How to: write a good essay

Essays. The bane of every student’s existence, one might agree. Me? I beg to differ… to some extent. Honestly, I quite enjoyed the essay-writing aspect of both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees; not only am I a passionate writer, but I was – and am still – deeply passionate about my courses of study, which made the processes of learning about, conducting research into and producing pieces of work based on such a hell of a lot easier. Throughout my studies, I saw every essay, fieldwork study and report – even my 16,000-word master’s thesis, as lengthy (albeit interesting) as it was – as an opportunity to develop my written communication skills; writing is a craft which becomes more easily attainable to master with every piece. Don’t get me wrong: like many students, I often lacked motivation to begin, continue and complete an essay; procrastinated some to the night before (and, in a couple of cases, the day of) its due date; and fought the very real urge to frustratedly throw my laptop at my bedroom wall – believe me. Nonetheless, my best pieces of work – on the basis of their grades and my satisfaction upon completing such – were those that I’d invested ample time into. As a student, it is only inevitable that you might not feel as motivated to produce some essays than others, but for when you are motivated, here are some tips on how to produce a great essay.

Do your research

What good is an essay if you haven’t done your research? The point of an essay is to execute your argument in response to a question or statement posed by your professor in a clear and competent manner, and to acknowledge alternative perspectives to clarify the validity of your argument. Whatever the topic, make sure you do your research; investigate past literature on the subject by various scholars, identify gaps in the literature and consider how the literature can assist in explaining your argument.

Plan the structure

I can ~almost~ guarantee that every good essay ever written was planned. Hell, it was only possible that I achieved a first on the essays I started the night before because I had a plan; without a plan, I would’ve been screwed. Planning doesn’t have to be over-complicated; I planned most of my essays by creating sections and bullet-pointing under each section header the points I wanted to communicate. Be it a list, a mind map or a detailed proposal, whatever works for you – make sure you plan your essay.

Allocate enough time

Again, in my experience, my best essays were those that I spent the most time on. I know, I know – it can be hard to fathom how to best prioritise your assignments. But, once you do, I can assure you that you can make the time to write your essay. As I recommend in my blog about how to be more organised at university, invest in a diary, download a countdown app or even create your own study timetable to not only keep track of your deadlines, but to plan your time around producing your essay.

Proofread it all

When planning your time to produce your essay, it’s so important to incorporate enough time to proofread your essay. I’ve already written a blog on how to successfully proofread your work but, in sum, proofreading is a vital step in the essay-writing process because it enables you to not only identify any errors or mistakes you might have made as to spelling, punctuation and grammar, but also to ensure that you’ve covered everything you intended to. As per my proofreading blog, you can proofread your essay in a variety of ways.

Submit a draft

Most of the time, your professors will offer you the opportunity to submit a draft of your essay and, if they haven’t vocalised it, they will probably accept one if you ask. In any case, take the opportunity to submit a draft to your professors (provided you submit it approximately a week before the deadline) so they can provide feedback on the work you’ve already produced and perhaps offer some suggestions on how to make it even better. From that one draft, your essay could gain just a few more marks which can make a great difference.

Whether you’re heading into sixth form, your first, second or final year of university or your first year of postgraduate study, I hope these tips were helpful on how to produce a good essay!

As usual, I welcome all comments and questions in the comment section below or via the form on my contact page.

Happy writing!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav

How to: proofread (essays, dissertations, theses)

Finally! At long last, you’ve reached the end of that seemingly endless assignment – the one that you’ve been working on day and night for the last 5 days straight, the one that you’ve been dreading most of all, the one that you deemed almost impossible – so, that’s it! Done! Finished! Complete! Right? Unfortunately, wrong; it doesn’t quite end there. After such hard work, there is one final – and vital – step that must be taken in producing a high-quality piece of work: proofreading. Whatever the assignment, be it an essay, a report or a dissertation, it is imperative to proofread it to identify any errors, mistakes or issues as to spelling, punctuation and grammar, clarity and overall presentation. Proofreading provides an opportunity to refine your work; of course, no assignment can be perfect, but proofreading can absolutely assist in boosting an assignment’s grade from a 2:2 to a 2:1 or a 2:1 to a first. Nonetheless, it is completely understandable that you might struggle to find the motivation to proofread your work after putting so much time and energy into producing it. As someone who loves to proofread (call me crazy, but it’s true; I even run my own freelance proofreading business), I wanted to share some tips for students on how to effectively proofread and when it is best to do so.

