Hello 2014 Freshers! Hopefully, you’re all enjoying your time here at Brunel University so far! Even though Fresher’s Week is long over, you’re probably still busy socialising and exploring the university’s clubs and societies – and of course, the bars!  So the last thing on anyone’s mind is how well you’re going to perform academically this year. “But first year doesn't count for anything!” you all shout happily back at me, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Why not utilise this year by brushing up on your essay-writing technique? If you master writing academic essays now, you won’t struggle with them in your second and third years.

So, what is the difference between a regular essay and an academic one? Well, let’s put it this way, you’re going to have to ditch Sparknotes and start taking some actual notes. That’s if you want to pass, of course. Sure Wikipedia can still be used for the off date-check but make sure that is all it’s used for. You’ll very soon discover that the sites that got you through A-levels aren't going to be recognised as legitimate sources when your bibliographies are assessed by members of university staff. So my first bit of advice to you is to actually attend library tours and learn how to navigate around and locate sources and journals. If not now, you’ll be spending many-an-hour by these books in the near future so make sure that you get acquainted with the section and floor that the books from your subject area are in.

When told that you need to include sources in your essays, this simply means that you need some evidence to support your points. This can be from books or from academic journals which can be accessed online via JSTOR, for instance. To access academic journals, simply go to Brunel’s Library homepage and click on databases. Next, click on the letter J, scroll down to JSTOR and follow the link provided. You may be required to enter your Brunel University network username and password that you have been provided with, and you should really know by now. Now simply punch in what you’re after in the search box and browse the online journal database to your heart’s content. Remember though, that journals are there for you to explore existing academic work related to your field, and to increase your understanding and knowledge. You may use quotes from journals here and there in an essay to support your argument, but it is very important that your argument takes priority. After all, sources are secondary material.

Another thing many first-year students find themselves doing is reading and selecting excellent quotes for their essays but frequently they forget to make a note of the source’s details, and then comes the rushed scramble to find that one book that was returned to the library weeks ago. Word of advice: whenever you find a quote that you’re going to use in your essay, make a note of the book’s title, author and/or editor(s), the publishing company, year of publication and page number so that you don’t find yourself in trouble for plagiarism, albeit unwittingly.

As for some general essay-writing tips, I suggest reading the question carefully, and ‘chunking’, which simply means identifying the various components in a question, breaking them down and tackling each accordingly. Also, be sure to define key terms and outline your argument in your introduction to signpost precisely the angle that your essay will take. For the bulk of your essay remember the point, evidence, explanation, criticism (PEEC) structure which will come in very handy and assist you in producing a concise and coherent essay.

If you should need further advice on issues related to formatting, presentation or if you have any general enquiries regarding essay writing, consult your module booklets which usually contain very useful information. You can also speak to personal tutors and lecturers who will no doubt advise you on these matters. Finally, there is the brilliant Academic Skills Service (ASK) in the library who offer to assist you with things such as grammar, formatting and presentation, so fear not, there are plenty of lovely people and services in place to help you.

And… that’s it! You have made it this far and I’m sure you have your own unique method for tackling essay questions. I hope these tips are beneficial to you and wish you the best of luck in your time here at Brunel University!