean, however, to make up something just to get an extension. Use this tactic when it is well and truly necessary. They will most likely understand and provide you with more time. Just make sure you deliver on the new deadline.
  • If you are someone who continually misses deadlines because you are just not showing the commitment, you need to re-evaluate whether you should be working on a degree. It takes effort and commitment; otherwise you are wasting your money or that of your parents! You can also get help on becoming a more organised and disciplined student but no one can truly change you but you!

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19.4: Technology issues

Let's face it: Technology is awesome until it breaks. And, there is no way that technical problems ever happen when it is convenient. Imagine then that you are working on your essay and finishing it off when suddenly your computer crashes, your printer breaks, or you run out of ink. Maybe the university equipment breaks down. What do you do? Here are some proactive tips as well as some solutions for those technology issues:

  • First and foremost, always back up your work on a separate drive or use cloud computing to store it somewhere on the Internet. Dropbox is a great place to do that. You can also use memory sticks or another external device. This will help should your laptop or computer crash. This will also help should your printer break or you run out of printer supplies. You can take it to a print shop or the university equipment and print it from there.
  • Always keep extra supplies like toner and ink on hand as well as paper for your equipment.
  • Save your documents regularly as you are working.
  • Print out the different versions of your essay so you can recreate it if you have to in case your computer has a meltdown and the information cannot be recovered.
  • Make sure you have a good IT person who might be able to come and troubleshoot any technology issues. Many of them are great at recovering documents or troubleshooting equipment quickly. Often, the university computer lab has people on-site who are trained to fix IT issues.
  • If all else fails and you just have serious technology issues, make sure you can prove them to your tutor to enable you to get an extension.

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19.5: My writing stinks!

Whether your writing actually stinks or you are just being overly critical, you don't need to panic but simply address the issue. First off, you are most likely overreacting about your because you are a new university student and feel like your lack of experience impacts your writing quality. Sure, everyone can do better but you should not let a lack of confidence impact how you look at what you do.

If you feel like you need help, ask your tutor or use the student services at the university where others volunteer and help students with things like studying, research, and writing. They can take a look at what you have done and provide feedback and suggestions for help.

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19.6: An unanswered question

Again, if you are unsure about whether you answered the question or not, this could be a lack of confidence based on your limited research and essay writing experience. Here are some tips to make sure you answer your essay question:

  • Keep your essay title in front of you on a piece of paper taped to your computer screen or on a nearby bulletin board. Write the title on all your notes. Put it where you can't forget it!
  • Return to your outline and check for keywords that match the essay question. If anything is missing from your essay, then see how you can include those keyword ideas to ensure you have answered the question.
  • Get more insights from your tutor about what the question means and then review this against what you have written in your essay to see if you have covered it all.

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19.7: Wrong references

It's important to make sure that all your references are correct and done in a style consistent to the referencing style you have been required to follow. If you want to make sure that no mistakes have been made, here are some tips to employ:

  • Go back through your university handbook or referencing style manual you have or can use online and compare your references against the style rules listed. Usually, there are examples for each type of reference item so you can methodically go through each one in your essay and check that every word and punctuation mark is correct.
  • If you are sure you have made a mistake but can't put your finger on exactly what it is, you can ask your tutor for guidance or seek help from other sources like a proofreading company or student services learning centre at your university. Of course, this doesn't mean you can just simply show up and have someone fix your work for you; it's a learning experience and while you get help, you need to do the work.

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19.8: I don't understand!

You may be struggling with understanding the concepts in your course and your essay may quickly illustrate that fact because you have filled it with quotations or misinterpretations or irrelevant information. You can do a number of things to help get you to the right level of understanding:

  • If you don't know a term, look it up in a dictionary or encyclopaedia. Make sure you know what it means before including it in your essay so you are sure you are correctly using it.
  • Talk to your fellow students as they may understand certain concepts and be able to explain it to you. The more you discuss what you are learning, the better chance you will have with understanding and applying what is included in your course.
  • Go to your tutor with specific questions. Whatever you do, don't go to them and simply say, "I don't understand." This shows you spent no time trying to break things down. Put your finger on a certain area that you are unsure about and use that as the basis of discussion with your tutor. They can then point you to additional reading material that might help clarify your confusion.

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19.9: I hate my course!

That fact is that you are going to like certain courses better than others. And, part of your struggle with your essay is that you simply don't like the course or the subject matter. It happens but you have to keep going and finish it so you can move onto those courses you do like. Otherwise, your lack of motivation will adversely impact your essay writing quality and your overall marks for the course.

What you can do is ensure you pick an essay topic where you could find some interest at least in order to get through it. Think positively and focus on why this course is necessary for your professional qualification. Try to turn it into something that is amusing and interesting to make the time pass and that motivates you to put as much effort in as possible. It's just a small annoying part of a much bigger career potential pie that will be worth digging into at the end when that degree is in your hand.

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19.10: It seems perfect, but how do I know for sure?

The last areas is when you can't seem to find any mistakes but you have that nagging voice in your head, questioning whether or not the essay is really perfect or not. What this comes down to is effective proofreading, which can prove you really do know it's perfect.

Go back to our chapter on editing and proofreading and follow those tips. But, remember that it is well and truly hard to catch all the mistakes in your own essay work because you may have looked at it dozens of times. Yet, you could read someone else's essays and spot all types of mistakes because you are putting a fresh pair of eyes to it. So, think about exchanging essays with a classmate or using a service that can do the final proofread for you.

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