The activity of writing is perhaps the most tangible part of the process, and the part on which you will primarily be assessed. It is a complex activity, composed of several processes and stages such as developing your ideas, selecting among the most relevant, planning and structuring the order in which they will appear, thinking about how to express them, and reviewing and editing them. As with reading, these aspects are often conflated into one activity, which can cause the process to become more difficult than it needs to. The following information offers guidance on how to effectively address each individual task within the process of writing an essay.
Planning your writing
Interpreting the title and planning your essay are vital stages, but ones which many students overlook or rush through. However, the way you interpret your task and order your ideas will impact on your research strategy and selection of reading, not to mention the drafting process and the final version of your essay. Interpreting the title is a very necessary preliminary step; planning could be undertaken at an early stage or reiterated throughout the process as your ideas evolve.
Both of these topics are complex and separate resources exist on each one:
Drafting your essay
All authors, whether literary or academic, undergo a process of drafting and redrafting their writing before they are satisfied with it. An academic writer is under different pressures to a literary author, particularly a student with a weekly supervision essay to produce. However, a certain amount of redrafting will be necessary before an essay takes its final shape as a successful piece of writing.
Drafting enables you to experiment with and evaluate different ways of structuring and articulating your ideas. You may not have time for extensive redrafting in a supervision essay, but you should factor in some time to allow your writing to develop and be refined, rather than hand in a rough first draft written at the last minute, which is unlikely to do your ideas justice. Portfolio essays and dissertations give you the opportunity to really refine and polish your writing, in response to supervisor feedback. Drafting is moreover a good way to reflect on and develop your skills as a writer overall.
"Re-read, revise, re-read, revise. Leave it for a bit. Re-read, revise. For most undergraduates it's totally unrealistic to expect a lengthy period of re-reading and revising. But it's a mistake to do none at all. Always try to leave time to read your essay over, to look for missed opportunities and for lingering problems."
- Try writing with pen and paper first, before typing up on the word processor. This naturally introduces a drafting stage in which you reconsider what you have written before you type. The appearance of text on a word processor sometimes makes it feel more polished than it is.
- Writing sections and moving them about is another aspect of drafting, and one which is easier on a word processor. Be careful when cutting and pasting that you do not lose the coherence of the text, producing something that appears disjointed. It is also harder to track the changes you are making on the computer, as you cannot get an overview of the whole piece and where things have moved to.
- It is worth keeping previous drafts rather than overwriting and saving them on the computer, or throwing them away if they are handwritten, in case you change your mind about an alteration or want to keep material you've had to cut, in case it is useful for exam revision.
- If you made a plan at the beginning of the process, refer back to it when drafting up the written version and amend the plan or draft accordingly. You will then be able to keep an overview of the whole text and stay on track with your structure. Alternatively, experiment with various planning techniques alongside your drafting, to shape your writing. You can find more guidance on planning strategies in the resource above, How do I produce a well-structured essay?