How to get a 70 in an academic essay

By Katie Lewis

Although I’m in my third year, I have not yet broken the barrier between a 2:1 and a first class essay. But don’t give me any sympathy, because I spoke to JOMEC’s Katherine Stansfield from the Royal Literary Fund who meets JOMEC students to discuss their writing. Although Katherine is only available to JOMEC students, there is another literary fellow specifically for those doing Law and Politics. For those of you in other schools, I suggest you use your lecturer’s office hours and your seminar teachers wherever possible. Below, I have summarised the key things I learnt from meeting with Katherine.

One of her pet peeves when reading essays was that students often jump straight in to their essays without an introduction or explanation as to its purpose. So when you’re writing your essay, begin by announcing how you will approach and navigate the question. This gives your tutor a clear indication as to what they expect to read. Katherine suggested thinking of your introduction as a map, where you provide signposts to indicate topics you might address in the main body of your writing. This will help with the flow of your essay and sets your writing up well.

Katherine stated that a common error is that students don’t always fully understand the essay question. It is important that you don’t just understand what topic the question might be on, but to see what they actually want you to do. You need to know when to evaluate, to describe and to analyse. By taking the wrong approach to an essay you might risk losing marks for how you decided to answer the question.

Another little tip I gained from our discussion was that it’s okay to repeat words sometimes. I don’t know about you, but I had this idea that I couldn’t use the same word more than a few times, and therefore would constantly alternate words and phrases. Sometimes, although a word might be similar, it can put a different spin on your sentence- so don’t be afraid to repeat.

Katherine highlighted the importance of simplicity and clarity and she stated that ‘simple sentences are your friend’. Her top tip was to always be clear within your writing and she explained that often students try to be overly wordy. This can have a negative effect by disrupting the flow of your writing. Even in academic writing, don’t feel pressured to consult an online thesaurus for the most obscure word you can find, as making your writing clear is more important.

To be awarded a first, the tutor must be quite bowled over by your work, so I asked Katherine what makes a first class essay standout. I learnt that you have to go the extra mile in your analysis and show that not only can you refer to sources, but that you understand them and can comment and peer review them. This shows confidence in your writing and proves that there was a purpose to the essay.

Good luck with your writing, here’s to writing a first class essay.

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