How to: Write an essay in eighty days

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Looking at books in the library

Jonas Hrebeniuk

IN THE STACKS, CAREFUL YOU DON'T BUMP INTO BORIS. Snapping photos of students looking for books in the library isn’t above us. Neither is a lame GoldenEye 007 Nintendo reference.

Over the course of your university career, you will learn many things: how to text message covertly during a lecture, the perils of drinking on an empty stomach, and that the UCC Tim Hortons is always busy. Among these valuable lessons, one skill you should master at university is the ability to write an excellent paper. Even those of you in the sciences will have to take an essay course at Western, so read up and realize that, with a little work, an ‘A’ paper is entirely possible.

Have a good thesis
A strong thesis statement is essential to any well-written essay. A good thesis will clearly and concisely delineate the main argument in your paper, lending focus and structure to your essay right off the bat. Basically, your thesis is the point you will prove over the course of the essay. Make sure you thesis statement addresses the question given to you by your professor, and is not too broad to be explored properly in your essay.

If you are unsure your thesis statement is up to par, make an appointment with your professor or TA (whichever will be marking the paper) well before the paper’s due date and ask them for some feedback. Office hours exist for a reason " most professors are happy to help you get on the right track.

Write an essay outline
Before diving into an essay, it is helpful to make a rough outline of the points you want to discuss. This will give you an idea of how well you’ll be able to prove your thesis An outline also helps you structure your essay in a logical, well-thought-out manner, which can be difficult if you just start writing without a plan.

Use scholarly sources
Research requirements vary from essay to essay, and this is something your professor will likely discuss before handing out assignments. While some papers will require little to no research, others will require you to hit up the library (or at the minimum, the library’s website). Keep in mind that valid scholarly sources include primary texts (any books, articles, poems or short stories which your essay is discussing), as well as relevant journal articles and books.

If you don’t know how to conduct an effective search, ask the reference librarian on duty to help you. It will take you 15 minutes and save you hours over the course of your university career. Better yet, Western Libraries and the Student Development Centre often conduct short seminars on proper research and essay writing techniques. They are well worth your time.

As for non-scholarly sources, you can pretty much rule out magazines and newspaper articles (unless otherwise indicated by your professor). Last, but definitely not least, don’t cite Wikipedia. Just don’t.

Cite sources properly
Whether you’re asked to use APA, MLA or Chicago style citation, take the time to do it right. This way, whoever is marking your paper has nothing to distract them from your ideas.

Not sure if you’re doing it correctly? Visit Under the menu labeled “How Do I...” and you’ll find a link on citing references.

Proofread your work
With the excitement that accompanies finishing your first few university-level papers often comes an overwhelming urge to hit ‘print’ and start celebrating. However, it’s important to take the time to review your work. This includes spell-checking your paper and reading it over for clarity and grammar.

If time permits, ask a friend, classmate or family member to read it. If they can’t understand what you’re talking about, neither will your professor. It is also a good idea to read your paper aloud, overemphasizing the pauses indicated by commas and periods. Does it sound like they’re in the right spots? If not, ask a grammar-savvy friend to help you out.

Proofreading may seem like a pain in the ass, especially after spending hours on a paper, but it’s important. Splling mistaks ar embarasing and mak yu lok lzy. See what I mean?

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