Essay writing tips for Scientists in the making

1.  Understanding the Question – Comprehensive analysis of the title or question:

  • Read it several times
  • How many sections are there?
  • Break up into key words/segments – Underline/highlight key words
  • What do they mean?
  • How can they be interpreted?
  • How does it link to course lectures?
  • What else do I need to find out?
  • Discuss with others

2. Research

Make a list of:

  • All the questions ideas that have arisen from analysing question/title
  • All the information that needs to be found
  • Where to get the answers: notes, books, library …

3. Read quickly to find information

  • Use contents page, index, headings, sub headings
  • Read first sentence, summary, conclusion
  • Scan for key words, phrases

4. Read carefully to improve understanding of the information

  • Pay attention to what you are reading
  • Try to prevent your mind from wandering
  • Re-read ‘missed’ material
  • Be an active reader – Make outline notes, draw sketches, boxes, doodles to organise ideas

5.  Tips on Note-taking

  • Develop good note-taking
  • Note sources for referencing
  • Put quotation marks round direct quotes
  • Have a system for keeping notes ( I use endnote. Easy way to organise your references)

6. Analyse the Information

  • Find links, themes, differences etc
  • Cross reference the information: use a map, coloured post-its’, coloured highlights
  • Draw graphs, bar charts if relevant
  • Be critical – ask: which information is important, is the question being answered? – only use relevant information
  • Look at the bigger picture
  • Be independent and draw your own conclusions

7. Writing the Essay

  • Do a rough draft – Don’t expect to it get right first time
  • Use own words – Keep direct quotes to a minimum
  • Include references to ALL work that is not your own
  • Draw diagrams/graphs to illustrate and explain, where appropriate
  • Proof read draft and edit – more than once if necessary

8. How to Acknowledge your Sources

  • Word-for-word:  quotation marks and reference [i.e. make a footnote, endnote or put information in brackets if using Harvard system].
  • Author’s idea in your own words (paraphrase):  no quotation marks, but reference.
  • No need to reference things that are common knowledge


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