You’ve sat down to start your essay.

With a deep breath you open a new document and…

… you wait for inspiration to strike.

The cursor blinks at you innocently, waiting for you to start your masterpiece. You type half a sentence then delete it. You try again but it doesn’t sound right. Soon the emptiness of that white page is overwhelming and you let out a sigh.

When you start your essay with a blank page you feel afraid to begin writing as you think it needs to be perfect or even just that it needs to make sense. The pressure to write a great introduction or first argument is too much and you end up frozen.

This doesn’t have to be the process to start your essay.
I’m here to tell you not to be afraid of the blank page.

In this blog post you'll discover:

  • A simple 5 step system to start your essay without overwhelm
  • A method for creating a kick ass essay foundation or outline
  • How to take the pressure off writing those first few sentences.


How to Build Unshakeable Studying Confidence in Just 5 Days

So you can graduate with the grades you want – and feel more motivated, positive and focused along the way.

Unshakeable Studying Confidence_mockup

1) Start your essay by setting up your document

Open up a new document and immediately save with a sensible file name. This could be ‘name_module code_essay number_version number’, or ‘Chloe Burroughs_B365_essay1_V01’.

Then edit the footer to include page numbers and the header to add any necessary information. You could add similar information from your document title so your essay is easily identifiable to you and your tutor.

Next, add in all the pages and sections you’re going to need. Here’s some possible headings you can add to separate pages, using the ‘Insert > Page Break’ buttons in Microsoft Word. Make sure you follow your guidance of what’s needed.

· Title/cover page

· Contents

· Executive summary

· Separate sections (if any) such as Question 1, 2 or Part 1, 2…etc.

· References/Bibliography

· Appendices.

Setting up your document keeps your essay organised so you can jump around and add bits to sections without creating chaos. Seeing this document set up should make you feel like you've achieved something, which will motivate you to continue.

2) Add the question and guidance

After your cover page and contents page, create a new page. Type out your question or topic and include any other information such as word count limit. Then change the text colour so it stands out. Underneath this, type out ALL the guidance you’ve been given. Start with the official guidance, then add in any bits of advice your tutor has told you, in a lecture, by email or on the phone.

Having all this guidance in one place will keep you organised, refresh your memory if you get stuck and provide an easy way to double check what is needed from you.

3) Pick out and define the key concepts and models

From the question and guidance, pick out the key concepts, theories and models you might need to define, explain and use. Change the text to a different colour and list them with space in between under your question.

Try to think outside of the question if necessary. For example, in business, corporate strategy and competitive strategy are two related concepts to describe how an organisation competes. In an essay about competitive strategy I must define that term, but also corporate strategy as that comes first in the process.

Next, go through your notes and material and write the perfect point defining and briefly explaining the term. Include the reference and page number now. Having these first finished sentences will help you later as you can slot them in when you start talking about each term.

It’s difficult to write the first few sentences of an essay. A lot of people start with the introduction or with their first argument which I think is a mistake. Start easy. The question will have key terms, theories or concepts in it that you’ll need to explain so take those and complete your first few sentences. Small wins at the start of your essay will give you the momentum to push on.

4) Pick apart the question

Now look at the question and guidance again. Have you been given specific sections to tackle separately? If the question is split into sub sections with separate mark allocations then write each of these sections on a new page, leaving a full page break in between.

If you have only one topic or question to answer, look closely and see if you can work out some possible sections.

For example, ‘describe the process of rational decision making and evaluate its usefulness to managers’. This sounds like you first need to describe the process of rational decision making. Then you need to move on and explain reasons why the process is useful to managers, then reasons why it isn’t useful, before concluding your opinion of its usefulness.

List these potential sections, leaving a full page break in between. So for this example there would be a page with the heading, ‘describe the process of rational decision making’, then a page with, ‘evaluate the usefulness to managers of the rational decision making process’. Then under there I’d create subheadings for, ‘reasons why it’s useful’ and, ‘reasons why it’s not useful’.

These sections will help you form a logical and coherent argument that tells a story rather than an essay that jumps around illogically. The clearer your argument, the easier it is for your tutor to understand your ideas and award marks.

5) Start adding points

Your essay guidance might tell you which pages of your books or which readings are the most important for the essay. If it doesn’t, contact your tutor by phone or email and ask them which sections you should focus your time on. Your essay might be quite broad so you have a lot of material you can draw from, but usually there’s some key material to focus on.

Now start going through the relevant material (and your notes) page by page. Find anything you might want to use in your essay and add them as brief sentences or bullet points underneath the relevant section header. You can lift whole sentences from the material but make sure you use quote marks so you don’t accidentally plagiarise. Include the reference and page number/source so you can find the point easily later.

If you complete these 5 steps you should have:

  • A professional looking essay document set up
  • The question and all guidance in one place so you can check what is required from you easily
  • A basic outline and structure of sections to focus on
  • Your first few sentences completed - defining the essay's key terms
  • Lots of roughly organised points to start forming into arguments.

Check out some further resources. For more essay guidance, check out my posts on improving your academic writing and developing your critical thinking skills.


How to Build Unshakeable Studying Confidence in Just 5 Days

So you can graduate with the grades you want – and feel more motivated, positive and focused along the way.

Unshakeable Studying Confidence_mockup

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Learn 5 powerful strategies to build an unshakeable foundation of studying confidence.

Say goodbye to self-doubt and traumatic school memories getting in the way of you acing your learning as an adult.

And instead say hello to studying with more motivation, positivity and ease so that you can graduate with the grades you want.

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