And I bet all of you $5 you’ve had to write one at least once in your life (if you haven’t, jokes on you, I have no money 😉 ). The funny thing about essays is that they are pretty easily improved upon if you know what to do. While you might have worked super hard on the content, there are some pretty crucial things that go into the presentation of an essay that might get you a few more marks.
You might even already be doing these things, but here is a checklist of little methods to spruce up your essay to snag some extra marks:
Sorry to break it to you. Writers are readers. If you want the first clue of what constitutes a great essay, read one. Even if you don’t read the whole thing, the structure, opening sentences and closing arguments are a great way to pick up on techniques to insert into your own work. I’m not talking plagiarism, I’m talking technique and sentence structure. Read at least one highly marked essay before you start putting yours together and you’ll be better off.
Use headers, footers, spacing and correct alignment. More often than not, universities have very particular requests when it comes to font, size and line spacing in an essay. This is usually so they can read and mark up things easier. Not to mention, it also makes your assignment look a lot nicer. Make sure you read your assignment brief properly for any layout preferences set by your faculty. If they don’t have any, it’s always good to go Times New Roman, double-spaced, size-12 font. Don’t forget to use paragraphs properly. There’s nothing more tedious than reading an essay without paragraphs to organise your argument, and your marker will notice this and be irritated for it.
While essays are generally quite formal in terms of language, don’t get too carried away. Your tutors and lecturers can read overly flamboyant and forced formal language from a mile away, so try not to overdo it. What is less likely, but still worth mentioning, is the risk of being too informal. It’s a fine line to walk, but take a look at the examples below.
“Charles Dickens is super persuasive in his novel because he’s just really passionate. I felt a lot of sadness for his characters and I could relate.”
“Dickens’ passionate defense of the lower-middle blue-collar working class “allows us to laugh at our personal foibles” and causes the audience to put themselves in an empathetic mindset.”
Yeah… No one knows what that means and it sounds pretty silly. Just stick to the point and don’t try to make your argument sound pretty. If you have the facts then you won’t need to prove it.
Something I learned very early on was that writing essays quickly never helps. You end up just blurting something out that slightly resembles an academic comment on the subject, you hand it in, and you get 60%. Write the introduction, walk away. Come back and embellish a bit, then leave it again. Each time you return read back through what you’ve written aloud to yourself. Hearing the words you’ve written makes you feel accountable for them. If it sounds crap, you’ll notice it very quickly, and you will change it.
Obviously you won’t love every topic you write about at uni, but it’s amazing what you can create when you are interested in the subject. Find a way to invest your interest in the essay topic, it’s the only way to get it done and give it the time it needs to get a decent mark. Don’t be hard on yourself if you just can’t enjoy the process, it’s tedious and long-winded. Just try to understand the importance of what you’re writing, and you might find you start to enjoy it.
Whatever your method for getting through the dreaded essay, if you have a good crack at these methods you’re bound to benefit from them. Just allow yourself enough time to do it justice. And what’s more, the earlier you start, the less stressed you will be about it!