My top 5 essay strategies

Essays are a staple in most students’ academic workloads. As a political science student, my program is quite essay heavy (I turned in 232 pages of written work last year – yes, I counted for this post, and no, that doesn’t include references). As a result, I’ve developed a few strategies that have consistently helped me during paper season. My top ones are listed below.

  1. Start early.
    I’m sure that you have heard or will hear this over and over, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it’s been to give myself plenty of time to complete an essay. Even with the best planning, there have been times when I’m forced to write an essay in a shorter period of time than I may have liked. However, successfully managing my time goes a long way to ensuring I produce well thought-out and polished work. The amount of time I give myself varies depending on the paper length and my workload, but I tend to measure in weeks rather than days.
  1. Work where I’ll be productive.
    This is the second part to successful time management. I go through phases where I’ll work well at home, but the library is usually my best bet for writing. If I’ve been writing for a long period, I need to switch up my surroundings to continue to be productive. While I’m not usually a coffee shop worker (I need quiet!), I might head to Starbucks on the way home from the library to squeeze in a couple extra hours of work.

Heather - computer_desk

  1. Create an outline.
    I find that creating an outline, even if extremely basic, is the only way I can produce an organized paper. Even if my outline shifts while writing, I need at least some structure from the get-go.
  1. Discuss the paper with my prof or TA.
    After giving myself enough time, this is my most important strategy. I have visited my professor’s or TA’s office hours to discuss nearly every paper I have written at the university level. Even if I think I have a solid grasp on my topic and argument, I still go to office hours to talk over my ideas. My instructors have always provided valuable feedback, whether they suggest a source or push me to consider a different viewpoint. In the end, they will likely be marking my paper, so the small amount of extra effort to go see them in office hours can only help. Plus, it’s a great way to establish relationships; however, this step is dependent on my first point. If I start a paper the night before it’s due, it’s going to be pretty challenging to get feedback from my instructor before I hand it in.
  1. Cite as I go.
    This is key to avoiding plagiarism. When I’m reading articles and taking notes, I always make sure to record my sources, including page numbers. Same goes for writing the paper; as soon as I incorporate someone’s work, I immediately include a citation in my draft. Given how many articles I read for each paper, it’s nearly impossible to track down the source of an idea if I didn’t write it down.


While there are a few other strategies I use while writing essays, these are my top five. Let me know if you have a favourite strategy I haven’t included!

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3 Responses

  1. Bryan says:

    I’ve found the library one especially true, I get more done in an hour there than I do in three at home.

  2. Miranda says:

    Great tips Heather!! I definitely agree with all of these. Starting early can be a tough one, but I find it is so worth it when I make it my routine :).