Essays Learning Support

Studying independently and writing assignments

Are you starting your first uni essay title and scratching your head? Sigh no more, we have all the resources you need to help you achieve your best without losing yourself to a Netflix-induced sleep coma.

No matter what you’re studying, at some point you’ll need to write an essay or report. Whether the word count is 500 or 5,000, the skills you’ll need and the strategies you’ll use are all the same.

My Learning Essentials is a great online resource that can give you the develop your skills to help you take on the challenge of degree-level study. Key areas include:

Meeting deadlines

Effective time management is crucial for meeting a deadline and even more so if you’ve got multiple assignments to do. So even if you’re feeling overwhelmed by what lies ahead this semester, you’ll find being proactive in managing your time will make all the difference.

Sit down and prioritise what you have to do, being realistic about the time it will take to complete each task. It can also be helpful to plan what you’ll aim to do each day, working backwards from the deadline or set yourself an achievable goal to achieve each day (e.g. a certain number of words). The assignments section has a number of short tutorials to help you plan your work schedule, avoid information overload and will find out which learning style suits you best. For boosting productivity, there are some great tips here.

Understand the task, organise your answer

Assignment titles can sometimes be confusing which makes it difficult to know where to start. The first step of any assignment, big or small, is the same: fully understanding what you need to do and what your assessor wants to see from you. Get a grip: understanding your task is a good place to start, giving some great tips on making what you need to do crystal clear.

Once you’re past this initial hurdle, the workshop What’s the big idea: Developing and organising your argument can help you organise your ideas and decide how you will answer whatever the question is.

Then when you get to putting pen to paper, never a wasted word contains great tips for being concise and ensuring you stay focused on the question.

Finding relevant resources

A lot of the time, your unit leader will highlight essential resources on the reading list or at least point you in the direction of relevant sources. Even if this is the case, reading around the key texts will give you a deeper understanding of the topic you’re writing about and make for a more informed and original argument.

It’s important to ensure your search for resources is focused firmly on the question you’re researching, ensuring you don’t waste time reading irrelevant information. A great way to do this is to look at the bibliography of the key texts to see who they’ve used to inform their argument and evaluate whether or not you agree what the author has said about these sources. Doing this also means you can start weaving an argument straight away as your sources will refer to each other.

Using online resources

An increasing amount of students are using solely online resources to write their assignments, saving hours spent in the library and those painful journeys back home laden with hardbacks.

Not only are journals easily accessible, they’re also often shorter and more specific in their line of argument, which in turn, makes it easier to find sources relevant to your work.

The library has access to over 7,000 online journals and resources, accessible in a few clicks and entering your university login details. Powerful search tools, such as the Library SearchGoogle Scholar and JSTOR mean you can find numerous relevant sources in a fraction of a second. For guidance on this, see the knowing where to look toolkit, which demonstrates how to search for journals in the most popular archives.

It’s also important that you get referencing nailed, so you don’t lose any marks on something so simple. The citing it right tutorial gives a great guide to referencing, and the handy guide to Endnote, a reference management tool, can be completed in 20 minutes, saving you hours later on.

Thinking ahead: Exams

While exams might seem a long way off now, getting, and remaining, organised will make starting revision later on much less painful. The Exam Extra section in the MLE page will help you find exam related workshops and give you tips for a successful revision strategy. Taking a bit of time to plan now will pay off big time when it comes to the January or summer exam period!