5 Ways to Get Around Essays Without An All-Nighter

Essays. They’re all about the numbers, right? Get that wordcount and you’re free.

writing essay

What would you do to get rid of an all-nighter, just before the assignment is due in?

Perhaps I can interest you in a few other methods…

Even paced

Deadlines are all different. You may have a week, a fortnight, a month, even the entire term before a piece of work is due in. Let’s say you have a couple of weeks from start to finish for a 2,000 word essay. You would need to write fewer than 150 words a day in order to get to the 2k mark.

Okay, you’ll need to leave time to edit and add more when you need to delete some of the less convincing stuff, but you only need to up your game to 200 words a day and you’ll have several days left to play with.

Quick first draft

This method isn’t given anything like the amount of love it should. When you’re set an assignment, it’s worth writing down what you can from the outset. You may get stuck at 100 words or you may cruise toward the limit. Whatever happens, you’ve started. Work from that place and it’s suddenly less daunting.

Outline in advance

It’s easy to lose track of all your amazing ideas. Start with a plan of what you want to say and the important points you need to get down in your essay.

Your plan can change later. The main reason for the outline is to give you a clear structure to work with. You won’t be left flapping about at the last minute, desperate to remember all the thoughts you had buzzing around your head when you were first given the assignment.

When it seems clear in your head, get those ideas down on paper so you don’t forget later.


Gone are the days when you needed a dedicated dictaphone for a quick voice note. Now your phone will record stuff admirably (unless you’re producing broadcast stuff, of course).

Do you express yourself better when spoken out loud? Then start recording your voice! Speak your essay’s first draft and jot it down later. Even better, dictate it to a voice recognition tool that can print the text up on screen for you.

Whatever you can manage, chatter away about the topic and get that essay going now.

Quote first

I’ve never been a big fan of this one, but it might help you. When you’re stuck for ideas, grab some books on the subject you’re writing about and find some juicy quotations to work around. Let the work of others inspire you.

I’m not that keen on this approach because it may set you down a false trail or lead you to take on someone else’s ideas, rather than allowing you to form your own conclusions. There are dangers associated with this method.

Nevertheless, finding some great leads to use in an essay can be a step closer than simply doing some research before you get started. The very fact that you have some choice quotes typed up can form as a way to get words on the screen, stopping the scary blank white page. You may also stumble upon a theme or outline emerging from what you’ve found.

How do you get started on essays? Which approaches work for you?

How 750 Words Can Help Your Productivity

Sometimes, you just want to write. But it’s not always that easy.

You sit down with the best intentions, but it’s so intimidating when you start a potential masterpiece.

Your internal editor chips away at your confidence before you have even touched the keyboard.

You have no sense of the goal you’re aiming to achieve.

And that’s where 750words comes in.

For a while now, I’ve heard some academic peeps raving about as a fantastic way to write without distraction and other concerns. These are academic peeps I trust. So I’ve given the service a go.

And I give it a thumbs up.

When you want something a little more inviting than an empty document and a flashing cursor, 750words may be the trick. It doesn’t offer much more than a blank page and it still features a flashing cursor —Hey, stick with me!— However, there are other reasons why the service may help you write more than other methods:

  1. Free-writing: Instead of carefully thinking about what you have to say, you may prefer to riff and find your voice by bashing out a load of words. Even if you find 95% of the words come out as irrelevant rubbish, the remaining 35–40 words may be exactly what you wanted. That may not sound like much, but it could be enough to spark something amazing.
  2. Challenges: 750words gives you the option to sign up to a monthly writing challenge, where you promise to write 750 words every single day in the month. If you do, you make the Hall of Fame. If you don’t, you make the Hall of Shame. If you thrive on that type of thing, the monthly challenge is for you!
  3. A blank page: Distractions aren’t welcome. If you want a blank screen, free from other goodies, you’ve come to the right place. 750words is pretty limited in terms of features. All on offer is a place to type some plain text. No fancy fonts, no bold and italics, no special layout features. Just type away until you reach the magical number of words required.
  4. No need to check word counts: Just keep on writing until you get to 750 words. When you do, you’re congratulated. And if you’re on a roll, great! Just keep writing until you’re done. You can see how many words you’ve written by looking at the bottom of the screen. No procrastination or interruption necessary by checking the ‘Word Count’ option. It’s all there for you already.
  5. Statistics: Want to know how long it takes you to write those words? 750words will tell you. Concerned about how many times you’ve moved away from your writing with other distractions on the computer? 750words will tell you. Wondering what types of words you tend to use most? 750words will tell you.

