ARU lecturer Helga shares her advice for undergraduate students on how to write a first-class essay.
“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” ~ William Faulkner.
Writing an essay can feel like quite a difficult task… but fear not. Sometimes it’s just about having a few useful tips up your sleeve and a bit of practice (and I’m pretty sure you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice).
Start your assignment as early as possible
A first-class essay requires plenty of revision and polishing. Setting aside two or three weeks for improving the content of your essay will render a high understanding of the module. Moreover, starting early will also allow you to gather all the necessary and additional information for your essay.
Once the assignment is released, you can start making a small plan and gather up materials to include on the essay. You will get excited and motivated once you have adequate materials and information gathered.
Only answer the question being asked
Irrelevant information will make your essay confusing and your conclusion uncertain, and it will be harder to illustrate your overall understanding of the module to the marker.
Write shorter sentences
Aim for shorter sentences instead of an overly long sentence spaced with three or more commas. Long sentences are usually harder to understand compared to shorter ones. However, if it is necessary for you to use more than three commas in one sentence, ensure it is accurate.
Do not underestimate the essay topic/questions!
The assignment questions may require you to critically analyse and provide sufficient primary sources. Primary sources are especially critical and credible.
Use as many primary sources such as (in the case of Law) cases and statutes as you can. Secondary sources are also useful for background information.
Avoid relying on the internet too much, as some websites may not be fully updated and credible for academic reference.
Give accurate references
I'm a Law Lecturer, so for students in my subject, make sure you accurately use Oscola referencing system for legal citations. Avoid making small errors. Double check by referring to the referencing guide given by the University.
Remember to reward yourself and enjoy your course. If you manage your time well, there is no need for an ‘all-nighter’.
By Helga Hejny
Helga Hejny is a Lecturer in Law at ARU in Cambridge. Find out more about this and other degree courses at one of our Open Days.