One of the most intimidating things in life (apart from the coronavirus right now) is the combination of a blank page and an essay deadline.
It’s hard enough having to brainstorm ideas for a creative writing task that’s due in 12 hours or come up with points for an argumentative essay on a topic you’re not that familiar with, but nothing beats the overwhelming anxiety of actually putting pen to paper – literal or digital alike. Because of this anxiety, we often see students make two mistakes when it comes to essay writing, and what’s ironic is that neither of these mistakes relate to the actual writing process itself, but rather, to the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ of the process.
Mistake 1: You don’t plan
For all the ‘white terror’ a blank Google Doc or Word Doc is capable of instilling in each and everyone of us, here’s a pro tip: resist the urge to rush headlong into writing down your first sentence. Unless you’re a modern day Virginia Woolf or a born-again Shakespeare, rushing is probably not going to work out, but instead result in an incoherent ramble more scrambled than your morning eggs. You know what they say, fools rush in, so don’t be that fool. Instead, do the smart thing and follow our advice below:
- Read the essay question and make sure you understand what’s asked of you
- Take a deep breath
- Draw up a brief outline of your essay by paragraph
- Write down the main idea / message / argument you wish to convey in your essay
- Write down the main point for each of your paragraphs
And finally, here’s an odd’un but a good’un…
- Write down the key emotion(s) you want your readers to feel after reading your essay
Why is a plan so important? Simple: a plan keeps you –
- Focused on answering the question
- Prevents you from getting sidetracked into tangents, and
- Ensures you stay disciplined and stick to covering whatever you need and can cover within a certain period of time, which is an especially critical concern when it comes to timed examination essays.
Also, regarding step 6): considering how your reader is going to feel after reading your essay is very important, because that’s going to largely determine how much s/he resonates with what you’ve written, which in turn determines how well s/he receives and grades your work.
If someone feels moved after reading your autobiographical essay on that time you nursed your kitten back to health, your essay will score high because it’s effective at creating human connection and conveying a message. On the other hand, if someone feels persuaded after reading your case for banning essay writing in modern education, your essay will also score well because you’ve succeeded at convincing a person you don’t know of your viewpoint. Of course, the latter situation probably isn’t ever going to happen, but you get my drift.
Mistake 2: You don’t proofread
Okay, so say you’re a planner, and that mistake number 1 doesn’t apply to you. Congrats, you submit a well thought-out, logical piece of writing – but alas, one that is ridden with grammatical inaccuracies, spelling errors, punctuation blunders and lexical missteps (or worse, malapropisms!). Now that would be a downright shame, because you’ve written some real good stuff, but now all the real good stuff has gone to waste, overshadowed by a bad holistic impression created by issues we could easily fix with thorough proofreading.
In other words, you can write a good essay, but you can’t write a great essay without reviewing the essay, because it’s the reviewing that elevates your work from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
This is precisely why even the best writers in the world need editors. Margaret Atwood, one of the most acclaimed authors today, is famous for her wildly creative dystopian works, but infamous for her terrible spelling skills. Imagine what it would be like, then, to read her sentences of great imaginative substance, only to not understand what she’s trying to get at with every next word looking like an alphabetically-chained alien not even the Oxford Dictionary has a definition for.
So next time you’re tasked with another essay writing assignment, just remember: keep calm, plan well and proofread with care!