1.    Allocate some time to proofread

I get it. When you have so many assignments to do on top of one another, it’s hard to try to complete them all before their deadlines with some time to spare for proofreading. However, this is a really important step in the process of completing your assignment for the reasons given in the introduction. Not only should you make a note of all your deadline dates (as I suggest in my blog about how to be more organised at university), but you should also set yourself personal deadlines to complete your assignments at least a couple of days before the official due date. That way, once you’ve finished the writing up of the assignment, you can close it, call it a day and proofread it with a fresh mind the following morning. It is also important to give yourself a break in between completing and proofreading the assignment so as to not fry your brain!

2.    Read it to a friend or family member

Sometimes, the best way to decipher the clarity of your work is to read it aloud to a friend or family member. Even though your work will most likely require specific terminology related to your field of study to demonstrate your understanding of such, a great way to think about how to produce a clear and concise piece of work is this: “if a lay person were to read it, would they understand it?”. That’s not to say that your piece can’t be articulate and/or include highbrow vocabulary but, particularly for a fieldwork study or dissertation, think of it as a recipe: if somebody – anybody – were to read your study, they could replicate it. Reading your work to a friend or family member that hasn’t studied your course will help you determine the clarity of your work. Likewise, you can ask them to read it to themselves and provide feedback on anything that was unclear (or not – it could be entirely positive!).

3.    If you don’t want to read, listen

Want to know something amazing? Microsoft Word has a function whereby it can actually read your work to you! What’s more, you can alter the reading speed and voice to your preference! It’s like listening to an audiobook of your work. Like I said: amazing, right? When I discovered this function, I didn’t stop using it to proofread my assignments. In listening to your work, it can be even easier to spot errors or mistakes – especially spelling ones as you can hear the word being said incorrectly (Word doesn’t always detect spelling errors or mistakes, particularly if it still spells a real word). It also provides some time away from the screen; while it highlights each word as it is being read aloud, you can stick your headphones in, close your eyes and just listen. This was my favourite method of proofreading throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

4.    If you don’t want to listen, print

Another great method for proofreading your work is to print it out. After spending so much time in front of the screen to type up your assignment, it can be difficult to spot any errors or mistakes on said screen when you come to proofreading it. However, if you print the assignment, it can be easier to identify such errors or mistakes because the printout is larger and thus sometimes clearer. Again, it also means that you can spend some time away from the screen and read it more peacefully. The best part about printing drafts, in my opinion, is that you can annotate all over them – you can cross elements out, add some words or sentences in and draw on any missing punctuation – and use such annotations for reference when you go back to editing it on your computer.

5.    Send a draft to your professor

If you’ve completed your assignment at least a week before the deadline, your module professor will likely be happy to read a draft and provide some comments either by using the comment function on Word, writing some overall comments in an email or sharing them in person. After all, it is often your professor who provisionally marks your work before it is sent to be examined externally, so there is no better person to read it than the person who runs the module! In my experience, my professors always told us when they were accepting drafts and, when I provided them, they were as helpful as they could be; unfortunately, they can’t tell you whether it’s fulfilled the criteria (they usually tell you that upon your final submission), but they can definitely guide you.

Overall, it is vital to proofread an academic piece of work for a variety of reasons. It demonstrates that you can communicate in a clear and competent manner, that you pay attention to detail and that you take pride in the presentation of your work; skills that professors and examiners seek.

As usual, I hope you found these tips useful and I welcome all questions and queries in the comment section below or via social media or email (you can find my contact details here). Alternatively, if you’d like more assistance from me with proofreading, you can visit my proofreading business website PavProofed.

