Since I know that few students will be diligently writing their essays well in advance of the deadline, it’s worth considering how this last minute plan is going to work. In order to write a paper in a much shorter amount of time than the tutor has actually given you to work on it, it is necessary to have some working knowledge of the subject of your paper before you commence writing. Even if the subject does not inspire you, try to read up on it before you come to write the essay. Even if you just read online articles or papers then get your books at the last minute, it will help you be able to write more naturally if you at least know the possible issues before you start. If you are lucky, you can undertake an amount of reading, and allow your subconscious to digest and organise the material, while you sleep/party/work, ready to flow forth through your fingertips once you sit down to type.
Most essay subjects will be contentious in some way, so you must ensure that you read various sources containing balanced and biased opinions. It shouldn’t be too hard to find out what an extreme view of your subject matter would be, since you will probably find an abundance of extreme viewpoints through the almighty wisdom of the Google search. This is important, as those balanced views you read are the result of digestion of a miasma of more extreme ones, and for you to likewise produce your own balanced argument, you need to know what the polar sides of the subject are. While we’re on the subject of extreme viewpoints, while your tutor may be amused by your argument that David Icke is right about the world being controlled by giant lizard men, you are not going to get a great grade for it just because you’ve written what you believe to be an inspired argument for a difficult case. In fact, your tutor has probably seen this kind of thing many times before, and will more likely be rolling his eyes wearily at the foolishness of youth.
So, you have absorbed source material, and now it’s the night before the work is due in, and you have yet to begin. Hopefully if you just tear yourself away from your TV/MSN/Skype/Facebook addiction and think for a moment, you can see an argument taking shape. Now is the time to begin, and get something written. You can always go back and restructure later, but it’s important to get your argument going. As you’re writing, try to ensure that each point you make is relevant to your essay title. This will help you to keep to the point. If your essay is on one particular aspect of a subject, your tutor is not interested in anything else just because it’s vaguely related. If your essay is on the corruption of unchecked ambition in Macbeth then you don’t need to go into a discussion of how descriptive passages on the natural environment are used to evoke a sense of foreboding in the play.
Once you have a working draft, read through and try to make is flow more naturally. You could do this out loud, so long as it does not put you in danger of being bombarded with the rotting contents of your student fruit bowl by your flatmates. Your essays should not be written in the same way as you would speak, they should be more formal than that, but they must be easy to read and make immediate sense of linguistically. You should use your spell checker as it is very easy to make simple spelling errors which you just do not spot because you are staring at your essay for hours. However the spell checker is not all-knowing and you should look through to ensure that the spell checker has not changed what you meant to be ‘than’ into ‘that’ and so on. The grammar checker also should not be entirely relied upon. The complexity of language is not easily represented in programming a grammar checking program, but hopefully in your reading over of your work, and ensuring that your prose is readable; you will also correct your grammar. Most Universities have English language support, and many of them will go through draft essays with you to help with your grammar (this will only be possible if you have actually written the essay in advance of your deadline of course).
You should ensure that the first paragraph of your essay is used to introduce your subject, and briefly outline the discussion that follows. Your final paragraph should be a summation of your argument, including the conclusions reached. This generally ends out being rather ambiguous as essay titles are usually given to be ambiguous in order that you can make a good argument in the body of your essay. This is intentional, so a conclusion in which you are still sitting on the fence is fine.
You will need to include your references in any academic work. Ensure that your references are true, as it is likely that the same works are referenced each year, and your tutor does have at least a passing knowledge of them. Also resist the temptation to plagarise chunks of text that you think fits perfectly and makes a great point. By all means reference it, but do not try to pass of someone else’s work as your own. Chances are your lecturers are fully aware that people will cheat. Chances are they also know how to use Google. Chances are they know what the books in the college library contain. If you really want to go down this road, how about using something really obscure. Oh wait, if it’s really obscure does that also mean it is not very good?
Now go and do something else. Have a coffee, talk to your housemates, eat something. Then go back to your essay, and read it again. This is most important, as when you are writing and thinking frantically you tend to get lost in the detail of what you are doing, and don’t see the overall effect. Make any corrections that demand making on this extra reading.
While this kind of thing should not really be condoned, so long as you have a good grasp of the subject matter, and of the English language, you should be able to knock out a reasonably good essay quickly (depending on how long it needs to be of course, there’s no writing a 10,000 word dissertation in a night). If you want a really good essay (and of course by that I also mean a really good grade) then you will need to try harder as everyone has doubtless told you a hundred times before. But then if you did that, you wouldn’t be procrastinating reading this when you could be writing that essay, would you?