In this episode, you’ll learn the do’s and don’ts of academic writing to help you write a great essay. We’ll start by highlighting seven common mistakes that lead to subpar essays – or what I refer to as shite essays. Because learning what NOT to do can really help you get clear on what you should do instead. These pitfalls include issues like procrastination, haphazard planning, and overlooking feedback.

Next, cos I’m not gonna leave you hanging, I’ll walk you through 7 ways to write a great essay, sharing practical strategies and insights to elevate your writing game. Learn how to start early, plan effectively, answer the essay question correctly, organise your ideas, back up your arguments with evidence, write with clarity and conciseness, and leverage feedback to continuously improve.

Whether you’re aiming for top grades or you’d like to become a better writer or you’d just like essay writing to be bloody easier, this episode will equip you with the essential skills to take you from shite to stellar so you can write a great essay.

This post originated as a podcast episode which you can listen to below or search for episode 154 of the Chloe Made Me Study podcast. Or, if you’re more of a learn-by-reading student, carry on for the rough-and-ready blog version based on the podcast script.

Ways to listen:

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In this episode, I’m going to walk you through how NOT to write a great essay, or as I like to say, how to write a shite essay – so that you can better understand how to write a really great one. So you’re going to learn about the 7 things you shouldn’t do and then we’ll flip them around to come up with the game plan for your next essay.

7 Ways to Write a Sh*te Essay 

1. Start your essay too late.

We all have the best of intentions to start our essays early, with plenty of time to work on it so we don’t have to submit it in a panicked rush without proper editing. But then life happens and actually putting pen to paper gets pushed further and further down the line. Or, maybe it’s a strategy thing. You don’t feel confident with breaking down the question, planning your essay, writing your arguments and points, editing your essay. You’re never sure what the next right step is so you struggle to make much progress until the adrenaline kicks in and you have to.

Or, maybe it’s a mindset thing that’s holding you back. You don’t have much confidence in your essay writing abilities and you don’t truly think you’re capable of achieving great grades. So it’s easier for your self-image to procrastinate and leave your essay until there’s not enough time to do a good job because then, if you DON’T get a good grade, you’ve got a ready made reason.

2. Start writing without a clear plan.

Some students really hate planning their essays. They would much rather get a rough idea of the task and then just get cracking – with the aim to sort through their points later to see what needs changing.

There are a few problems or risks with this approach:

  1. You will likely end up writing way more than necessary as you’ll have strayed off the point.
  2. Or you’ll lose out on lots of marks by not noticing that you’ve taken up lots of your precious word counts with less relevant or irrelevant points.
  3. You may run out of time to do any or enough proofreading which means a lot of your effort has been wasted and just won’t translate to grades you’re more than capable of.
  4. You’re missing out on opportunities to develop your planning skills. For some assignments you might be able to get away without much planning – because they’re short or relatively non-complex. But for larger essays and even non-studying, work-based projects – the ability to plan is priceless as you’ll create better solutions faster. So you might as well learn this skill with your essays right now.

I proofread A LOT of essays each year and it is blindingly obvious to me when a student hasn’t planned out their work. So if you ditch the planning entirely, your essay will read *exactly* like it was written without a plan – confused and chaotic. Which is not the words you want your tutor to think of when they’re working out what grade to award you.

3. Don’t answer the set question.

Another mistake I see often. The essay I read is really interesting and has lots of good arguments, but a good 40-50% doesn’t actually answer the question. Sometimes there’s way too much description and nowhere near enough analysis. Or the core idea of the essay is misunderstood and not touched on in the answer. The student may not realise until they get their mark back and see that they missed out on LOADS of marks.

Or they may be lucky and catch it during the proofreading stage. But even then, it’s frustrating because they might have to cut a third or a half of their words and write it again. It doesn’t matter how good your essay is if it’s not THE essay you’ve been asked to write – because the marker won’t be able to tick those boxes in the marking criteria.

4. Write your points in any ol’ order.

This is another one that’s very clear to me as a proofreader, or your tutor as the marker of your work. When your points don’t flow, when they’re written in any ol’ order, your line of thinking is really hard to understand. For your tutor and for me – we have to read and reread your points to try to understand the points you’re making. And by jumping from point to point, the rhythm is really stilted which jolts us out of the lovely world you’ve created and makes us have to work a lot harder to see where you’ve met the criteria.

