How To Write A College Essay For Dummies

How did you write your university essays? Real life blow-by-blow accounts please.

I need to know how successful essays are written. 'Successful' in this case means 'an essay whose length is at least 80% the word limit and handed in before the deadline'. As you've probably guessed I have trouble writing the darned things, and while depression and procrastination are the main culprits, I've just realised that I might also be doing it wrong. The logistics of writing I mean.

So...please show me how you did it. What was the first thing you did when you sat down to write that essay - muse over the topic/question? Sharpen your pencils? Look it up on Google Scholar? Then what did you do - jot down random ideas? Draw up a reading list? How did you read - focus on one paper? Take notes from multiple papers? Did you print them out? How did you organise your findings - sort them by theme? Pick them as you write? Et cetera.

I'm already familiar with the theory, so I'm looking for something like this but more with more details of the work flow itself.

posted by fix to Education (57 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite


Break the writing process up into manageable chunks; this helps you to excel at each stage and plan your time so that you hit your deadline. Follow these 7 stages to achieve optimal results from your writing:

  • Analyse the title: Work out properly in advance what the question is asking for. Note keywords and function words (for example ‘compare’, ‘analyse’ or ‘discuss’).

  • Make a timetable: Remember the 80:20 rule – 80 per cent on preparation (Stages 1–4) and 20 per cent on writing up and finishing (Stages 5–7). Make your essay timetable fit in realistically with your other commitments and put a copy up at your desk.

  • Gathering data: Keep in mind what do you need to know and where are you going to get this information from. Highlight key info in your notes and use online resources carefully and wisely.

  • Planning: Get your data down in the most helpful way you can and plan out the structure of your essay in detail before you start it.

  • Write the first draft: Remember to write for your reader, and guide them through your argument. Assume and maintain an academic voice and style.

  • Revise your draft: Print your draft out and read it through. Mark up any changes you need to make on the paper, then, back on computer make these changes to a copy of your original version and rename it.

  • Check and polish: Tidy up the finished version, paying attention to the main areas: content and presentation. Proofread your work carefully before submitting.

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