Preparing for an Essay

All students should be striving to ahieve the very best grades that they can achieve.  A part of gaining good grades is writing good essays, and a part of writing a good essay is to understand how the essay should be approached and completed.  Simply sitting at a computer and writing an essay without preparation and planning will lead to reduced grades and sloppy work.  Writing an essay, especially a good essay, takes a considerable amount of planning and preparation.

Read the assignment brief

The assignment brief sets the context and student expectations, essay directions, grading criteria and possible resources. Go through this very carefully and note the keywords and phrases that are used.  These key words and phrases are usually indications of what should be investigated.  If it is still unclear as to what the assignment brief is instructing after reading it a few times, seek the guidance of the tutor. 

Attend lectures and workshops

These provide further opportunities to clarify aspects of the assignment. Collect and keep all lecture and workshop material distributed by the lecturer as these form the basis of investigation.  Also, produce good written notes from each lecture or workshop as these can generate ideas and directions of an essay.

Use the library

Explore and develop initial ideas through the use of relevant literature in the library or on the Internet. Remember to make sure that these sources are evaluated for essay relevance, accuracy, reliability and validity.  Collect a variety of different sources such as academic and Government web pages, academic journal articles, conference papers, books and relevant chapters of edited books.  This is to provide evidence that ideas and idea development has not been produced from a single resource or a single type of resource, but from a variety of different resources.

Use resources intelligently

Determine how each resource can develop and enhance ideas and arguments through analysis and establishing relationships between research findings and sets of discussions between multiple resources. Establishing relationships between different resources strengthens arguments to be presented, because research findings or discussions that are found in multiple sources are considered reliable.  Write notes on each resource to act as a reminder of how each resource is to be referenced in an essay.

Plan and structure essay

Plan the structure and content of the essay in the form of a plan.  Describe how the subject matter shall be introduced, and then describe how the essay shall flow: is the essay partly descriptive and partly argumentative? Is the essay purely based on analysis and arguments with little descriptive writing style as usually found on post graduate courses? The essay plan needs to detail how the essay shall flow from descriptions of concepts to an analysis and discussion of such concepts.  This is a progressive style of writing, showing the progression of idea and argument development over time.

Organise resources

Just before starting the essay itself, make sure that all the resources required to produce the essay are easily accessible, ideally in the order of which they are to be used and referenced.  This approach to resource organisation shall help with the flow and cohesiveness of essay production.

Preparation helps with identifying the correct and relevant resources to reference, to develop ideas and arguments, for organisation of resources, to plan the essay’s structure and content, and for the timely production of a cohesive and well written essay.  This preparation is especially important if there are multiple essays to be completed in a short timeframe.