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5 steps to gaining confidence in essay writing

The student perspective series

First year university students often feel immense pressure to achieve academic success while also participating in the stereotypical student experience such as joining societies, attending events, and making new friends. Balancing this with new academic processes such as increased workloads and prescriptive referencing rules—all vastly different to the experience at secondary school or college—can be extremely challenging.

Amelie Streller
Amelie Streller
Marketing Intern at Turnitin and Student at Durham University

First year university students often feel pressure to achieve academic success while also participating in the stereotypical student experience such as joining societies, attending events, and making new friends. Balancing this with new academic processes such as increased workloads and prescriptive referencing rules—all vastly different to the experience at secondary school or college— can be challenging.

As a second-year student at Durham University, I’d like to share my story about how managing new writing challenges built my confidence and helped me maintain integrity, even when deadlines were quickly approaching. Here are a few pointers to build your confidence and reduce stress during the essay writing process. And if you're an educator, why not share my tips with your students?

1. Writing an essay at university takes practice

Your first essay does not need to be perfect. Learning something new is, after all, one of the main reasons for attending university. By putting too much pressure on yourself, you are prone to feeling exhausted and burnt out, so instead, be your strongest ally. Use the comprehensive feedback your professors provide to hone your skills and improve your next piece of work. Often UK universities have policies in place that state your first year does not impact your final degree classification, providing the opportunity for you to learn, improve, and impress in second and third year.

2. You must plan and use your time effectively

Writing an essay can be hard when there are so many distractions. My advice is to invest your time well to minimise stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed during the writing and submission process. Increased planning will make essay writing much more enjoyable; instead of writing and researching for two days straight, you’ll be working on your essay for just a couple of hours every few days. In addition, you’ll have time for leisure activities such as going for walks, hanging out with friends or even watching Netflix.

3. Tricks for referencing

In your first few weeks at university, professors quickly start discussing citation and referencing. It is important to know which referencing style your university uses, for example Harvard, MLA or APA. This is often covered in introductory lectures or shared with you in your Learning Management System, like Blackboard or Canvas, but if you’re struggling to locate it, make sure you ask your lecturer before you start your assignment.

Referencing, overall, does not need to take hours. A key tip is keeping track of all your references throughout the research process. If you wait until the end of your essay to start referencing, you run the risk of forgetting the origin of your quotes and being forced to remove them from your assignment since you should not include a quote without a full citation and reference.

4. Don’t stress about essay submissions

The final step is submitting your paper. Try to keep in mind that all essays are learning experiences and you can relax after submission. Your institution might make you submit your assignment through an academic integrity software, such as Turnitin. This stage can sometimes induce anxiety for students, but, if harnessed correctly, education software, like Turnitin, can support students rather than inhibit them. If you have done your research, tried your best and your work is your own, you should have nothing to worry about.

5. Talk to your module leaders

Your module leaders are experts at writing academic papers and should be able to help you understand an assignment's requirements. Lecturers often have marking criteria that is a guide for them but can also benefit you in understanding how your teachers plan to mark your essay so you can plan and write in a way that meets their expectations.

These steps have been designed to help you build confidence in your own academic writing and produce high quality work that oozes integrity. Copying or bypassing rules may seem the easiest way to avoid these stressful situations, but from my experience, learning to write your own work and being confident in your own abilities is not only crucial at university but also later in life. Give those essays a go, make mistakes, and learn from them!