Revision and Essay Writing



How to Write Great Essays

Ellie Danak : April 7, 2019 1:37 pm : Learners, Revision and Essay Writing

Let’s talk about writing great essays. What it involves and what it does not. It does not involve you typing the last sentence at 5 am and clicking Submit in hope of getting a half-decent mark. It definitely does not involve you beating yourself up for not being one of those superheroes who can churn out a 3,000-word masterpiece in a couple of hours.

However, it does involve a lot of hard work (you cannot escape that!), strategic thinking and reading, good time management skills, and a focussed approach.

While different tutors and higher education institutions will have different expectations and guidelines which you should read and follow, our tips on writing essays will apply to most academic work and beyond:

  • Plan: generate ideas, explore the relationships between them and move on to drafting an outline before you write. You would not go on holiday without planning how to get to your destination and where to stay. Likewise, if you care about writing good quality essays, you need to put time and thought into their structure. Your initial plan may be as simple as this one: introduction, paragraph 1: topic 1,…, conclusion. 

  • Don’t overdo it: yes, you may be keen to write about everything you know on the given topic but you will not get good marks if your essay is a random compilation of your knowledge. Think about your tutor – they have little time and lots of essays to mark, so make it easy for them to follow your line of thought. Structure your arguments and paragraphs, stick to the point and do not waste your reader’s time. 

  • Get over the writer’s block: schedule a daily writing slot, even if it is just half an hour. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish if you switch your phone off and just write. Also, do not expect to have a perfect first draft. It is always better to have something you can work with than nothing at all. 

  • Read strategically and critically: oftenyou will not have time to read whole books on the subject.  Instead, focus on specific chapters and take clear notes to avoid plagiarism: page numbers, quotes, your thoughts about the central claims the author is making. When did they write this? Why? Who has responded to them? What did they say? Do you agree? Why yes/no? 

  • Have a notebook: it is always handy to have a notebook within reach for all those unexpected ideas that descend on us when we go for a walk, brush our teeth or are about to fall asleep. 

  • Nail your introduction: your essay is not a crime novel so make sure your reader knows immediately what you are trying to convince them of. Explain what you will argue and in what order and state what conclusions you will draw. 

  • Make your paragraphs perfect: follow a clear structure in each paragraph and order them in such a way that there is a clear development of thought from one paragraph to the next. Use the PEE structure which stands for Point (what you are claiming), Evidence (back up your claim with theories, statistics, etc.), Explain (why does the presented evidence help prove your point). Can you provide counterclaims? Wrap up each paragraph and signal that you will move on to the next one. Having discussed X and Y, I will now focus on…

  • Conclusion: tell the reader what you have just discussed and bring your arguments together to make a final point. Be careful not to introduce completely new ideas in your conclusion.

  • Take a break. Go for a walk. Meet up with friends: return to your essay with fresh eyes as this will make it easier to pick up on mistakes, inconsistencies and weak arguments. Check your spelling and grammar and proofread your essay thoroughly before submitting.

Before you go, check out the resources below!

Read this:

Watch this:

Reflect: now that you have read
this article, take a few minutes and jot down answers to the questions below.
This will help you remember the most insightful points and put together an
action plan that works for you:

  • What inspired you?
  • As a result, what do you want to do more of?
  • And what do you want to do less of?
  • What will you do next to achieve these goals?

Leave a response »

How to Write Well

Ellie Danak : March 24, 2019 11:37 am : Learners, Revision and Essay Writing

The skill of writing well is often pigeonholed in the same way as, for example, creativity or maths. We keep telling ourselves that some people are just born being good at maths or creative tasks or writing.

Well, here’s the thing: it turns out that we all can be creative, but some of us become more self-conscious or possibly a bit lazy as we grow older. Take one look at children playing: they happily spend hours turning sticks into rockets. They do not give up until they get the result they want. And all of you are good at maths to some extent: you may need to control your budget each month, negotiate prices, and measure things. Often we do not even realise that these skills involve maths – we just do it.

Similarly, an effective and well-written text will seem effortless, as if the person turned on a magic word tap. This simplicity is misleading though – think about an essay of yours that got you a good mark. Now, ask yourself how many re-drafts and edits this essay has gone through. So, while the end product may seem very polished, most of us start with a blank page, progress to a very messy first draft and take it from there. Writing is a process, and every stage involves hard work which pays off as long as you keep at it. 

In this article, we will give you some advice on how to improve your writing in general, while the future posts will tackle such topics as writing essays, CVs and job/grants applications.

Read lots and lots: read whatever comes your way. Read widely, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. Challenge yourself to read books you would not normally pick up in a booksho. How about poetry, a play or philosophical essay? To get a feel for how language works and what constitutes good writing you need to read a lot and read critically. If you like a piece of writing, focus on it a bit more. Analyse it. What works? What can you learn from it? Likewise, if you do not engage with a piece of text, take time to reflect on how you could improve it. Why not re-write it yourself?