5. Fail to back up your ideas with objective evidence.

Sometimes I read work which is pretty biassed: where the student’s personal opinions are clear. Obviously this isn’t great because academic work is meant to be objective. You’re meant to present multiple perspectives and let the evidence make your arguments.

Other times, it’s not that a student has a strong personal opinion on the subject matter, the problem is that the student just doesn’t give the reader enough reason to take their ideas seriously. They state ideas in their essays but don’t back them up with strong evidence or sometimes any evidence at all.

And if you don’t back up your ideas with points and theories that you’ve learned in your course – there’s no real content for which your tutors can award you marks.

6. Engage in fluffy writing.

A big reason why many students aren’t achieving the marks they could is because they waste too much of the word count saying too little. If you write in a waffley way, not only will the reader find it difficult to follow your ideas (and thus award you marks) but you’ll also waste precious word count that you *could* use writing some banging points that will gain you higher-level marks.

Fluffy writing could mean:

  1. Saying in 30 words what you could in 15.
  2. Spending too long describing ideas and adding in unnecessary details rather than getting to the meat of the issue.
  3. Half-saying the same point multiple times or saying the same thing in multiple ways rather than just writing one stronger sentence.
  4. Trying to sound fancy or clever rather than writing simply and concisely. 

7. Ignore all previous feedback.

There’s likely a range to this one. Some students I see quite literally ignore the feedback. They don’t like reading negative comments and it makes them feel anxious so they just take a quick glance then move on. Other students try to identify what they could do differently next time but they find their feedback confusing and vague and they don’t want to bother their tutor by asking for clarification (or maybe they’ve tried this before and it didn’t work).

Feedback is KEY to improving your writing and grades. Ideally, you would write an essay, receive a mark and feedback, use that feedback to improve your writing skills, and then write a better essay…and so on. So your marks should increase throughout a class. There’s a number of reasons why this may not happen, which I can help you to work out, but this is the aim. So higher grades are not going to happen if you’re not seeking and using your feedback to improve.

7 Ways to Write a Great Essay 

OK, so you’ve just heard the 7 common essay writing mistakes I see that are stopping students from achieving the marks they are 1,000,000% capable of achieving. Now let’s talk about what you should do instead – how to write a GREAT essay.

1. Start thinking about your essay as soon as you start studying the relevant material.

Rather than completing all your reading and lectures and then using whatever time you have left to work on your essay, instead, take a look at your essay BEFORE you start studying the relevant material. For example, if your class or module is split into a series of units or blocks with an assignment at the end, you would want to have a good understanding of the essay question and task at the beginning of the unit – so that you can study the relevant material through the lens of your essay task. You’ll be able to prioritise the key material and take better, more concise notes that will actually help you write a higher grade essay.

In Write Better Essays LIVE, you’ll learn exactly how to structure your studying so that it centres around your assignments. This way, you can use the bulk of the time you spend studying each week actively working towards achieving the marks you need to graduate with your dream grades.

2. Map out your essay’s core arguments before you start writing.

The easiest way to write an essay is NOT from scratch. Instead of trying to pull 2,000 words on a topic out your butt, instead, you’ll just need to think of 10 key points. Then for each of those 10 key points you’ll work out what you want to say and compile the evidence to back up your ideas from your course material. If you can create this level of plan, those 2,000 words will almost write themselves. I did this with my essays, I did this with my 70,000 word book and I do this with all my podcast and email content.

And I’ll teach you how to do this in Write Better Essays LIVE. Inside the programme, I teach one of my FAVOURITE frameworks for writing essays easily. You’ll learn how to identify your core arguments and points, compile your evidence, and then write clear, coherent, persuasive paragraphs.

3. Ensure you have a clear understanding of the task so you answer the *right* essay question.

Essay questions and guidance can sometimes be written in a really complex, cryptic way so no wonder you might get confused and struggle to understand what you actually need to do. However, spending a bit of time here to really get to grips with what your university is looking for, the knowledge they want you to demonstrate, the skills they want to see you developing – is KEY to achieving high grades.

This is why I recommend starting your essays early. Not necessarily starting to write them early, but starting to think about them. That way you can see if your understanding of the question expands, solidifies or changes over time. And it gives you time to reach out to your tutor with any questions – all so you can start the actual writing process heading in the right direction.

4. Organise your essay to walk the reader around all your lovely points.

It can sometimes be hard to zoom out of your writing during the actual writing process. When I’m writing, if I can work out a good order during the planning phase I will, but sometimes you need to start writing your points and ideas and then move them around later. The trick here is to always see your first draft as just that – a draft. If you’re editing properly then quite a lot will change from your first draft to your final submission.

