Sunday, 9 December 2012

How to Write an English Essay

The other day I realised that this Christmas will be my first Christmas without juggling both a part-time job and essay writing and boy, does it feel good! No longer will I have to suffer the curse of the ‘post-Christmas Dinner guilt’ where I have 9,000 words to write in seven days when all I really want to do is slob on the sofa in a tacky Christmas jumper whilst gorging on countless selection boxes in all their tiny wrappings of multicoloured glory. Oh no, I am now free to watch Macaulay Culkin in his finest role for 90 minutes without feeling an ounce of essay-guilt.

So, as a gesture of goodwill (as is a custom of the season) I offer all the struggling students of this land the beloved gift of hindsight and the sage voice of experience. May I present to you, my dear reader, my guide on how to write an English essay…

1. First of all, do not begin the essay as soon as essay questions have been handed out. This will give you four weeks to plan, write and edit an essay, which we all know is too much time. Aim for three days (max) before an essay deadline for optimum productivity.

2. Choose the easiest question/one you have the most notes on/the books for the seminars you actually attended. Try and choose a comparison question so that you can spend 1,250 words talking about one book, 1,250 words talking about another, and 500 words drawing it all together in a loose conclusion, which ends with some grandiose statement about human experience etc.

3. Go to the library with the best intentions to start researching your chosen essay question, but spend most of the time refreshing Facebook. Spend a good hour cursing your organised peers who have taken out all of the books you will ever need, leaving you with a battered copy of some English theory book that still has a polytechnic stamp in the front cover from 1957.
Use old A-level essays as sources instead.

4. Spend at least one day productively procrastinating by making the most intricate and colour coded mind map of your essay. Something that would make your A-level English teacher weep with joy just to be in the presence of its staggering beauty.

5. Consider changing your essay question at least twice. Gain extra points if you attempt to write an essay on a book you have never read nor studied.

6. Make a trip to the library in a group. Monitor your friends’ progress and marvel at their ability to concentrate for longer than 10 minutes without mindlessly scrolling through Facebook/Twitter. Construct elaborate plots on how to sabotage your friends’ productivity. If you’re going down, they’re coming down with you.

7. Make sure everybody knows how much you’re suffering and that you’re in the library. Update everybody on your progress every hour. Make sure you include a word count.

8. Consider the various ways in which you could maim and/or injure yourself to receive an extension but not create any lasting damage.

9. Have a nervous breakdown at 5am the morning before the deadline in a state of Red Bull/ProPlus delirium. Reconsider every single decision you have ever made about your education since year 9, especially your decision to study English at university. Cry.

10. Forget how to create footnotes, so just type in 8pt at the bottom of each page.

11. Do everything you can to bump up the word count. MOAR QUOTES. Also be sure to reward yourself for every word count milestone – 50, 100, 500, 1,000…

12. As time goes by you care less and less about the grade and more about just finishing the goddamn thing. Your essay now bears a likeness to something your dog threw up after it ate all the sausage rolls rather than a well thought out academic essay. Submit it anyway.

approx 2 weeks later…

13. Tentatively open the email marked ‘Essay Feedback’. Read with disbelief that you received a First and quietly judge your tutor’s marking ability. Do a little jig of joy.

 Repeat ad infinitum.


  1. This has made me genuinely howl with laughter. I graduated from university in July, also having studied English, and this is my exact process - down to the considering which way to maim myself. And also vaguely contemplating 'my grandmother died' but simultaneously not wanting to tempt fate - am I right!?

    Loved this post. Pure genius.

    Lauren xxx

    1. Haha, thanks Lauren, that was my intention! I've been there so many times! It's definitely best not to tempt fate though. It does seem worth it once you've finished though, somehow. But I think that's because you forget just how bad it can get! xx

  2. AMAZING! Got my essay writing undergrad experience to an absolute T! Lauren, this was us all over! xx

  3. This is possibly the best advice I've ever read. And the perfect distraction from my current essay. Meh. Got 5 days yet.

  4. This is brilliant. And so me!! Especially 6 & 7.

    Enjoy your guilt free Christmas experience :)

    e x

  5. This is brilliant! I'm just about to graduate (only one exam to go!) and you've pretty much described my entire approach to all my coursework :') especially friend sabotage! Tesco trips work wonders...

    1. Oooh good luck in your last exam! Haha I think a lot of people have a similar approach. I only knew one student who was really diligent and hard working when it came to coursework and she was my house mate! (I secretly hated her...) ;)


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