Some of the most common medical essay writing mistakes can be avoided with proper planning, practice and presentation. Here’s how to improve your essay writing skills and give yourself the best chance of writing a winning essay on exam day.
1. PAY ATTENTION TO ESSAY STRUCTURE
The traditional essay structure includes three key sections: an introduction, several paragraphs outlining the core arguments, and a conclusion.
Your introduction should briefly outline what the essay will cover. Within this, you should include a ‘thesis statement’ which articulates the main idea or argument of your essay.
The body paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence, which outlines the focus of the paragraph, and the following sentences in the paragraph need to develop the idea in the topic sentence with clear evidence and examples. Finally, aim to wrap up everything nicely in your conclusion without repeating any arguments or introducing new ideas.
If you stick to this essay formula, your arguments will be clear and well-structured – with plenty room for development.
Some tips to help you pay attention to the essay structure include:
- Plan – before you start writing, sketch out a plan which includes notes for the three key sections
- Write your introduction last – writing the ‘perfect’ introduction can take up a lot of time and energy – particularly when you’re writing under pressure; writing your introduction last can be helpful because you already know exactly what your essay will be about
- Practice – make sure you have written several practice essays in the traditional essay format before you start and try to get your hands on some samples – so you have a comparable standard
2. WORK ON YOUR GRAMMAR, SPELLING AND PUNCTUATION
Spelling and grammatical errors can result in lost points, regardless of how strong your ideas are. Having good ideas is one thing, but articulating them clearly is something else entirely.
If English is your second language, take time to learn and study the craft of writing. Read other people’s writing and study sentence structure. Develop your vocabulary in general but also in relation to the subject you’re writing about.
Tips to help you improve your writing skills include:
- Read widely – read articles, textbooks and writing in your medical field as well as outside it
- Develop your vocabulary – read a variety of medical materials so you can enhance your medical terminology and understand how these terms are used in context
- Practice – again, you will only be able to develop your writing skills and vocabulary through practice, practice, and more practice
3. STAY FOCUSED
Sometimes, you might feel tempted to write about a topic or idea you’re comfortable with, instead of addressing what the essay question is about. You could write an amazing essay, but if it doesn’t address the essay question or topic then you will lose marks.
Tips to help you stay focused and ensure you are adequately addressing the essay question include:
- Circle the keywords in the question – look at the themes and ideas in these keywords and use these to help you develop your focus
- Don’t try to rewrite past essays – try not to rewrite any practice essays you may have written in the past (unless they are 100% relevant to the topic)
- Practice brainstorming – get your hands on some essay questions or quotes and practice the brainstorming aspect to help it seem less daunting
4. ADDRESS THE KEY SELECTION CRITERIA
Whenever you write an essay as part of your exams, there will be specific criteria that your essay marker will use to assess your essay. It’s vital you familiarise yourself with this criterion and keep it top of mind when you’re writing your essay.
The essay writing criteria contains general requirements like proper grammar, being able to demonstrate a range of arguments related to the topic, and a clear conclusion. But it will also include discipline-specific requirements, such as discussions of the socio-political, historical and cultural themes related to your medical field and being able to demonstrate an understanding of the recovery model, for example.
Tips to help you address the key selection criteria include:
- Think of the criteria as a checklist – and confirm you have ticked off everything in the list before you can submit your essay
- Ensure you have the latest criteria – criteria can change, so be certain that you’re referring to the latest version when you’re practicing
- Write practice essays that address the key selectioncriteria – if you haven’t practiced writing an essay that addresses the criteria before your final essay, you may struggle to do this on the day
5. STAY CALM ON EXAM DAY
It’s normal to have some nerves on exam day, but if you find yourself in a panic, you might procrastinate, ramble or struggle to formulate clear sentences.
The more you practice essay writing, the more confident in your abilities you’ll become – meaning you’ll be more likely to cope with any type of question that comes your way on the big day.