One thing you can review is the order of your points. Try to identify the core arguments in your essay and then check that the relevant points to those core arguments are in the same place – so there are key sections to your essay. Then, you can make it easier for the reader by adding signposts in your writing. These are words and phrases that make it clear the direction you are going. For example, you might start a paragraph with the signpost ‘There are three key benefits to implementing strategy X.’ Then that paragraph would go on to outline those three benefits.

Within Write Better Essays LIVE, we cover signposts in detail. Not only will I show you lots of worked examples, you’ll also get access to a digital/printable phrase bank of sentence starters that you can adapt to use in all your essays.

5. Write objectively to give the reader reasons to take your ideas seriously. 

You 100% can and should make bold claims in your essays, but you will only be awarded marks when you support these bold claims with sufficient evidence. Therefore, be mindful of this during the writing process, and then check for this during editing. Make sure that all of your claims are backed up by a source – whether that’s a referenced idea from your course material, or a referenced idea from any research or wider reading.

In Write Better Essays LIVE, you’ll learn how to make this process easier for yourself. How to keep track of your ideas and the relevant evidence for these. How to double-check that all your points in your final essay are adequately evidenced. I’ll give a refresher on referencing (or citing) too and some tips on how to keep track of your references as you write.

6. Focus on clarity and conciseness over cleverness and creativity.

Always write for clarity first. Write in simple, short sentences using clear language. For your first draft, don’t worry about repeating the same words over and over – like however, or states, or therefore. Just focus on getting the CONTENT of your ideas down clearly.

Then, in the editing process, see where you can use a thesaurus to replace some overused words, see if there are places where you can combine two shorter sentences to make one longer sentence – but make sure it’s still coherent.

I’ve fallen foul of wanting to impress my tutor before with my vocabulary but, ultimately, your job is to make it as easy as possible for your tutor to award your work as many marks as possible.

7. Use your essay feedback to improve your skills and writing.

I mentioned this earlier, but the process to writing progressively better essays with progressively higher marks is to understand the important role of feedback. When you receive your essay mark and feedback, try to identify 3 key things you could do differently next time – for example, use the correct referencing style, include in your introduction an outline of your essay, use stronger opening sentences in your paragraphs. If your feedback is confusing, vague or there isn’t enough of it – you need to go back to your tutor.

Within Write Better Essays LIVE, I teach you a simple system to track your feedback and use it to improve your writing between essays and I share with you email templates that you can use to communicate better with your tutor. Emails to ask for more feedback or to clarify the feedback you’ve received. Included are other emails you might need to send – asking for support or an extension, asking them for help understanding your essay question. It can be really hard to know how to ask for help in a way that’s professional, persuasive and self-advocating – so I’ve made this 10X easier for you with templates.

OK – so there we have it. 7 ways to write a shite essay, and the 7 things you should do instead to write a great essay.

Importantly, it is not your fault if you recognise some of these mistakes in your essay writing process. Other than a few hints and vague suggestions sprinkled into your schooling – you’ve not been taught this stuff.

Your university is focused on delivering the course material to you but they don't take responsibility for teaching you how to clearly demonstrate your understanding of the material and write a great essay.

So you may know the material really well and be able to have a chat about it for hours, but without knowing the nuts and bolts of how to write academically, your grades aren't going to reflect your epic understanding.

If you’d like to learn from me and write your highest grade essay yet, I would invite you to join the waitlist for my upcoming programme, Write Better Essays LIVE, which is opening for enrolment very soon, Monday 13th November.

This programme is it – the first and last essay writing training you’ll ever need. You’ll learn the simple system I’ve taught hundreds of students over the past 7 years so you can write better essays FOREVER.

And this time round, there’s even more 1-on-1 support from me:

– During the training day you’ll be able to ask questions

– Then during the 5 weeks of support you’ll get my guidance as you work on your next essay

– You’ll be able to submit your essay plan to me for personalised feedback

– Anddd there will be weekly opportunities for you to show me a piece of your draft essay for my direct feedback and advice.

If you’re interested, click here to find out more. Be sure to join the waitlist by Sunday 12th November for £50 off.

~ FREE TRAINING ~

How to Actually START Your Essay

Workbook + video training to take you from procrastination and overwhelm to understanding your question and mapping out your ideas with momentum. Easier, faster essay writing (and higher grades) await.

Start Your Essay

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