Writing a quality essay doesn’t have to be scary!

Essay writing can be extremely stressful for students. I understand that struggle all too well. It can be really overwhelming trying to figure out where to start and how to get motivated. I have spent many late nights writing essays at the last minute because I did not properly prepare. What happened next shouldn’t really surprise anyone: I got marks that I wasn’t really proud of. But good news for you! If you start your work early and follow these simple tips, you will be able to beat that essay writing anxiety!


1. Before you do anything, make sure you understand the expectations


man shaking his head from side to side


This is the most important thing of all. This is literally the first thing you should do before you start writing anything. Take a good look at the instruction sheet and make sure you understand what your professor expects of you. If you are unsure for any reason, ASK THEM!!! So many students (myself included) will rush blindly into an essay without a good idea of exactly what the prof wants and won’t bother to ask for a proper explanation. Without knowing exactly what your individual prof is looking for, you may end up receiving a lower mark than you deserve.  Your professors are a resource, use them!


2. Develop a well-rounded thesis


person writing in a notebook


Your thesis is the argument you are trying to make with your essay. One of the first things you should do is ask yourself what side do you want to take in your essay. Are you for or against? What is your position? Next, you need to write this down into one concise sentence. Easier said than done, I know!

The thesis provides a roadmap to your reader about what they can expect from your essay and how you intend on proving your point. An example of a good thesis statement would be: “High school students should wear uniforms because they eliminate status, raise students’ expectations of themselves, and improve student safety”. This statement makes an argument (that high school students should wear uniforms) and lays out why they think that is the case.

Always be willing to expand and adapt your thesis as more information presents itself. Often times you will plan this great essay, trying to prove one specific point, but later find out you can’t find the sources to back up your argument. It happens. Be able to move on if this occurs!


3. Do your research ahead of time


cat flipping pages in a book


One of the most important steps in academic essay writing is doing your research. Researching for your essay can take a really long time, especially for papers that are longer in length.  If you wait and do it at the last minute, you will end up cutting corners and using bad or incomplete sources because of the time crunch. Believe me, I’ve been there. Your essay is only as strong as the arguments you put forward, and those arguments are shaped in large part by the sources you use to back them up.

When thinking about the number of sources you need, some professors will give you a precise total of how many sources they want for the essay, but most profs won’t. In those cases, you always want to err on the side of caution and provide more sources instead of less. You do NOT want to end up accused of plagiarizing because you didn’t cite something you should have. My personal rule of thumb is whenever I want to make an argument that isn’t general common knowledge, I always make sure to have a citation handy.


4.  Make an essay outline and stick to it


piece of paper that reads To-do list: nothing


Seriously, I mean it. Do an outline.

Do you remember in high school English class when your teachers would assign an outline as part of your essay grade and you would roll your eyes because you thought outlines were stupid; “I can write my essay just fine without an outline” you would complain to your friends.  Well, I am here to tell you that your high school teachers were smarter than you when they assigned those outlines. They actually work.

Making a comprehensive outline will help to flesh out your ideas and give you a good starting point when it comes time to sit down actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  There is nothing worse than writing an essay and getting halfway through and realizing you have no idea what you are saying (especially if it’s 12 a.m. the night before it’s due!). 

For help with making your outline perfect, check out the Humber College writing centre website.


5. Don’t be afraid to add an opposing argument


a man and a woman arguing while an onlooker watches


One mistake I find a lot of students will make with essays is to just state their own argument on a topic and not delve any deeper. The easiest way to bring your paper from a B to an A is to include some counter-arguments to your position. This gives you the chance to respond to those points, which makes your own argument sound stronger. Critical thinking is a really important skill in essay writing because it shows a greater understanding of the material. Try to do this towards the end of your paper so you can fully expand on your argument before trying to show its limitations.

Need extra writing help? Visit the Humber College Writing Centre!

Exams stressing you out? Check out our awesome guide to surviving mid-terms!

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