As an LLM student, I was faced with submitting three long-form essays with a word count of 8,000 by the end of May. Since these pieces were only slightly shorter than a usual master’s dissertation, I learned a few things about writing longer essays, which I will hopefully implement over the summer while completing my final LLM dissertation.
Read early and widely
As I will repeat throughout this post, writing is not the hardest part. The hardest part is knowing what to write in the first place. Therefore, you need to start gathering a lot of information as soon as possible. While this seems obvious, it is easy to think of an allocated time to do the essay in, for instance, you may start a month or two weeks before the deadline. However, I have found that reading can be done even earlier, in fact, the earlier the better! Reflecting on small increments of reading over a long time allows you to make first reflections that will help you refine your essay down the line.
Any such reflections should be written down in an outline. This can also be done early. There is no need to have all the information yet, but do start compiling a document with a rough plan of the essay. This way, you can just keep adding to it as you keep reading and researching. Once you have this, it is a lot easier to finish the essay in a very short time span if it comes down to that.
Reiterating my point from before, writing is not the hardest part. I have found it a lot more difficult to make a coherent and structured argument that conveys my ideas in a novel manner. If the steps of thinking and writing are split up, I find that I can focus better on one thing at a time. This way, there will be no pressure to get it right on the first try and much easier to edit your ideas in an overview of your outline.
Focus on the work in progress
Both in the stages of outlining and writing, my biggest piece of advice is to not fall into the trap of perfectionism. I have already alluded to this but wanted to emphasise that perfecting your essay should be left to the last few days before the submission. It always helps me to get something on paper and focus on finishing on time, which allows me to improve my answers later without too much pressure of making it in time.
Reference as you go along
Last but not least, I wanted to stress the importance of referencing as you go along. If you are not using a reference manager such as Mendeley or Zotero, I would at least write down the citation in your notes every time you read an article or another source for your piece of work. While you may be able to leave it until the end, it may take up valuable time shortly before the deadline which you could spend working on your answer instead. Therefore, doing it from the get-go allows you to save time later. Trust me – your future self will thank you.