You’re definitely not alone if you find the process of essay writing difficult. But instead of pulling your hair out or putting off getting started, work your way through these steps and it won’t seem so scary.

academic writing tips

Understand the task

A surprising number of students at all levels either misunderstand the task question or don’t actually answer it. You can waste a lot of time researching irrelevant information if you don’t know what to focus on and you’ll never get a good mark.

Analyse the task question carefully. Try to rewrite it in your own words. Highlight the key words and think about what you’re being asked to do (for instance, do you need to give your viewpoint, discuss different sides of an argument or evaluate someone else’s ideas?). Check if you have to write a specific text type, such as a report or an article. Also consider how the task relates to what you’ve been studying.

If you’re writing your own question, you need to spend time formulating it so it’s clear and concise. If it’s not clear in your mind, it won’t be clear in your writing and you’ll have a confused reader.

Organise

This means being organised in your work as well as writing your ideas in a clear and organised way.

Allow yourself enough time to research, draft, review and edit. (This often takes longer than you think!) As you research, keep an accurate record of the sources you use to avoid wasting time looking for them later.

Plan the structure of your essay before you start writing a first draft (read ‘Planning makes perfect’ for help). Think about the best order for your points; you want a fluent argument where one point logically flows from another. Well-organised writing allows the reader to see how your points relate to each other and therefore understand your argument more clearly.

Use linking words and phrases (nevertheless, furthermoreas a consequence, etc) to link your ideas together and help give fluency to your writing.

Write clearly

The purpose of your essay is to communicate information. For example, you may need to show you’ve understood the key concepts of a subject or that you’re able to explain your own ideas. In order to do this, you need to be able to express your ideas clearly through your writing.

Make sure your reader cannot misunderstand anything you write. You also don’t want your reader to have to guess or search for meaning; tell them exactly what you mean.

Check for unnecessary repetition and unnecessary words (we can often eliminate the word that from phrases without affecting the meaning), be specific rather than general or ambiguous, avoid sentences which are too long, and support your points with relevant examples.

Also be careful of using opinion words, such as interesting or arguably, without explaining why you have chosen to use them, and check that any pronouns you’ve used clearly refer to the correct noun.

Proofread and edit

Allow yourself enough time to thoroughly review your writing. It’s best not to do this immediately, but come back later with a fresh mind. It’s even better if you can give it to someone else to check.

Start by looking at the essay as a whole:
+ Have you answered the question?
+ Do your ideas flow logically?
+ Are your paragraphs divided logically and clear?

Then look at smaller details:
+ Is your meaning clear in every sentence?
+ Are there any words or phrases which don’t add anything to the meaning and so could be deleted?

Finally check the smallest features: spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Well done!
What you should now have is an essay worthy of the time and effort you’ve put into it. Go have a deserved break before you have to get started on your next essay.

While we can’t write your essay for you, Editing Angel can give you loads of advice to make it better. Check out our proofreading and editing services here.

Recommended reading: How to Write Better Essays (Palgrave Study Skills)