Franz Liszt, Justin Bieber. Gordon Ramsay, you.
What do these pairs have in common? Well, Liszt and Bieber are popular musicians and idols among their audience, though during different time periods. And Gordon Ramsay and you are—or can be—revered chefs of mille-feuilles, though of different types of mille-feuilles.
While Gordon Ramsay may have nailed his raspberry mille-feuille, you can nail that literary mille-feuille, a.k.a. That Essay You Should Have Started Already. Here are some tips that will hopefully prove helpful in creating your literary mille-feuille, which, though Gordon Ramsay may not appreciate, your profs will.
Step 1: Prepare your ingredients
Start your essay early. You’ll need more time than you think, especially when you consider the ample time you’ll need to brainstorm, collect evidence, outline, draft, and edit the essay. So start your essay early and don’t let that far-off deadline fool you! Weeks go by fast, and before you know it, you’ll be handing the final copy to your prof.
Step 2: Set your puff pastry as the base of your mille-feuille
Start with your tentative thesis. Your thesis is the foundation of your essay. Have a strong thesis, and you’ll have a strong argument in your essay. However, I say tentative thesis because your thesis will likely evolve once you start collecting relevant evidence from your text and realize there are flaws or ways to strengthen your argument. So allow your thesis to change if you think of a better thesis, but do have a tentative thesis in mind from the beginning, so you have a general idea of what kind of evidence you want to collect for your argument.
Step 3: Squeeze out a layer of fresh vanilla cream with orange zest
Post-it note your book until it looks like the Yellow Brick Road. I kid you not, post-it notes are a great way to collect and organize the evidence for your essay. If your text is a printed article or your own book, underline the evidence you’d like to use directly on the text. If it’s a rented or library text, place a sticky note next to the evidence and draw an arrow pointing towards it.
In both cases, stick a post-it note (or another post-it note) next to your evidence and write out how it supports your thesis. No more will you have to crush your quote analyses into the margins of the text or write them out on a separate document. Now you’ll be able to find them quickly and easily!
Step 4: Add two lines of raspberries
Outline your essay. It forces you to get your essay points and evidence organized. I usually like to have my thesis on top, then write out my body paragraphs’ topic sentences, then place bullet points of my quotes and evidence below each topic sentence. That way I can clearly see if my evidence supports my topic sentence, and if my topic sentence supports my thesis. It takes the stress off writing the actual essay because you already know what you have to write; all that’s left is to string your ideas together with good writing.
Step 5: Second layer of puff pastry
Write the body paragraphs of the essay with the help of your outline. Try not to worry too much about the quality of writing, since that can be fixed during the editing stage. Just get your ideas down, so you have something to work with later on.
Step 6: Second layer of vanilla cream with zest
Write your conclusion, then your introduction. The conclusion is where you should answer the “so what?” question in your essay. Here’s your argument—so what? Does your argument reveal something unusual about one of the themes of your course? Does it reveal a greater world implication?
As for the introduction, skip the creative set-up for the argument. Instead, start by introducing and offering context to your essay’s topic and work your way to stating your thesis.
Step 7: Second layer of raspberries
Get your essay looked at by multiple people. Every person notices different things, so every bit of feedback will reveal different areas of weakness. For example, my mentor’s feedback focused on ways to deepen and strengthen my ideas, while the Writing Centre staff’s feedback focused on ways to improve the clarity of my writing.
Of course, you’ll want to look over your essay as well. Consider printing it out to edit it. I know I always notice a lot more of my essay’s problems when I print it out because it’s a different visual medium.
Step 8: Final layer of puff pastry
Step back from your literary mille-feuille and pat yourself on the back as you admire the product of all your hard work!
Do you have any tips and tricks for writing essays? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!