A basic key to producing good essays is to start early and work steadily over an extended period. Build in time for distractions and problems (e.g. illness or disk failure), and allow for deadline bunching. Plan to complete well before the deadline to allow yourself some leeway. As a rough guide, you might allow three weeks for work on a course essay. The deadline is intended to help you with time management - make sure you adhere to it. Reflect on the feedback obtained on your previous essays. What strengths and weaknesses were identified? Think about how best to overcome the weaknesses.
For example, if your essays have been criticised for limited knowledge of the literature or lack of depth, this may indicate that you need to devote more preparation time and increase or change the breadth and depth of your reading; if criticised for poor structure or limited relevance, you are likely to benefit from spending more time on careful planning and editing/reorganising the final draft. Using course essays to work on your weaknesses can help you produce a better essay as well as help to improve your general writing skills.
Do some preliminary reading to help you choose an essay topic. The reading lists for the essays provide guidance on sources of preliminary reading. Generally, it is useful to choose the reading that is relatively recent, this is likely to include a summary of earlier work, some of which you may explore in more detail later. It can also be helpful at an early stage to make use of EconLit and the Library catalogue to check on the availability and nature of supplementary reading on a topic.
As should be obvious, you should try to choose a topic that you find interesting. This will help motivate you to work on the essay and is also likely to make the end product more interesting for the reader/marker. Note that interest tends to increase as you work on a topic, providing you don’t leave it all to the last minute.
Once you have chosen a topic (or even to help you choose from a short-list of topics), use your initial reading to produce a draft outline plan of your essay. The general advice on what makes a good essay, set out below, should help you to produce an effective plan. A basic plan would typically divide the essay/dissertation into a series of logically ordered sections. This skeleton structure can then be filled out by fitting ideas, relevant references, work and information required, into the planned sections (making use of references from preliminary reading, EconLit etc.)
Taking time to construct an effective annotated outline plan should help you to:
Analysis and models:
Presentation and style:
Citations and plagiarism:
Most study skills books contain further advice on essay writing. The Main Library Reading Room has an extensive collection of study skills books, which contain advice on essay writing.
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