Write every day: write to-do-lists, jot down ideas, short poems and diary entries. Whatever works for you – commit to a 10-minute daily writing habit and see where it takes you.

Ask for advice: never aim for a fully finished first draft. If you can ask for advice at an early stage of your writing to know if you are going in the right direction.

Redraft: make sure that whatever you have written is clear and makes sense. Is each point unique? Does your argument flow well? Normally, it is good to give yourself a couple of days away from your text and come back to it later. You will then see it with fresh eyes and will find it easier to spot mistakes and inconsistencies. And remember to be ruthless when you edit your text: get rid of the waffle!

Enjoy it: play with the language and sentence structure. If you feel stuck, why not turn one of your paragraphs into a haiku or a short story? That way you can uncover new layers in your thinking, as well as learn to be economical and more creative with your language. 

Use technology: there is a wide range of online tools that can help you develop your writing. Check this list out as most of the recommended tools are free and can make your writing life much easier.

Remember your readers: whether you write a blog for your friends and family or aim for publication, do not forget about the needs and expectations of your audience as that will determine what writing style you should go for.

For more writing inspiration, click on the links below and watch this space for Part 2 in which we will talk about writing great essays!

Read this:

Watch this:

Reflect: now that you have read
this article, take a few minutes and jot down answers to the questions below.
This will help you remember the most insightful points and put together an
action plan that works for you:

  • What inspired you?
  • As a result, what do you want to do more of?
  • And what do you want to do less of?
  • What will you do next to achieve these goals?

Leave a response »

Fail Boldly

Ellie Danak : February 23, 2019 2:03 pm : Learners, Revision and Essay Writing

Nobody says failure is fun. Not getting the grade/job/recognition you wanted hurts. But recognising that failure is an integral part of your life, and learning how to become more pragmatic about it can help you become more reflective, resilient, and more likely to succeed in the future.

Not everything you do is destined to become an overnight success. Whether scientists, writers or entrepreneurs, most successful people will have eaten their fair share of ‘failure pies’ over the years, and their drive to pick themselves up after each setback and keep going is key to their success. So, next time, instead of binning your ‘failed’ essay, look at it again, read the feedback, and really learn from this experience so that next time you do better.

We have compiled a few tips, some inspirational talks, and articles to help you embrace your failures, as part of your personal and professional growth:

  1. Ask for constructive feedback: ok, your ego may hurt a little when someone points out what you should improve. But if you only hear how great everything you do is, you will never learn to work on your weaker points. After all, you can always do better!
  2. Push yourself: try to do things outside your comfort zone. They don’t have to be big! By daring yourself to do more and not always succeeding, you will strengthen your ‘resilience muscles’.
  3. Prepare: if you are worried about failing, imagine what it would be like. How might you react? What would you find helpful? Then, when it happens, you will know how to approach it in the most productive and positive way.
  4. Take risks: again, you never know what a failed risk can inspire in you! If you mess up, be honest with yourself and others, and start over.
  5. Discourage your inner perfectionist: see mistakes as learning opportunities, not failures.
  6. Stay curious: sometimes it’s ok to choose a different path and abandon your initial plan. See this inspiring story of a former doctor, now writer and comedian. Just make sure that you change your direction for the right reasons, not because you don’t like to have to work your way around obstacles.
  7. Accept bad days: sometimes we just need to acknowledge that things are not great, and that this is a phase. Instead of giving up, use this time to reflect on your values and priorities, stay focussed on your end-goal and keep going until you have bounced back.
  8. Find a mentor or make sure you have someone in your life you admire: think about what they would do. If possible, ask them for advice, and learn from their mistakes!
  9. Have your tool box at the ready: not the metal one with hammers and nails (although these are useful too!) but the one where you store your coping strategies. Consider what helps you relax and overcome difficulties. A walk? A note in a journal? A conversation with a friend or teacher?

If it wasn’t for failure, we would not have innovation and progress today. Consider Thomas Edison who failed hundreds of times before getting his light bulb. It took a lot of futile attempts to climb Mount Everest. So, don’t be scared of failing with a capital “F” because this experience will be as much part of your education as, if not more important than, straight As. It’s often our failures that shape us as human beings and help us succeed. Go ahead – fail boldly and let us know how you get on!

If you would like to share your story with others, get in touch in the comments section.

Read this:

Listen to this:

A plethora of fascinating and very honest accounts of all sorts of failures. This podcast will help you learn from other people’s experiences.

Watch this:

Reflect: now that you have read this article, take a few minutes and jot down
answers to the questions below. This will help you remember the most insightful
points and put together an action plan that works for you:

  • What inspired you?
  • As a result, what do you want to do more of?
  • And what do you want to do less of?
  • What will you do next to achieve these goals?

Leave a response »

Exam Study Tips

admin : October 27, 2017 11:16 am : Learners, Revision and Essay Writing

Stressed about an upcoming exam? Take a look at these exam study tips written by our Uganda Team Leader, Ena!

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