9 Steps to Success – I’ve got an Essay Question/Project, what do I do?

9 Steps to Success – I’ve got an Essay Question/Project, what do I do?

Following on from a post the other day about writing your essay at 5am in morning and the thought of writing your essay in one go, I want to flip the coin and post what you could do as soon as you receive an essay question or project.

Slap, Bang and a wallop!

So, you’ve just completed a 2 hour lecture on consumer behaviour in international markets, you understood the lecture and followed everything. The lecture was interesting and informative, but you received a 4 page ‘booklet’ advising you of an essay submission, due within 6 weeks. So, what do you do with the booklet?

Read, read and read it again

Hmm, thought I was going to advise you head straight to the library and read about the topic again, and again, and again? Nope, first you need to understand what is required of you. You will generally be given, along with everyone else in your class, one or more of the following:

  • An essay question – asking a question or quoting a certain theory, and wanting you to explore it
  • A choice of questions – where you can pick and choose which question or statement to answer/discuss
  • A topic – requiring you to choose your own question and answer it

So, upon the above information you will want to analyse what to do in order to have your essay researched, written, edited and bound for submission. Next are 9 steps that helped me in the process of gathering my sources and thoughts, and actually start writing my answer (bit of a hint – the info below needs to be done as soon after receiving the information as possible):

Step 1 – Read what you need to do

You already mentioned this above, are you going bonkers? Erm… hope not, but you need to read the information given to you several times, and you need to understand what is expected of you. Do you want to plough right through and write all of your paper in a week, only to find out that you wasted your time, because you didn’t do what was asked? I doubt it, as I’m sure you want to do some partying in the week.

Step 2 – Plan, scribble and draw (in a quiet place)

“Failing to plan, is planning to fail” – can’t for the life of me remember who originally said this (apologies), but I learnt about it in one of my Corporate Strategy undergrad classes, and I haven’t forgotten it since. If you don’t plan what you’re going to do – the research, the direction and what eventual conclusion you may reach, then you may get a little lost along the way to completing your paper. Scribble ideas as soon as they come into your head, you may forget them in a couple of moments. Draw a diagram of how you will link your ideas together, and throw all your ideas down on an A4 sheet of paper.

Step 3 – Get a pad

Get a writing pad, I used to (and still do) use the Pukka pads you can buy at a local retailer to jot notes on, write down thoughts and plan an idea such as the one above. I also used to write all the sources I used in a paper, or jotted ‘ones to review later in the back section of the pad; keeping one pad for each topic/course to avoid confusion If I only had one pad and everything was written down, it could become very confusing.

Step 4 – Hit the library

Your brain will already be engaged and on topic from the lecture you just attended. Completing step 2 above will have enlightened a few ‘trains of thought’ that you may want to investigate and become more informed about. But, what do I mean by ‘hit the library’? There are a few a, b and c’s to conduct:

A – Research the catalog – Reviewing the library catalogue will mean that you’re analysing what sources (mainly books) that you could potentially extract information from.

B – Scan the Net – View some trusted sites for information (like newspapers and news sites) for any up-to date news on the topic or question. Even if you’re studying multi-cell organisms you may find a news article that you can use – it’s worth a look.

C – Check out the journals – Whether you’re reviewing paper-based ones within the library, or online at a site such as business source premier, or Emerald, you will be able to research a keyword to find articles for your essay/project.

Step 5 – Write all of your sources down

Even if you don’t use them, but you think you may refer to the article/page later on, then note down the source (including author, title and date), so that you can go back to the source at a later stage.

Hint: Write down a short sentence next to the source explaining why you’ve written it down, as you don’t want to come back to it two weeks later only to forget why you wrote it down in the first place, which wouldn’t be good (I’ve done this a few times!)

Step 6 – Plan, Plan and Plan some more

No matter how you plan your answer to your essay question it is always best to recap continuously. Why? You may ask. If you don’t put down on paper (or on a screen) the direction you are going in, or a list of what you need to include, how will you know when you’ve got there? Because you’ve reached the word-count? I think not. Planning your answer will take only 30minutes – a post will cover this at a later stage.

Step 7 – Read/Scan all of your sources

Gather all of your sources and a highlighter (whether on paper, or on your computer screen), scan through the documents and highlight important points/quotations. Write down next to certain sentences or paragraphs if you need another source to support the authors ‘train of thought’. Any important points, or quotes, then it’s probably best to write them down on a pad.

Step 8 – Rest

Take a breather, for a day or so and catch up on your post lecture reading, or other essays that need some research or work on them. This time is to give your brain time to think and expand on your thinking of how to answer the question.

Step 9 – Start to write

Pick up your pen and begin to write (or type away in my case!), just get your thoughts and ideas down on the paper (or screen) – you can clear up the ‘mess’ when you proofread your paper.

There are many more steps on researching and writing your essay or report, but this is a quick step process to help you along the way.

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