Writing is hard. People underestimate how hard it is to sit down, come up with an idea, drum up relevant research, whip up something resembling a draft, and then whip the grammar and style into the shape you want. True or not, sometimes it feels like the people who understand this the least are instructors. Whether it’s unreasonable page counts or headache-inducing research requirements, essays are the bane of many a student’s existence.

For those of us who struggle particularly hard in school, essays can go from a bane to a GPA death sentence in a jiffy. Nevertheless, essays are an assignment like any other, and there are countless strategies for making them suck a little bit less.

Before heading to the troubleshooting, a few pointers that I think nearly anybody could benefit from:

  • Perfectionism is the enemy. Say that out loud if you must, then say it again. It’s almost always better to turn in something decent on time that fulfils the requirements than it is to turn in something that does not fulfill the requirements but is otherwise beautiful. Your instructor probably knows that their requirements aren’t the most conductive thing in the world to gorgeous writing. It’s okay.
  • Make sure you understand the topic and the requirements. If you don’t, do whatever the heck you need to do to understand them. Your mileage may vary, but you’re liable to lose so many points if you use the wrong citation system or are missing a necessary source.
  • Whoever’s grading your paper probably can tell if you wrote it all in one night, or if it’s otherwise rushed. They may or may not care for various reasons, and it might not even affect your grade if it’s otherwise decent. But even if you do it expertly, they can tell. Trust me.

As for dealing with the essays themselves, I find most of the problems can be sorted into a few different categories.

The essay is too intimidating, my ancient monkey brain is not conducive to writing it!

  • Take a look at the linked article on procrastination for a few general tips about dealing with this sort of a thing.
  • Can you ask someone else to help keep you accountable, such as another student? If you both just say to each other “I’m going to have [part] done by [day] and I will show it to you on that day”, you’re both a lot more likely to follow through.
  • See also if there are school tutoring services that can help keep you accountable.

They’re just so boring!

  • Can you do something to help make the topic more interesting? If you have any latitude about what you want to write, try to get creative on how you can tie the goal of the assignment into your existing interests or hobbies. Have to write an environmental piece but all you want to do is play video games all day? Ask if you can write about Bioshock.
  • Even if you have no control over the topic of what you write, perhaps you can find something interesting to tie it into anyway. Humans are hard-wired to enjoy learning, but we tend to only enjoy learning about certain topics. You can help short-circuit this using humor or leveraging your existing interests. For example, trying to find something funny about a historical incident while doing your research, or trying to find a cool way a certain scientific principle has been applied.
  • If you have a condition that makes boredom harder to work with, such as ADHD or Depression, try talking to your professor about it. Be aware they may not believe you have a medical reason to avoid boredom, but otherwise they may be willing to work with you to find a compromise.

Research itself is too intimidating

  • What is the least intimidating way to do research for you? Some people prefer to research online, while others prefer print sources. Choose whichever one of these is more comfortable for you, not the one you think will lead to the better end product. Ultimately, reducing your stress surrounding the project will lead to a better end product overall.
  • If you’re having trouble finding sources in general, try talking to your instructor, especially if you have little control over what you’re allowed to write about. Chances are they’ll have decent specialized advice for this assignment.
  • What else can you do to make the research process more comfortable? Even creature comforts like snacks, blankets, and doing the research at home instead of at the library can make a big difference.

Whatever problems you may have with essays, they are not insurmountable, and you are not alone!


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