I’ve tried the service for over a week now and I enjoy the simplicity of the service. I’m not bothered about writing a particular number of words every day and I doubt I’ll sign up for the monthly challenges any time soon. I’ve already missed a day on purpose.

Still, there is certainly something satisfying about writing until you reach the number of words allotted. You cannot change the number of words set in the challenge, but nobody is forcing you to stick to that specific number of words. You can write a single sentence and stop, or you can keep going until you’ve written a whole book in a day. It’s up to you.

The user average each day is just over 900 words. I think 750 is a pretty good number to work with for most situations, though. That works out as a pretty good length for a blog post, and it’s half a 1500-word essay. You’re being challenged, but not made to bust a gut.

Here’s one more thing for you to consider: This post was written using 750words on one of my days. It took about 12 minutes to write. And I spent about ten minutes editing after that; so the post wasn’t originally a complete mess, even though I blasted it out quickly.

Remember, even if you have no use for 95% of what you write, the 5% of awesome you can use is worthwhile. And, in the case of this blog post, I only took out a few words. More like 95% used, 5% chucked out. Win!

Next time you want to get your write on, give 750words a whirl. Take up the challenge. You may just surprise yourself!

Get to grips with academic writing

Does essay writing trip you up? Do you struggle to know how you’re meant to write? Are you annoyed by gaps in your understanding?

The Guardian says that the change from A-levels to a university degree is too much for many students. Essay requirements are overwhelming.

photo by katiew
photo by katiew

Echoing many people I’ve spoken to in the past, Daphne Elliston told the Guardian:

“…putting my own words into academic language was hard. And it was difficult to believe I was entitled to my own opinion or to disagree with all these academics who’d done years of research.”

You don’t have to write insanely academic language. Rather, you’re meant to create an argument. Your job is to research, assess and reach your own conclusions.

But how? Where do you start? Here are some considerations for tackling essays:

  • Write in whatever order you like – It’s not a linear process. Kate Brooks at UWE says the process is more cyclical: “do some research, draft a bit, read some more, think, consider what you’ve written, redraft.”
    You can write before you research, you can build a conclusion before an introduction, and you can make random points as you go along and reorder those points at a later stage. Your writing route is flexible. Nobody needs to know how you put it together. The end result is all they’ll look at. And all they care about!
  • Consider your opinion throughout – From start to finish, be aware of what you think. Take the essay question the moment you’re given the assignment and ask yourself how you would answer it. Write a paragraph straight away, before you do any further reading. After some research, has your opinion changed? When you’ve finished writing, has your opinion changed? Keep asking yourself what *your* opinion is.
  • Feel free to stop reading – Academic research can go on and on. And on. As an undergraduate, you don’t need to obsess forever. With a load of ideas and a grip of core texts on reading lists, there’s no need to relentlessly search for every last scrap of data and every opinion ever made. That’s impossible. And you’re not expected to mention all this stuff anyway. There’s no science in knowing when to stop. However, if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed with information and don’t have any of your own writing to show for it, you can probably stop reading…
  • Select the best examples – With all this research done and a trillion ways to say the same thing, pick the clearest, most relevant references to make your point. Leave the others to your references only. The simple act of referencing shows you are aware of it.
  • Don’t feel offended – Some departments introduced compulsory modules on writing at degree level. However, some students found this offensive, according to the Guardian piece.
    After completing A-levels and getting good grades, it may feel strange to start all over again. While some students sense an overwhelm from the beginning, others think the process is just a continuation. By stubbornly refusing to discover more about the academic writing process, some students will miss out.
    Be open to learning. Even if you were entirely comfortable all along, give yourself a pat on the back for being so awesome. Not many people reach that level of awesome so quickly. 🙂
  • Discuss the writing as you go along – If possible, grab some time with your tutor (either virtually or physically) to discuss your draft essay. It shouldn’t take long to find out where you’re headed. There’s no need to be specific. Your job is to make sure you’re on the right track before you commit more time.
  • Work in small bursts, over a long period of time – The difference between a First and a fail may come about solely because of the way you use your time. There has long been a tendency to leave essays until a day or two before they are due in. A risky move.
    By waiting until the deadline, you have no option but to write in a linear fashion. Research also goes out of the window. We’ve not even got on to the amount of stress you’ll feel with nothing written and only a short space of time left. This is one of the most common methods of writing essays, but also one of the craziest. Do you really want to take that risk?
  • Think critically – As Daphne Elliston says, it’s hard to accept you have any right to an opinion worth anything compared to acclaimed academics and prolific authors. But you do. On top of that, you are able to disagree with what these published writers have said. So long as you back up the argument with reason and other references, you can argue however you like. I find that one of the most enjoyable parts of the writing process. 😉
  • Use your own voice – YOU are the author of this essay, not someone else. An overactive vocabulary is pointless. Sounding clever and being clever are two different things. Simple language can be just as powerful when you have a solid argument.
  • List the points you want to make – Plan as simply as you can. Get some bullet points down with 4, 40 or 400 things you want to discuss in the essay. The number doesn’t matter; it’s the active consideration that’s crucial. This basic plan will get you thinking right away and will even help shape how you research. The search for references and quotations is much easier when you have an idea of what you’re looking for.

