Writing essays is a big part of what university is all about.
For certain subjects, like law and English literature, it could even be the bulk of what you will be assessed on academically. But it’s not entirely a walk in the park, is it?
Sure, we have the usual tips on how to write better, and there are even classes to help boost your writing skills, especially for international students who do not have English as their native language.
But maybe it’s time for something more creative in how we do this.
1. “Don’t just focus on the icing”
Flawless cakes are pretty to look at. But a pretty cake can only get those bakers so far – what ultimately matters is getting the creation’s flavours right or that it is baked proper.
Likewise, with essays:
“…. It is far more important to get the ingredients right and to mix them properly than to be perfect with all the formalities and the ‘academic’ language, but have no proper content,” Gröppel-Wegener says.
This means do your research first and do it well (this is what will determine whether you pass or not!), and leave the formalities, which are simply the “icing on the cake” for later.
2. “Don’t worry too much about the shape”
Put it all down on paper first, then worry about the format, language and conventions – that should be the order of priorities. A good baker gets all the ingredients in first and foremost before fussing about the shape and look.
“The key here is just whacking everything down and then sprucing it up later on.”
Once you have your first draft out, then get editing – cut out unnecessary passages, rearrange the flow, etc.
3. “Think of quotes like the cream and jam”
Quotes, tables and images should only be used when necessary. A Victoria Sandwich only needs that specific ratio of strawberry jam and cream, any more and it will be ruined!
“You should use quotes to emphasise your argument – but not overshadow it. Remember, the focus should be on the cake, not the cream,” Gröppel-Wegener advised.
And like the sandwich, the quote (cream) must be sandwiched between an introduction and explanation (cake). Introduce readers to the quote and why it’s important, insert quote and then explain how this quote means in the context of your essay.
4. “Give your creation time to rise”
Any working professional who does a fair bit of writing in their jobs will speak of this pair of “fresh eyes” so crucial to the writing process. The phrase refers to eyes that have been given some rest, be it for a couple of hours or a whole night’s sleep. That way, you will be able to assess and edit your essay better, compared to a pair of eyes that have been looking at the same essay for the past five hours.
“Often a little break from your essay can be all the more fruitful. And just like bread needs time to rise, and pastry dough needs time to chill, so too does your essay need time to mature before it can reach its full potential,” Gröppel-Wegener explained.
5. “Practice makes perfect”
The chocolate soufflé episode of Great British Bake Off is more stressful than any prestige drama anyone could ever write!!!!!
— it’s @boners (@boners) August 12, 2017
Bakers don’t get their creations right the first time – watch any cooking shows involving soufflés and you will see how they have to try again and again before it rises to perfection.
Work on your drafts over and over again, “until it becomes a showstopper”, Gröppel-Wegener wrote.
“And who knows, once you get the hang of it, writing an academic essay might even become a piece of cake.”