I have had a few requests to write this post over the past few months, however I have refrained from writing it because I do not think I have the expertise to offer my advice, and tips and tricks. However, now I am nearly at the end of second year I feel like I have written enough essays to finally have some advice to give on how to plan a university essay, and for it to actually be useful. Although I am always looking for tips and tricks myself, so if you have anymore let me know!
I think that a good plan is the best way to secure a 2:1 or a first on an essay. Having a clear direction that you can refer back to is so useful when you are starting to write, so you can keep on topic and make sure that everything is well thought out. However, university essays can be pretty complex and a quick plan is definitely not going to cut it, so this blog post goes through how to plan a university essay effectively, to make sure that you are as well prepared as you can be.
For context, I take PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) at university, so therefore I have experience writing essays related to these subject areas. However, I appreciate that all subjects are different, so be sure to research subject-specific tips and tricks too.
Blurt everything now, streamline later
The first thing I always do when I am planning an essay it to take the question and without any extra work, write down everything I know about the topic, even if these things don’t link together at all. This helps you to understand what sections you are confident on, and which sections you aren’t too sure on. Plus having all of the basics written down help you to link certain sections together, condense into the key themes and hopefully from this you can formulate a general direction for your essay before you start doing lots of further reading.
Find a reading system
The most important thing when learning how to plan a university essay is to find a system where you can put all of your reading in one place. For an essay you will be doing lots of further reading in the planning stage, and putting all of this in one place (with page numbers) is very necessary to keep yourself organised in both the planning and writing stages. I put everything into a large word document and have different coloured font for different texts, which is a very visual way of seeing who said what when reading multiple texts. Thats because I am quite a visual learner though, you might have a different method! I really like how Jack Edwards did a table in his video all about his dissertation, and I think I may trial this method myself next time, so its maybe worth watching that video too.
Think of criticisms as you go along!
Criticisms are a super important part of an essay if you want to achieve the top marks, and therefore it is worth thinking about them in the planning stages too. There has been so many times when I am reading and think of such a good criticism, don’t write it down and then I forget all about it… and its so annoying! To combat this problem I would recommend writing down the criticisms and personal thoughts you have towards the text as you work on your reading, and then by the time it comes to write your essay, all of your main points are present and clear.
Something to note is that referencing is super important at university due to plagiarism, so make sure when you are thinking and writing down your critical thought that they are actually your thoughts and not the work of other people. Maybe write your thoughts on a separate piece of paper or in a different colour to clarify which things need to be referenced and what doesn’t.
This seems like a strange tip on how to plan a university essay, but trust me. If you try and smash out a plan in one study session it won’t be nearly as effective as it could be if you worked on it over many shorter sessions. Make sure to leave time to go back and work on your plan over multiple days, as you will have fresh ideas and be able to strenghten your argument once you have thought about it for a while. I always go back over my plan and change it, as my argument sometimes doesn’t seem coherent or I’m confused as to the point I’m making. Coming back with fresh eyes is always useful!
Utilise Office hours
Not utilising office hours for essays is probably my biggest regret of year 1, and as soon as I started taking my essay plans to see my tutor in office hours, my grades clearly increased. I would definitely recommend it! Now, after I have written my plan, I take it to my tutor so that they can check it over. Not only do they make sure that I am on the correct lines for the essay, but having a conversation with your tutor will deepen your understanding, give you some more ideas and ensure that you truly know the material at hand.
University essays are without a doubt difficult, however applying some of these tips for how to plan a university essay should definitely help in the early stages to ensure that you are on the right track for securing the top grades in your essays. I am really enjoying writing uni content at the moment because I am right in the middle of semester and uni is one of the only things I’m thinking about, so if you have any more ideas for student related blog posts please let me know. Hopefully I can help some of you!