Happy proofreading!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav

Undecided whether to do a master’s degree? Here’s my experience

You’re approaching your final year of university. It won’t be long until you’re due to enter the “real world” of full-time work. You have no idea what you’re going to do upon graduation. All your friends have plans – one wants to go into law, another is going to become a teacher and another ~ somehow ~ landed a graduate position at a corporate company amongst thousands of other candidates – but you don’t. You have an inkling about what you want to do, though; “I kind of like the sound of HR”, “I think I want to go into speech and language therapy”, “I could go into events”, but what should you do in order to get there? Do you complete a year of unpaid work experience? Do you spend hours, days or even weeks on end sending out job applications, only to receive declinations from most? Do you study for a master’s degree related to the industry you’re interested in? This battle when approaching the end of your degree is one of the hardest to overcome; I know because I’ve been there. I’ve already written a blog about how I changed my career prospects after completing a PR & Marketing Internship for a luxury brand in the summer of 2017, but this blog is for those who are considering postgraduate study upon completion of their bachelor’s. In response to interview-style questions as asked by me (lol), here’s my master’s degree experience.

What did you study your master’s degree in?

I studied my master’s degree in Global Marketing Management. I chose this course because, upon completing said internship, I began to develop a passion for marketing. Of course, I researched the course’s content before I came to the conclusion that it was the course for me (I also considered Forensic Psychology, Audiovisual Translation and Computer Science as I enjoyed my linguistics-based bachelor’s degree modules in Forensic Linguistics, Bilingual Language Use and Syntax so much and thus contemplated careers in forensic linguistics, audiovisual translation and computational linguistics, too!). The course offered 7 content modules covering the likes of e-marketing, brand management and performance management and required us to complete either a dissertation of at least 16,000 words or a “consultancy project”, a report based on an organisation with which you would need to partner for fieldwork access. I opted for the dissertation for which I explored the extent to which TfL respond to consumer complaints on Twitter in line with linguistic theories of politeness (because I had to incorporate my passion for linguistics into it to make the completion process somewhat easier) and the advice of marketing professionals on handling social media complaints.

Did you enjoy your master’s degree?

100%. I know some of my friends didn’t enjoy it so much either because it covered content they’d already studied in their business-based bachelor’s degrees or because it required so much research and writing (which, to be fair, they’re right about; 6 modules required a presentation and a 3,500-word report, 1 module required a group presentation, a podcast and a 1,500-word report and our dissertation proposal required approximately 4,000 words; along with our dissertation, that’s a total of 42,500 words, for crying out loud!), but I loved it. I didn’t mind the amount of reports not only because writing is a hobby of mine, but because it allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the content we covered in each module. I enjoyed every module because all the content was entirely new to me and the nerd in me loves to learn something new. I learned how to be an effective marketing manager and how to thrive in such a career. Hence, I think it’s safe to say that I got as much out of my master’s degree as I could.

Dissertation submission day (a.k.a. the best day EVER)

Do you think doing a master’s degree has helped you to get where you want to be?

Yes. Not completely, but yes. I say “not completely” because I am yet to land my first “official” marketing position, but everything I’m doing now, I’m doing with the intention to get there. I only graduated with my master’s degree in late January 2020 and, around the same time, the role of Assistant Store Manager became available at the store I was working at part-time whilst completing my master’s and thus began working at full-time upon submitting my dissertation. I saw this post as a great opportunity for me to begin developing my managerial skills on a greater scale; while I gained so much sales, some team leader and little marketing experience alongside my degrees, the purpose of studying for a master’s degree in Global Marketing Management was to enable me to become, well, a manager. Although marketing is the industry in which I intend to land such a role in, I always seize every opportunity that becomes available to me to enhance my skillset and experience. Plus, I don’t think I’d have been offered the position if it wasn’t for the portfolio I’d created surrounding everything I’d learned as to what it means to be a good manager throughout my master’s degree as I’d never been one before and our store is one of the company’s flagship locations. I’m sure that holding this position will be pivotal in allowing me to progress to the next stage of my career.

Should I do a master’s degree?

