The 9 Tools & Tips That Helped Me Write Essays
After a three year degree, followed by a one year Masters - it's safe to say, that I've written many an essay. And quite frankly, after four years of higher education, I've refined my essay writing to a skill. I worked out what works best for me and how I can be the most productive, and it's helped me write essays efficiently whilst still allowing for a bit of breathing room. So I thought I would share the tools and tips that help me write an essay! (Sidenote: if you're not at uni, I also use these tips & tricks when writing blog posts so they're fairly versatile!)
I wish I knew about Grammarly when I was doing my degree. Grammarly is a fantastic grammar checker, dictionary and all round brilliant tool for proofreading. It comes as both a Google Chrome extension and a downloadable editor so it can instantly check everything you type online and allows for uploads of documents to be checked on its editor. When you reach a certain level of writing, Microsoft Word's inbuilt grammar checker and dictionary aren't really that accurate, but Grammarly is fantastic. Grammarly also scans the sentences and points out if a specific word doesn't fit the context or style. I always use this to check my essays. If you use the editor to upload files, it doesn't alter any formatting so if you've used footnotes or a specific referencing system, you don't lose it. It is free but you can pay to upgrade. I haven't needed to upgrade it - the free version is fab.
2. Handwrite & Plan.
Every single essay that I've done at university has been handwritten first and foremost. It may sound like the most tedious and dull thing to do, but it's been proven by Harvard (read about it here) that handwriting essays and notes encourage the processing of information. Not only does this mean that you understand things better, but it also helps with your style of writing. I also find that once I've written an essay, typing up what I've written acts as a sort of proofreading and I find myself editing and changing things as I type. I'd really suggest giving this a go.
3. Identify what works for you.
When I have deadlines and work to do, I need to structure my day in a way that forces me to work. Every weekday, I go to the library for 8:30 am and stay there until about 4 pm. I find that the library is the most productive environment I can be in and means that I also have any resources I may need. Whenever I work at home, I'm often distracted and unfocused and aren't as thorough. It's really important to find a routine that works for you - when I was doing my A Levels, my dad used to say "Break the day up into 3 blocks. Work 2 of them, and rest 1." I find that I can't work in the evening so use my two blocks in the day. But of course, factor in breaks.
4. Use a timer.
I use 2 different timers - the app Forest on my phone and be Focused on my computer. Forest is a great productivity app (it is one you'll have to pay for), and you set a timer and a tree starts to grow if you exit the app to do anything else on your phone, the little tree dies! It's a weird concept but it definitely works! You can change the timer to be whatever length - for me, 45 minutes work is the most effective, followed by 15 minutes break. be Focused is great but not as fancy. This is just a timer that sits in your computer's toolbar and counts down! Again you can set the length of time etc.
5. Consider a website blocker.
I have StayFocusd as a website blocker on my computer - and it's the best one I've tried. It's a Google Chrome extension that blocks specific websites for either a certain amount of time or between certain times in the day. If I seriously need to work, I block social media and my emails between 9 am and 3 pm. I also use this if I'm on a shopping ban! Once you've set it to block the websites for a set amount of time, there is literally nothing you can do to unblock them. It's that good!
6. Allow yourself time off.
I think this is one of the most important things I've learned at university. Allowing myself some time off has really improved my efficiency and levels of concentration. I find that if I force myself to work 7 days a week, not only am I shattered, but I'm distracted and bored. I make myself work Monday until Friday and then give myself the weekends off completely. This genuinely helps and means by Monday, I'm refreshed and ready to go. Pulling all-nighters and things like that, genuinely don't work and will just wreck you!
7. Plan your work.
Remember in GCSE when your teachers would tell you to put together a revision planner? Well, I'm not quite suggesting you do that... But at the beginning of each week, I write a lisit of the books I need to read and what I need to write. This just cements what I have to do and gives me a goal to complete. If you do have quite a few topics to work through, it may be worth allocating time blocks to certain things, but I find a list approach has worked really well for me.
8. Ignore everyone else.
Everyone works differently and I find that dealing with stressed friends or peers is the most unhelpful part of education. There's honestly nothing worse than freaking out over an essay you've already submitted because of someone on your course who has done their essay a different way. As long as you've checked your work, there is no reason to panic over what someone else has or hasn't done.
9. Talk to the staff.
Whether this means booking in to see your lecturer or attending after school revision clinics, do it. I always make a point of seeing my lecturers before I write and essay, and after I've planned it. Some lecturers are even happy to read over your introduction. I find this so helpful as lecturers and teachers will tell you if your idea may not be the best way to approach an essay and often recommend other books and texts to read. It's also helpful to have someone give you the thumbs up so that you know you're on the right track. I always feel so much more content after seeing a member of staff, so make sure to do it!
And there we have it! The tips & tools I use to write my essays! Is there anything you do differently or something crucial I've missed? Let me know!