After how many years of being here, if I don’t know at least something about writing an essay, then there must be something wrong. But luckily, I do, so listen up everyone, whether you are a non-humanities student who detests sentences more than a 10 page equation, or an arts student who might not even know how to do MLA formatting, if I impart something to all of you as a graduating student, this might be it.
The seedling yet to be hatched:
Never ever under any circumstance not talk to you professor. Ever, ok? We think we may know what we are doing, but it’s always good to double check with the professor. Think of it like this: you are a manufacturer producing a product for a customer. You go to your customer beforehand to see what they want so you know you’re on the right track to fulfilling their desires. Give your prof what they want, while of course doing what you like, and you’ll be in good stead.
Always, always read secondary literature on your topic, book etc. This allows you to see what’s been said, get inspired, see where there’s room for original thought. This is not plagiarizing because there is not a problem seeing what’s out there. On the other hand, if you copy what Prof so and so said from the University of Pennsylvania, then we got a problem. Essays, for me at least, are about exploring new ideas. Do something original.
The process of maturation:
As you write, always read over your work, again, again and again. You may start your essay off in one direction and suddenly it takes many turns. These turns need to be evaluated, maybe your thesis needs to be changed, or your arguments. Remember that any (good) essay is like an orchestra: all elements must be in unison to get the beauty of the point across.
It’s not for your eyes only. Consider taking that essay to a writing centre or showing it to a friend. A good essay should be accessible to those who aren’t fine-tuned in the nitty-gritty complex abstract ideas of literature. The message should be readily accessible. The sophistication of a piece of work is not dependent upon language, but rather the idea.
Well, there you have it. Some rules I have followed for the past few years, and they usually served me well. Surprised I didn’t say “don’t leave an essay to night before?” I’ve known people who can punch an essay out with hours to go and still get a good mark –everybody’s different.