By Pat Bowden, published December 12, 2017.
Part two of a three-part series on writing essays and peer assessments:
Part 1 Accumulating Information for Your Essay.
Part 2 Writing Your Essay.
Part 3 Assessing Your Peers’ Essays.
Writing essays is basically a five step process:
- Accumulating information.
Last week, I discussed gathering your information and setting up your list of references or bibliography. This week I will address steps two to five in the writing process.
Set aside plenty of time to write and finalise your essay, to avoid a last-minute rush. If motivation is a problem, stop procrastinating, schedule when you will write your essay, and turn on your Pomodoro to see how much you can achieve in 25-minute bursts.
When you have a reasonable amount of material, re-read the assignment instructions and assessment rubric, then make a rough plan for your essay. Most essays have an introductory paragraph, several paragraphs of arguments backed up by evidence, and a concluding summary at the end. If the essay for your course requires a different format, the guidelines will tell you.
Many students draft an outline or mind map.
An outline sets out the material in some sort of order, to give structure to the final essay.
A mind map is less structured than an outline, and many writers find it more empowering to let the structure evolve as they link all of the main ideas in a logical fashion. Writers tell of the “aha” moment when they work out how to approach the topic after seeing all the ideas linked on the page.
Before starting to write, read the assignment instructions and assessment rubric again to check that you are on the right track. Yes, read it AGAIN.
Now is the time to expand those notes and make complete sentences in some sort of logical order. Many productive writers simply write as quickly as possible, without worrying too much about sentence structure or typos. The main object here is to write down all the relevant thoughts and make sure you have time to edit and proofread afterwards. If you have collected enough information and are happy with your outline or mind map, writing the essay in your own words might come fairly easily.
Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work, particularly if you do not say where you found it. Yes, even cutting and pasting public domain sites is plagiarism. Plagiarism is considered cheating and, when discovered, usually attracts zero marks. Plagiarism checkers are available online, and some courses may be using them.
Most people start at the start of the introduction and work through to the end of the conclusion. Some people leave the introduction until later and start with what will end up as the second paragraph. After they have written and justified their arguments they will come back and write a better flowing introduction and conclusion. You can find more detail on different forms of writing on Purdue University’s OWL pages.
More and more writers are separating the tasks of writing and editing. The tasks of writing and editing use different modes of thinking, so separating these tasks makes it easier for the brain to concentrate properly on the task at hand. In the editing stage, you need to check if the essay flows easily from one point or argument to the next. Does it make sense? Don’t be afraid to change what you have written. Check your essay against the assignment instructions and marking rubric. Have you included everything? Have you included too much material? Cut out irrelevant words or even whole sentences or paragraphs if they don’t improve the finished product.
You are nearly there! The deadline is looming (unless you managed to do the first four steps early). It can be so easy to skip over this last important step. You might believe you don’t need to proofread because you have already edited it carefully.
Why you should proofread, though, is because when we write, our brain knows what we are trying to say, but sometimes what we write or type is not exactly the same. If we submit an essay without reading it through specifically looking for minor errors, there may be typos, wrong spelling, or incorrect punctuation. At best, your readers may not notice, but if they do notice, it will not help you earn the best possible marks for the work. At worst, an incorrect word or careless punctuation can completely alter the meaning (“Let’s eat Grandma!” compared to “Let’s eat, Grandma!”).
The first step of proofreading is to run it through your device’s spellchecker. This will pick up typos and possibly punctuation errors but not incorrectly used words such as “there” instead of “their”.
Proofreading is best done a day or more after writing, as the brain is less likely to skip over errors when what you MEANT to say is not as fresh in your mind. If you do not have a day or more to spare, take a short break. Do something completely different, then come back and slowly read it out loud, which will help you notice errors. Another technique is to start at the end and read each sentence individually, looking out for typos, poorly expressed sentences and obscure meanings. Better still, a reliable friend or family member may be willing to proofread your work. Most people are far better at finding mistakes in what someone else has written than in their own writing.
Submitting Your Essay
Some MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) allow you to submit your essay multiple times before the deadline. An advantage of this is that you can submit a draft of the essay ahead of the deadline without a last-minute panic. You then have the luxury of editing and proofreading with the knowledge that even if your internet breaks down, you should earn at least some marks for your work.
Other MOOCs allow only one attempt, so make yours the best possible before submission. Again, please don’t leave it until the last minute in case the gremlins strike and the deadline slips by before you are able to submit.
A Final Thought
Plan your time and make an early start on your essay so you can finish before the due date.