Time chunking: the secret to a well-risen essay

An essay is never finished. You work on it until you run out of ideas, time or energy and then you hand it in. It will never get 100%, because it always could have been better. There’s always another level of analysis that you could have gone to, or a better example that you could have used, or a clearer way that you could have worded a point.

Accepting this was a vital step in me getting better at writing essays. Once I had, writing an essay became less about trying to reach ‘perfection’ (an undefinable and ultimately unattainable status), and more about working out how to produce the best piece of work that I could in the time that I had. I stopped trying to frantically race against time, and started to methodically manage it, breaking down the time I had until the deadline into three even chunks: planning, writing and editing. By focussing on just one key skill in each chunk of time, I could make sure that I did it as well as possible.

So, if I had three weeks until the deadline, I’d spend the whole first week gaining background knowledge, finding my sources of information and planning out my points. I’d resist the urge to jump into the writing, because by that time I’d learnt that research is the foundation to a good essay; only when my week was up would I move onto the writing. I’d then do that for another week, making sure to finish writing a week before the deadline. I’d always spend the last week editing and presenting my work properly before handing it in.

Think of it like making bread. You can’t just chuck the ingredients in the oven and expect to get a decent loaf. You’ve got to combine the ingredients, let them rise, and knead it all together before you cook it. It’s a process, not an event. Essay writing is just the same.

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Google Books for quick references

Tip of the week: Google Books search function.

Pricelessly useful for:

1) Searching for key terms that might not be in the glossary.
2) Refinding that quote/scene/description you forgot to write the page number for.
3) Finding specific terms or evidence (looking for examples of similes in a particular novel? Search Google Books’ electronic copy of the novel for ‘ like ‘ and you’re bound to pinpoint a few).

Just go to http://books.google.com/?hl=EN, search for the book or topic you want, click into the right book and scroll down to the search box on the left hand side of the page. Even if you can’t read the whole book, the ‘snippet view’ will give you enough info to be able to locate crucial bits for your essay without having to trawl through the entire thing. Once you’ve sourced the page it’s on, you can easily look it up/reference it. Easy!