That’s the real question. If you’re not entirely sure about what you want to do upon your bachelor’s graduation, should you do a master’s degree or pursue one of the other avenues like unpaid work experience or the never-ending job hunt for the “ideal” position? In my honest opinion, you’ll just know whether a master’s degree is the right path for you. If, like me, you’re academically driven and you’ve not studied the subject before, then it probably is. I’d never ~ properly ~ studied business or marketing before – not at GCSE, not at A level, not ever – for which reason I decided that studying the subject in a university environment, which I was already used to, was the best course of action. The truth is: all your options have their benefits. In some ways, gaining unpaid work experience – whether it’s for a week, a month or a year (has the Friends theme tune interrupted your reading process? If it hadn’t, it has now) – is similar to completing a year-long master’s degree but without taking out another hefty loan (wait, now it sounds better…) because you’re there to learn; the main downfall is that you might have to juggle another paid job on the side to get by. Likewise, job searching after university is not a bad idea; hell, it sounds pretty standard, right? As an unemployed graduate, however, it can be extremely tedious and, if you’re seeking a position in an industry unrelated to your degree, you might find that you need x amount of work experience in such. But, you never know: you could be one of the lucky ones.

Master’s graduation ceremony

How should I prepare if I want to do a master’s degree?

If you decide to study for a master’s degree, I recommend preparing in the following ways:

  • Do some pre-master’s research. It’s important to be certain about the course you wish to study. Research the course’s content and module’s on the university’s website, compare it to other universities’ courses in the same field and research the subject in general on Google or via any contacts you may have. This will provide you a greater insight into the subject and whether the course is right for you. My course even offered an introductory module when I signed up on the university’s online portal which yours might do, too.
  • Be organised. It’s even more important to be organised throughout your master’s degree. Remember, it’s postgraduate level for a reason. In some aspects, it’s going to be even harder than your bachelor’s degree; you might find that you have more deadlines in closer proximities, the requirements for assignments more difficult and the further independence from your professors slightly unusual. If you’re in need of some organisation tips, I’ve written a blog all about how to be more organised at university as both a bachelor’s and a master’s student.
  • Enjoy it! The most important way to prepare is to ensure that you enjoy the subject. A master’s degree is a commitment much like your bachelor’s degree. There is no point in committing to another one-to-two years at university if you’re not going to enjoy the subject. Once you’ve done your research into it and decided that it’s right for you, try to commit to your lectures, deadlines and meetings with your dissertation supervisor as much as possible, all while making the most of it!

All in all, I really enjoyed my master’s experience. Like I said, I learnt so much about a subject I had very little knowledge in beforehand, I was lucky enough to make some wonderful friends with whom I could enjoy postgraduate life with (I’ve also written a blog about how to enjoy university as an off-campus student if you’re living at home throughout your master’s degree) and I think it has enabled me the ability to progress more quickly. If you enjoy studying and are considering a career prospect in a field new to you, then a master’s degree might just be the way forward.

As usual, I hope this helps and I welcome all questions in the comment section below or via social media or email (you can find my contact details here).

Graduating students, I wish you the best of luck and, if you’re going to do a master’s degree, have fun!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav

How to: build a (modern) CV

I built my first CV at the age of 14. In Year 10, we were provided the opportunity to complete a two-week work experience during term time and the position I’d landed for the second week (I worked at two local theatres in the first week and in the women’s department of Bentalls Kingston during the second) required a CV as an application. I’d booked an appointment with a lady from the work experience department at school to help me build my first CV who was very helpful in explaining to me what information to include, how to format it and how to make it stand out from other applicants. Ever since, I have been keen to remain knowledgeable on how to build a successful CV, especially as what is perceived as such by employers is everchanging. Further, not only did I gain a fair amount of work experience alongside my studies from sixth form through to postgraduate and was therefore eager to improve my CV every time it needed updating, but, as an Assistant Store Manager, I have also assisted in the reviewing of CVs and even conducted interviews upon reviewing such myself. Based on both my own research on CV-building and experience in recruitment, I wanted to share some tips for students and recent graduates on how to build an effective CV.

1.    Keep it simple

According to James Reed, author of The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview (2019), a recruiter spends just – in case you hadn’t figured from their book title already – 7 seconds looking at a CV. Why? Think about it: they can have hundreds of applicants to review in a short space of time before they start inviting some for interviews. So, in order to ensure that your CV passes the 7-second test, my first suggestion is to keep it simple so as to not overwhelm the recruiter. By this, I mean:

  • Include a short objective. If a recruiter only takes 7 seconds to scan an entire CV, keep your objective short. In just two-to-three sentences, you can explain a little bit about yourself, your current position and your goals. This information will be enough for the recruiter to know whether you’re the kind of person they’re looking for and decide whether to continue looking at your CV.
  • Use headings. Headings make it really clear to the recruiter where to look for information regarding your personal profile, experience and qualifications. For instance, on my CV under my name, contact details and objective, I have the headings “Experience”, “Education”, “Key Skills” and “Websites”.
  • Keep a uniformed colour scheme. For the modern CV, it is absolutely acceptable to use some colour to make it appear more attractive and to highlight certain information, but try not to go overboard. If you’re going to use a colour scheme, keep it uniform and professional; don’t use neon or unreadable colours, for example.

