What The Guide Is, What It Isn’t and How To Use It
Writing Essays Welcome to Writing Essays, the RLF’s online guide to everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about writing undergraduate essays.
The guide is a toolbox of essay writing skills and resources that you can choose from to suit your particular needs. It combines descriptive and practical elements. That is, it tells you what things mean and what they are; and it uses examples to show you how they work.
Writing Essays takes you through the whole essay writing process – from preparing and planning to completion. Writing Essays is structured progressively and I recommend that you use it in this way. However, you will see from the sidebar that the guide is divided into a number of main sections. Click on any one of these and you will see that it’s divided into shorter sections or subsections. So you can either read it straight through from start to finish or you can go straight to the area that’s most relevant to you.
Writing Essays does not cover every type of writing you will do at university but it does cover the principal types. So you will find guides to essay writing, dissertation writing, and report writing. You will also find a section dealing with the differences between writing for the humanities and writing for the sciences and social sciences. The information and guidelines in these sections will provide blueprints you can apply elsewhere.
You will see in the topbar options above that there is also a glossary of terms used in this guide; and a list of suggested further reading and online resources.
It is important to say here what Writing Essays does not do. It does not offer detailed advice on general study skills although it does cover some aspects of reading for writing and how to write a literature review. Unlike some guides, this one does not have anything to say about using computers except: use them, and save your work often.
Writing Essays does not deal with grammar and punctuation. This does not mean that I think that these things are not important, or that you don’t need to pay attention to them – all writers do. However, my experience of working with students has taught me two things. First, that the most common difficulties in writing essays are to do with areas like understanding the question and making a logical structure. Second, that when these difficulties are fixed, problems with grammar and punctuation are easier to see and fix.
Don’t just use Writing Essays once. Make it your constant reference point for writing essays. Make it the emergency number you dial if you breakdown or can’t get started!
Essay Writing Writing essays successfully is not a special ability that only some people are born with and it is not an elite activity that only some people are allowed to do. It is a skill that can be learnt just like any other skill. Writing Essays will help you learn and develop that skill – and help you keep it honed.
Being an undergraduate means being a writer. During the three or four years of your degree course you will be writing all the time: making notes in lectures and seminars, making notes from books and articles, and writing essays. You will probably do more writing than you have ever done before – and probably more than you will ever do again. The more you do, the better you will get. Writing Essays will help you get better and stay fit.
Writing essays successfully is a process that takes place over time. What you do next week builds on what you did this week or last week. Like all writing, it involves developing self-awareness about what you are doing and why, about what works and what does not. Writing Essays will help you develop self-awareness about your writing.
Writing essays at university is not only a skill: it is also a practice. In a literal sense, this means that you do it over and over again. A practice also means an accepted and acceptable mode of behaviour; and one accepted and acceptable mode of behaviour connects with other accepted and acceptable modes of behaviour. So writing essays at university means that you are participating in larger ideas about, for example, how to learn, how to express yourself, how to transmit and receive knowledge.
Theresa M. Lillis, an academic who specialises in the study of writing at university, found that a large part of student anxiety was “centred on academic writing as students attempted to write within the rules of the game without knowing what the rules were.” The Writing Essays resource tries to make those rules transparent.
The guide draws on my experience of working with students on a one-to-one basis to improve their essay writing skills. It also draws on the experience of other Royal Literary Fund Fellows and of teaching staff in institutions where Royal Literary Fund Fellows have been or are in residence.