How to write essays and assignments

Here’s a Sunday quick tip in the «Back to School»-series. Today we’re tackling the inevitable writing assignments that we all face while in Uni. I was asked about a week ago by a dear friend of mine; “How much time do you spend gathering resources, and how much time do you spend writing?” So instead of answering him straight away like a normal person, I told him I’d blog about it. So here I am, doing just that!

(Note: Here I am assuming that you’ve either been given a task or have decided the theme of your essay. Either way, these tips will work with just a rough idea of what you want to write about.)

Phase 1: Write an outline

Start by writing a title on a blank Word page, and a sub-header indicating what you want to discuss in the essay/assignment. This should help you stay on point with your outline. Below the header, write three words:

INTRODUCTION

BODY

CONCLUSION

The introduction should just be left empty for now, and the conclusion should just have “NO NEW MOMENTUMS” written below it. (Far too often, I see essays with multiple new discussion topics that should have been handled in the main body of the text at the very end of an essay, and it bothers me to no end.) The main body, however, is an entirely different story. Write down four or five sub headers you think are essential to your essay, and STAY ON TOPIC. (Again, depending on the text, if this is a very long text assignment, four or five subsections won’t do, but you get the gist of what I’m saying.)

Phase 2: Initial research

So this is where I start my research. Here I go over all my course material, using the index at the back of the relevant textbooks, as well as using my notes and the lecture power points to see what the professor has emphasized. I then go back to my outline, revise it to fit what the lecturer wants, and if I have the opportunity, ask to see the professor to go over the outline, to see if I’m heading in the right direction. I haven’t been able to do this much in vet school, but when I studied literature, this was a common occurrence and even scheduled into our courses in some instances.

Phase 3: Deep research

After making sure my outline is the best it can be, I head to either the local library, or even better, the faculty library, and ask the librarian to help. Librarians are an under-utilized resource by many university students, and their help is vastly underappreciated. They do not only know where everything is, but have probably helped more students researching the exact same thing you’re writing about several times before, and know which books to read, and which to avoid. After bringing the books home, do not read them cover to cover, but skim the sections that are relevant to your assignment, and place post-it’s with notes on them to indicate which sections the different quotes or arguments from the books would go in your outline.

Phase 4: Write and rewrite!

Sometimes I do phase 3 and 4 in parallel, but the most important thing to remember is that you might have to kill your darlings. If something comes up during the research phase that debunks one or more of your initial arguments, you have to accept the newfound information and change your essay structure on the fly. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Have someone read your work, and ask them to look out for any errors, or theme-inconsistencies.

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That’s pretty much how I work on assignments! I apologize if this seems rushed, because it is! I have three more days to study for my upcoming Animal Nutrition exam, so the blog is the last thing on my mind right now. Other than that, I hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend, and I’ll be back on Thursday instead of Wednesday (again, because of the exam), with another blog post!