2.    Use or follow a template

The modern CV is far different from the traditional one; it’s extremely rare that you’ll come across a CV nowadays that uses the Times New Roman font, follows a one-column structure and sticks to one font size. Instead, recruiters love a CV that – as mentioned above – has a bit of colour, includes columns or text box-like sections and somewhat reflects your personality. If you’re unsure on how to structure your CV, there are an abundance of templates available to use or follow online. For instance, when you select the “new” document option on Microsoft Word, a search bar appears which enables you to search for online templates; a simple “CV”, “resume” or “modern resume” search will generate plentiful templates. Likewise, graphic-design tool websites like Canva too have hundreds of templates to choose from; you might be required to sign up, but a free account offers you many benefits.

3.    Keep it relevant

Oftentimes, candidates will try to include as much information as possible from every aspect of life in an attempt to land the interview. However, if you’re applying for – say – a Sales Associate role, is that one cake sale you assisted in setting up in Year 8 really relevant? Probably not. If you’re in such a position where you have no work experience (we’ve all been there), think about what is more relevant and helps to define who you are, such as any qualifications you’ve achieved or any extracurricular activities you’ve committed to for longer than a one-hour cake sale. If you are experienced and are seeking something new, include relevant descriptions of your previous roles to the one you’re applying for; if they’re all similar, you might want to consider summarising your key responsibilities across all your past roles in one place so as to avoid repeating yourself.

4.    Try to keep it to one page

Again, think about it: if a recruiter spends an average of 7 seconds looking at a CV, they’re certainly not going to look at more than one page per applicant. If you use or follow a template, as I recommended above, it is entirely possible to keep all your experience to one page. This is where the “keep it relevant” tip becomes even more relevant for more experienced candidates. Like I said, I’ve had my fair share of roles since I was 16 and have several headings on my CV, but I’ve managed to keep it to one page because I’ve only kept what’s relevant. For instance, under the “Education” heading, when I completed my A levels, I had my A levels and GCSEs on my CV; when I completed my bachelor’s degree, I had my bachelor’s degree and A levels on my CV (I removed my GCSEs to save space); now, since I completed my master’s degree, I have only my bachelor’s and master’s degrees on my CV and have removed my A levels to save space. Also, I removed my first ever job not long after gaining a few more titles; it was important to have on my CV when I applied for my first “official” job, but now, who needs to know that I worked as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant for three months? (Oops, now the whole world knows…)

5.    Be honest!

We’ve all heard the “everyone lies on their resume”, like when Joey Tribbiani claims that he can tap dance, ride a horse and drink a gallon of milk in 10 seconds which he ~ successfully ~ proves (one thing I haven’t mentioned on my blog yet is how much of a Friends fanatic I am – you’re in for a treat!), but – on a serious note – it’s not worth it. Why lie when you can be honest about your actual skills, hobbies and interests and experience? Once again: we’ve all been in the position where we feel as though we have ‘no’ experience to showcase, but you’ll always have something, like your A levels, extracurricular activities and any voluntary work you’ve completed. If you really have ~ no ~ experience (although you probably have more than you think), there are always opportunities available. If you’ve never partaken in an extracurricular activity, you can join or create a society at university that interests you. If you’d like to complete some volunteer work, you can ask your university or around your local area. If you’re passionate about something like writing, art or textiles, you can create your own portfolio. Anything that presents who you are and why you are right for the role is enough to make you the ideal candidate!

Joey Tribbiani Friends GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Credit: giphy.com

As usual, I hope you found my tips useful and, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comment section below or by contacting me via social media or email (you can find my contact details here).

Good luck and have fun with your CV creations!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav