5 things I wish I’d known for my first essay

It’s my third week of term as a second year and teaching is already in full-swing with group presentations, longer seminars and of course a weekly reading list. However, I did not receive a reading list or module handbook for this year’s electives until two weeks ago, and so I went into my first week’s classes with little idea of what to expect. I knew the titles of my electives as I had selected them before the summer. This year I am studying: social geography, global issues, cultural geography and methods in human geography. As you can see they are hardly specific and give little indication as what we will be learning about. I did a little reading over the summer but concentrated primarily on keeping up with the news and media as this is of interest to me. I confess, I was more interested in moving into a new house in Brighton than academic preparation!

So, as I can’t expand on summer reading, I am going to write a little about 5 things I wish I’d known for my first essay.

  1. I wish I’d known how to reference properly.

In Geography we use the Harvard style of referencing – I had never heard of this and decided to google it. Unfortunately, I googled it wrongly (yes, they don’t know everything on yahoo answers) and so got marked down for my referencing. The library has a tab on it’s homepage which outlines how to do it properly.

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2. I wish I’d made a plan.

Since GCSE I’ve been told to make a plan before starting to write but I can’t ever seem to follow that advice. University essays require one as with 1,500 words minimum, you need to know where you’re going and what your points are going to be in each paragraph.

3. I wish I’d done some more reading.

This year we are encouraged to read different books than just the core books so we can bring something new and unique to discuss in seminars.In fact, tutors don’t mind as long as you’ve read something and have an opinion about it. Last year I stuck rigidly to the core reading and therefore my essay arguments were limited and heavily based on the lecture slides. Below shows a typical week’s required reading for one of my modules with questions to answer.

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But there is also additional reading on all sorts of subjects which tutors encourage you to explore at your own pace. These readings are “on happiness.”

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4. I wish I’d spent more time on it.

As you can probably all relate to, I ran out of time on my first few essays, despite being given at least 3 weeks to write them. I recommend you do the reading each week so you have all your sources to use already and then start planning it 2 to 3 weeks before. Once you have your plan it’s just a case of sitting down and detailing your argument, supported by the sources, on paper.

5. I wish I’d been more confident when writing.

Those marking your essays want to know you’ve read and understood the content of the course and the sources they have recommended. In Geography however, they also want a very clear argument which can only be formed by having your own opinions and thoughts on the subject matter. Whilst remaining objective and balanced towards the sources and question you are answering, by reading the related books you are interested in you will be encouraged to form your own argument.

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