As a senior English major wrapping up the major, I can tell you that I’ve written a lot of essays through the years, across a variety of disciplines, and I’ve learned a lot of tricks and tips to make the entire process easier. Nothing can compensate for hard work and getting an early start, both of which I highly recommend, but if you keep these things in mind, you’ll have a much smoother essay writing process this year and in the future.
An outline can save your life
I too used to think I was a brilliant girl who didn’t need to do any more planning than writing a thesis statement and letting the words just flow out of me, but then I came to college. Now, I make an outline for everything, even articles like these, because they make life so much easier. I can’t imagine writing a 20-page paper without an outline. As someone who likes to skip around when she is writing and come back to things later, outlines are crucial to making sure I know the structure I have in mind before I go and mess it up. Make an outline of what you want to talk about in what order. Flesh out your thoughts a little more below each step of the outline. Plug in what sources you will use where. It takes very little time and it’ll be a life saver as you actually start writing.
Write your intro paragraph last
I always want to use a good hook to draw my readers into my writing, but I don’t always know where my paper is going to go before I finish writing it, so I’ve learned to come back and write my first paragraph last. Of course, I know what my thesis is, but even that can change as I write! I let the body of my writing guide my introduction and my conclusion. Writing your introduction first may inhibit your creativity while writing and pigeonhole you into one place when the writing is begging you to go somewhere else. If you must have a placeholder introduction, that’s fine, but don’t be afraid to adapt and change it as you write.
When in doubt, cite some sources
As an English major, I use a lot of textual sources for my papers, but I also love to turn to other critics and scholars to inform my own thoughts and the arguments I’m making. Your librarian should be able to help you find secondary resources perfect for your topic, and if you think your topic is too niche or on too specific of an author, think outside the box for your sources. For example, in a paper I wrote on the act of rape in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales I relied both on sources about Chaucer himself, books on rape as a whole in the Middle Ages, and modern feminist theory on writing about rape. Broaden your horizons and you’ll have no trouble finding material to help you formulate your argument.
Footnotes are your friend
There are a million ways to cite your sources, trust me, I know, but over the years I’ve decided my best friend is the footnote. I love using footnotes because they add a little length to my papers without being too obvious. Also, using in-text citations, especially for multiple works by the same author, can be exhausting and break up the flow of your writing to the point that it is distracting. Instead, pop in some footnotes at the bottom of each page to cite your sources and explain anything that is relevant but doesn’t fit nicely into the body of your paper.