The first rule concerning how students should set about writing academic essays is that there are no universal rules, since what works well for one writer may not suit another person. You may have been told in school that ‘you should always begin with a plan’ or that ‘you should develop your essay through successive drafts’, but even such general guidelines suit only some people, some of the time, and may even be counter-productive for others. You need to try to find approaches that work for you – and which earn you the grades you warrant.

Few people seem to rush off an entire and effective essay with minimal editing. Students need to learn to do this for exams, of course. People who are good at this are blessed, but: it is a strategy which works well only for a small minority; it might not work with every essay; and some of these writers could sometimes produce better essays if they planned their essays more. Re-reading what you have written remains essential – at least to avoid careless slips. You may like to show what you have written to a colleague to read with a critical eye.

Many people make use of the strategy of developing a workable plan, executing that plan and then minimally editing what they’ve written. If you have a very clear idea of what you want to write this can be an effective use of limited time and if it suits you or your task, that’s fine. Those who write like this jot down lots of ideas and rework them gradually through major revision and reorganization into an essay. People who feel that writing is a way of thinking for them may make effective use of this approach. It can be useful as a way of generating initial ideas and dealing with the more manageable points within an essay before you have a clear picture of the whole issue. However, one disadvantage is that it is very slow.