7 Tips for Writing Long Essays

By Madison White on February 29, 2020

Your professor hands out the instruction sheet for your next assignment. You’re both nervous and excited until you scan down and see an extortionately high page number or word count requirement. Your stomach drops and you fill with dread. You think to yourself, “How am I supposed to write that much on this subject?” We’ve all been there and you’re not alone.

Contrary to what some students may think, long essay assignments are not because your professor wants to torture you. In fact, grading long essays takes a large amount of time and energy from any instructor. They’ve given you this assignment because they want to see how well you can organize, research, analyze, and construct an argument. Think of this as an extra opportunity to showcase all that you know about this subject.

Depending on the class, you may feel excited to delve deeper into the topic or a little bit apprehensive or uninterested. Either way, going through these long essay writing steps will help you get closer to creating a really great essay that not only meets the word count, but is written well too.

1. Create the right writing environment

One of the most important steps to writing actually begins before you get any words on the page. Before you begin, you need to make sure that you have created the right space to tackle this assignment. Without the proper set-up, you may end up procrastinating the essay or becoming frustrated because you can’t think properly.

Firstly, find out what study space works well for you when you’re writing. You may be someone that needs total silence in order to form thoughts. On the other hand, silence can be distracting for people. You may need to have a playlist that will get you in the writing zone ready to go. If you tend to not write well in comfortable spaces like your bedroom or living room, trying writing somewhere that is more public like a library or coffee shop. You may find that you are more focused when you can’t totally relax. On the other hand, public spaces may make you more distracted and you might need to find a space where you can be totally alone. Find out what works best for your study and writing style and create the best set up that you can when you sit down to write.

Alongside creating the right space, you also need to make sure you have enough time to complete the essay to the best of your ability. When it comes to long essays, you can’t exactly scratch them out in a couple of hours before the deadline, or if you do, it likely isn’t going to be the best work. Usually, a long essay takes quite a few hours of research, outlining, drafting, and editing before it reaches its final form. You should take this into consideration and begin the writing process well before the due date. It is also a good idea to carve out specific writing time into your schedule so that you can focus on the assignment amidst other demands like other classes, friends, and social events.

2. Outline

One of the toughest parts of a long essay is knowing where to start. It can be really overwhelming when you have lots of ideas but no guidance on how to actually get them onto the page. For many instructors, one of the biggest difficulties students have is organizing a long essay. Because they have extra space, students can sometimes tend to ramble and get off topic rather than making consistent points.

An easy way to remedy this is to create an outline. You’ve probably come across outlines before whether it be in your high school classes or even other classes throughout college. Outlines are very helpful because they keep your essay on track and organize your thoughts. They can also make it easier to write because you know exactly what each paragraph needs to be about, so breaking up your writing into smaller chunks can help you feel less overwhelmed.

The outline process looks different for everyone. Some people like to make detailed outlines where they specify exactly which topics and examples go in each paragraph. Sometimes they will even go so far as to outline the topic sentences for each paragraph before actually beginning the essay. For other students, they just need brief comments that help them organize which thoughts need to be in what order. This can be as simple as grouping together different ideas and ordering them. Whichever style of outline works best for you, don’t skip over the outline stage altogether. They are crucial in helping your essay stay on track.

3. Let your research guide you

In most college classes, a long essay usually is combined with some sort of research element. This may be research you’ve done yourself or research that you’ve gathered through searches and readings. It is rare that professors assign long essays that are comprised solely of your own thoughts. This is because long essays are usually meant to demonstrate how well students can find examples of their claims and how well they explain and back-up said claims.

With this in mind, research will likely be a big element within your essay. You should always have your research in mind while creating your most important arguments and points throughout your essay. While gathering research, keep an eye out for trends or things that the research has in common. These commonalities may lead to some of the major points within your essay. You want your writing, as well as your research, to appear cohesive.

It is often the best idea to do some research before sitting down to write your essay. This is because if you are planning on making certain points before doing research, you may have difficulty finding sources that fit what you have already said. If you work in the opposite direction, you can build your points off of research you know already exists. Doing research can also help you come up with ideas and think of perspectives and concepts that you may not have previously thought about. This can lead to a more interesting and complex paper.

