Essay writing needn’t be the enemy. There’s a reason we write essays in education, and it’s not to impress the outside world with our cutting observations and perfect summaries that shed new and exciting light on old conclusions. Well, it kind of is. But mostly it’s to solidify our learning. You may know a handful of facts about a topic, and you may be able to string them together into a few well-rehearsed sentences that you deliver in front of friends and family to make it look like you’re some sort of oracle on the subject. But an essay is different. An essay leaves no gaps. Every stone must be turned over and labelled for relevancy. This sounds gruelling, but if you really need to know about a topic to pass an exam or progress your career prospects, there’s no better way to cement your knowledge than a good old-fashioned well-structured essay.
Essay writing skills can also help you in your day to day business. If you are trying to sell a property you can write some good copy to advertise the property.
I’d like to thank the Academy …
You need to cram your work with citations (and you need to follow convention – read how to create MLA citations here). Now, this may seem at first like you’re laying all your cards on the table and showing none of your work and like you’re simply thanking everyone else for giving you the answers. Surprise. That’s exactly what it is. Essays don’t exist for the purpose of presenting the reader with a document of original ideas. That’s just an opinion piece. Essays exist to build a pyramid of mutually supportive evidence that prop up a final conclusion. That’s not to say that the conclusion can’t be your own. You could research the year-round colour change in the deciduous leaves of trees in the small and picturesque Neander Valley in Germany, and use that information to conclude that BBQ food is tastier than licking the wall. You’d be correct, of course, but even a wayward and misplaced conclusion like that wouldn’t detract from the structured research and visible learning curve that led to it. Get the bulk right, and don’t worry too much about adding your own two cents.
The 80% / 20% writing to research ratio
If you’re going to spend five hours working on your essay project, you should plan to spend as much as one hour of that time in the lab and only four hours of that time in the trenches. You need to know what you’re going to write before you start to type. Why? Ever heard a toddler tell a story about seeing a squirrel in the park, and before the end of the nonsensical tall tale of brain noise you lose the will to live? Bingo. The 80 – 20 rule. Measure twice, cut once.