The Bad Student’s Guide to Writing an Academic Essay



Before we begin, it’s important to be prepared. Writing an academic essay is very stressful, and good preparation is key. I suggest a couple of whiskeys, but you might prefer gin. I decided to start late at night, a few hours before it is due. This will ensure everything I write is fresh and current.

Although they specify that they want electronic submissions, evidence suggests that lecturers much prefer work that is handwritten. Preferably on scented pink paper.[1] Pink paper is proving hard to find, which might be a problem.

Occasionally, lecturers use words that are unfamiliar. I decided to incorporate them into my work anyway, as I don’t have time to discover their meaning. Words like “elucidate” (a casual romance with Lucy?) will enhance my writing and give an impression of academia. If I run out of intelligent-sounding-vocabulary, there is always a dictionary. I will choose words at random, and smatter my sentences with unexpected phrases.

I’m thinking that pictures might be another good source of marks, especially as I’m not accustomed to writing long essays. ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is very true, hence a couple of well-crafted sketches of ancient scholars means 2,000 less words I need to write.[2] I suspect an oil painting would receive more marks, but even a pencil sketch is worth a shot. (You could trace it if art isn’t your thing.)

I decided not to read any books, it’s much more important to voice my own views, and the more extreme they are, the more I think a lecturer will enjoy them. As a teacher, I can confirm that reading variations of the same view 30 times is very boring. We are required to use footnotes, but I am hoping these can be of anything.[3] If I decide to add a quote of someone else’s words, I shall phone my mum or Aunty Ethel. They will be glad of the chat and I can jot down a couple of their sentences at the same time.[4] I also intend to add lots of random dates for emphasis.

Not reading any books will also avoid plagiarism. At school, we called this ‘copying’ and you were told to move seats. At university, it is more serious, and they take you into a small room and remove your thumbs. At all costs I must avoid plagiarism.

Writing a bibliography did seem daunting as I haven’t read any books, but this too can be easily remedied: I will go to the library and pick a shelf. Any shelf will do, it’s a theological college, so all the books will be relevant. Remove about 20 books. Write their details into my bibliography. Sorted.

Apparently, real scholars write papers which are then peer reviewed. This is mentioned frequently, so I assume it is important. I think a peer is another word for ‘friend’ and a review is basically just a comment. I therefore need to make some friends (cupcakes might help) and ask a couple of them (the friends, not the cupcakes) to read my work; then ask if they like it. Voila! I am a scholar.

I do hope these tips are helpful as we steer our way through the adventure of becoming an academic. Do feel free to quote me.[5] Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x


[1] Evidence for this may be found in the documentary: Legally Blonde.

[2] Whilst this phrase might seem an unsubstantiated claim, in research 99% of people could finish the phrase when asked, hence proving it is true.

[3] These little numbers make your essay look very academic, and it doesn’t really matter what they say. If you assume that marks are designated for appearance rather than content, then a footnote looks very professional. Add them at regular intervals.

[4] For example: Ethel Smith (2021) stated: “You can’t trust a monk.” (2021, Ipswich)

[5] Anne E. Thompson @ anneethompson.com (2022)

Anne E. Thompson
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