 

4. Free write

Although you may have done the outline and research already, you may still be having difficulty actually getting words on the page. You may just be sitting in front of a blank computer screen, waiting for the words to come, but they just aren’t coming! This is totally normal and happens to most, if not all, students at some point.

Writer’s block often happens because we have an idea of what we want our essay to be like. We want it to be clean, polished, insightful, and say perfectly what we need to say. The reality is that no one’s first draft is ever going to be perfect. This is why editing is such an important part of the writing process. Contrary to some students’ popular belief, nobody writes their best essay on the first try.

Part of actually getting words on the page is accepting that what you write initially probably isn’t going to be great. This is okay! You can always go back and change things around later. It is much better to have written something than to not write anything at all. This is where free writing comes in.

Freewriting is when you force yourself to write for a set amount of time. Most people choose around 5-10 minutes of free writing because it gives them enough time to find their rhythm, but not too much that they lose track of where they should be.

Try setting yourself a timer for 5-10 minutes. The rules of the free-write are that you can’t stop writing for the entire duration of that time. Even if the sentences are somewhat gibberish, that is okay! You are likely to get some usable material out of the free write. Keep doing this until you find your speed in writing or until you have a rough draft!

5. Do your introduction and conclusion last

You may think that starting an essay means starting at the very beginning, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, the introduction to an essay can often be one of the most difficult parts of the essay to write. There is a lot riding on that first paragraph because it sets the tone for the entire essay, should excite the reader, and previews the main points. Sometimes it is not wise to start with the introduction because your ideas might change through the writing of your essay. This means that you would likely have to go back and alter your introduction and thesis.

For many students, it is easier to start in with your body paragraphs rather than the introduction. Body paragraphs offer a more standard format which can be easier to write within as opposed to a more freeform introduction. Writing your introduction and conclusion paragraphs last is a good idea because you can implement the ideas within your essay into them a lot easier.

6. Edit in chunks

One of the biggest difficulties of writing and completing a long essay assignment is sustaining the energy and focus needed. Because you may be writing and editing many pages of work, it can often get rather tedious and boring when you get a few pages in. As your mind starts to drift off, it can be easy to start to slack off in your editing process and miss some key mistakes that need to be corrected. This could result in a sloppy essay that may end up getting you a lower grade than you wanted.

To combat the tiredness and monotony of editing a long essay, you should divide up the task. It is not wise to try and edit a long essay all in one go. You will likely be rushing through and not do the thorough job that you need to in order to polish the essay properly. Dividing your editing process into chunks means that you will come to each new part with fresh eyes and a sharp mind. You will be more likely to catch the mistakes you made and put more effort into fixing them. Remember that writing and editing a long essay takes time and you should begin your essay process early so that you have a suitable amount of time to write and edit. If you wait until the last minute to write your essay, you won’t have adequate time to edit it properly.

If you’re looking for more tips on polishing up your essay before submitting it, check out this article all about how to polish an essay.

7. Get help from others

While you should definitely trust your own judgment and process, it is usually a good idea to get some insight from other people to help you create the best essay you can. When you get into the thick of writing a long essay, it is easy to start to feel lost in your ideas and question whether you are saying the things you want to say. Asking a trusted individual for help can usually assist in answering these questions and help you feel better about your essay overall.

Depending on who you have available, you could ask a trusted friend to give feedback on your essay or perhaps a classmate who is doing the same assignment. Depending on your relationship with your professor, you may be able to supply them with a rough draft and questions that they can help answer. Many universities also have Writing Centers that are staffed by students who specialize in writing who will be able to help you through all stages of the writing process.

Conclusion

The task of writing a long essay can often be a stressor for many college students, however, it may not be as daunting as it initially appears. There are many resources and tricks out there to help you create the best essay possible.

Madison graduated with her Master's degree in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester (UK), and holds Bachelor's degrees in English and Creative Writing from Wichita State University. She currently teaches English at Wichita State University and works as a freelance writer and blogger on her website Madison White Writes and elsewhere.

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