If you want to explore the academic and essay writing process even further, here are some other things you can do:

Your writing will improve as you go along. When you encounter a problem, make an active effort to overcome it. Gaps in your understanding are not weaknesses, they are merely challenges. We all face these challenges every day. Even academics with years of research have to overcome gaps in understanding. That’s why they are academics. If those gaps didn’t exist, there would be nothing left to learn!

What to do when you get your marked essay back

Don’t assign that assignment to the back of your mind just yet.

Before you let go, give your work a bit more daylight. It’ll help your future study to shine more.

photo by Jerrycharlotte

photo by Jerrycharlotte

Here’s what you can do when the grade is set and the feedback is here:

Check the tutor’s comments (and grade). Let it sink in – The gap between seeing the mark and getting over the initial shock will take longer for some than for others. Especially if you’re unhappy. But don’t bother dissecting the feedback until you’re past the initial shock/joy/sadness/confusion.

Read your essay again – What sticks out? Do you remember it differently now? How do you feel about it as a reader? What feedback would you give yourself if you were marking the essay?

Note down areas you’d like to improve and what you want to do differently next time – This marks the start of preparation for your next assignment. The sooner you spot what’s holding you back, the quicker you can tackle the problem.

Note down what you’re especially happy with so you can work in a similar way for future essays – As with the weaknesses, it’s just as important to focus on your current strengths, otherwise you risk forgetting how to shine consistently.

List what you agree and disagree with about your tutor’s comments – If you still feel slighted by the feedback, briefly point out where and/or why you have been misunderstood so you can discuss with your tutor.

Speak to your tutor for extended feedback – One you have a list of points and questions to explore, why not ask the marker for greater insight? Discuss what’s missing. Find out how you can be better understood and how to move forward. This type of exploration is far more revealing than having an argument over what has already been said.

Engage as far as you can – Check my list of 20 ways to engage with feedback if you’re really serious about getting the most from your past assignments.

Take the matter further; but only if you must – When you’re adamant that something isn’t right, you may wish to speak with another academic advisor, appeal the mark, or even complain. But remember that your anger and disappointment must be justified through examples that you can highlight. There should be signs of heavy prejudice and/or misunderstanding before you can reasonably weigh in with complaints. Fussing over slightly lower than expected marks or getting bogged down with minor detail is rarely worth taking ‘all the way’.

Still have questions? – Clearly define any outstanding issues you want assistance with and arrange to speak with your tutor for more specific feedback. If they extend beyond the essay, your tutor should still be able to help take you further.