Tips to help you stay calm include:
- Deep breathing – if you’re feeling very anxious, put down your pen, close your eyes and take a series of deep breaths until the feeling passes
- Stay positive – when negative thoughts arise they can make you feel stressed and anxious, so develop a series of positive messages to help you overcome your nerves
- Practice writing under pressure – the best way to reduce the likelihood of nerves jeopardising your success is to practice under strict exam conditions
Other tips to help you improve your medical essay writing skills
- Pay attention to your handwriting – clear handwriting wins over poor handwriting every time, so pay attention to your handwriting, and practice writing clearly
- Be consistent with your tense – choose one tense, usually third person – you may not lose marks for writing in the first person but generally third person is more formal, convincing and relevant to the academic style
- Opt for quality over quantity – don’t assume that more words will get you more marks; you’ll be marked on the quality of your arguments, how convincing they are and how well they address the key selection criteria
- Avoid unnecessary complications – awkward vocabulary, long sentences and complex terminology can all complicate your essay and make it harder for your examiner to understand your ideas
For almost two years, I’ve been helping Psych Scene course candidates to improve their medical essay writing skills with training, personalised feedback and suggestions for improvement on their practice essays. If you’d like some help with your essay, please contact me.
About this Essay Collection
The essay collection is available for download at no cost:
The Internet with its three billion users – and digital technology more broadly – have fundamentally changed the ways in which we as individuals communicate and collaborate with each other, how entrepreneurs and businesses operate and innovate, how young people express themselves and engage with the world’s knowledge, and how governments interact with their citizens. As we begin the 21st century, the digital ecosystem continues to change and evolve globally, regionally, and locally, as more and more people around the world become connected, next generation technologies and business models emerge, and the lines between the online and offline increasingly blur.
In many respects, Asia is at the forefront of the next wave of digital transformations, whether we look at the massive growth in connectivity, innovative use of digital technologies to build smart cities and infrastructures, or Asia’s cultural diversity as we reimagine and rebuild the future of education, commerce, or healthcare. With the imaginative power that comes from the wealth of diverse people and cultures, Asia is expected to significantly shape the future direction of digital technology and the evolution of society over the decades to come, not only regionally but also globally in today’s interconnected world.
Against this backdrop and in order to inform decision-makers in the private and public sector about these transformations, a diverse group of academic, civil society, and private sector partners from Asia and beyond have come together to launch the Digital Asia Hub as an independent, non-profit Internet and Society research think tank based in Hong Kong (www.digitalasiahub.org). Initially incubated by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University with its regional partners, the Digital Asia Hub will serve as a nonpartisan, open, and collaborative platform for research, knowledge sharing, and capacity building related to Internet and society issues with a focus on digital Asia. The Hub, led by an Executive Director, Management Board, and Steering Committee, also aims to strengthen effective multistakeholder discourse, with both local and regional activities, and will contribute to – and itself serve as a node of – a larger network of academic organizations: the Global Network of Internet & Society Centers (www.networkofcenters.net).
The essays collected in this book are intended as an initial contribution by an emerging and open interdisciplinary research network consisting of students, researchers, entrepreneurs, and many other collaborators who share a deep interest in digital technologies and their role in improving life in Asia’s digital 21st century. Based on an open call for participation and to celebrate the launch of the Digital Asia Hub, this book brings together a series of reflection pieces written for a broader audience in form of short essays that address some of the key research topics the Hub may explore in the future, including digital rights, governance and infrastructure, innovation, open manufacturing, digital trade, trending technologies and technology spaces, mobile technology and ts impact on access, education, entrepreneurship, and the use of ICT for development and civic engagement.
The selected essays – written by twenty-six researchers (including student authors) and other stakeholders from across Asia – offer kaleidoscopic reflections on the guiding topic “The Digital Good Life in Asia’s 21st Century,” and are grouped into five broad chapters: “Connecting the Unconnected,” “Being Online,” “Digital Economy,” “Governance, Rights, and Policy,” and future perspectives (“Onward”). The contributions in this book reflect the diversity of insights, ideas, and perspectives that we hope will form the core and spirit of the Digital Asia Hub. Some of the reflection pieces are closely connected to the research topics of the Digital Asia Hub, others reflect more generally on personal observations and opinions, or highlight and discuss insights and learning from specific case studies or concrete projects.
By making these reflection pieces available as we celebrate the launch of the Digital Asia Hub research network, we hope to stimulate independent and interdisciplinary research exploring both the opportunities and challenges related to digital technology, innovation, and society in Asia. Additionally, we hope to work towards a robust community that shares a deep interest in and commitment to Internet and society research as the Digital Asia Hub seeks to engage in and support cross-cultural, sectoral, and interdisciplinary dialogues and collaborations.