An architectural essay can be a bit tricky to navigate and these tips would also apply to other degrees and courses other than architecture and each course has its own layout, structure and must-haves so make sure you check these with your course leader first. University level essays can be a bit different than college or school ones and actually count towards your degree in some way.
In school / college, you were probably given a certain method or structure to follow. It’s similar in university but things are taken much more seriously. Like plagiarism. It’s just not a good idea so don’t even consider it. Neither is getting someone to write your essay for you, if thats a friend, or a paid stranger. Just follow your course outline and make sure you do the work and it’ll be fine.
Everyone has their own level of writing, some are good, some are bad but it doesn’t mean you can’t be better. Practising writing essays and getting them reviewed very often can allow you to see the changes you need to make and the areas you can work on. For some, it could be simple as grammar and spelling (although there are spell checks embedded into all writing programs, it’s always a good idea to do it manually). For others, it may be the actual content of what you’re writing.
Here in the U.K. students are provided with expert teachers who have expertise in essay writing as well as profound knowledge on most of the topics you and your peers will be writing about. Make sure you use them! After all, you’re paying so much money for a degree.
Essays can be a great way for you to explore the many different aspects of architecture apart from design. You could look into an architect, a building that interests you or an architectural movement. The topic can depend on the generic brief that you get as a part of your course but usually the essay question is up to you. After you start writing your essay, you might question the point of them.
Speaking from personal experience as someone who didn’t really know much about the world of architecture, the essays I wrote opened up a lot sources of knowledge. I was able to recognise various architects and their works, as well as implement some tried and tested ideas and theories into my own work. The essays you write in your first and second year also gear you up for your BA dissertation and eventually a Master’s thesis.
We reckon the most important part of an essay is the research. The research is the backbone of the essay because you’re essentially pulling together different references and adding your own observations and opinions. Credible references are key for any essay and making sure you pick a good article or paper can really help elevate the writing.
We suggest, before even writing those first words, you should do a bit of reading into your topic and even if you don’t want to use any articles or papers, have a quick read to understand the format and the language. We know as architecture students you don’t have a lot of ‘free time’, we get it. But there are a lot of available resources online. It can be as simple as finding the pdf of a book or article, saving it offline on your phone and reading it on your lunch break or on your way to uni.
Sometimes, if you find even one key research paper or source, it can make or break your whole essay. It’s also wise to make sure your topic is worth covering. If there are little to no sources it could get quite tricky later on in the process. Discuss this with your tutor so they can advise your further. It’s also good to mention you will be writing an abstract or a short summary at some point. Ask a non-architectural friend or family member to read it and see if it makes sense regardless of the content.
So, once you have at least a handful of resources, you need to make sure you’re saving them. The best way to do this is to download the articles and save them in a ‘References’ folder. You can do this on your laptop browser or print them and keep them in a physical folder so that you have access at all times or if you’d prefer it that way.
Then, you could create a reference list in a Word document. Don’t spend a long time writing out each reference manually. Instead, go to the References tab then find Citations & Bibliography and add a new citation.
You can also change the style of the reference according to whichever one your university wants and even create a reference list or bibliography with a simple click. Make sure you check this in your course handbook or, if it’s not listed anywhere, clarify it with your tutor or course leader. Some universities are also a bit iffy on the type of fonts you use or what information you have to include so make a note of it somewhere and try set it all out in the beginning.
Being organised about your references and articles means you don’t have to keep looking for that one article you are using a lot and it keeps the documents offline so even if you don’t have great Internet access, it’s available to you whenever and wherever. You can do this even when you’re starting out with your writing so that everything is already there for you to use. When you finish and you’re in the editing stage, you can easily go back and delete any you didn’t end up using. It’s basically better to have more than have none and be struggling to add your references in nearer to the deadline.
The type of references you use is also important because the markers will be looking at whether you just stuck to using the Internet or actually went and found some books or physical material to support your essay. The worst thing you could do to yourself is not use the resources given to you. Some tutors may give you reading material or a list of article to give you a start. Ask if you can include these or not!
Remember, you’re paying for the library and the Internet access as well as all your classes, so make the most of them. Markers will want to see you use books, and some will have a strong opinion if you don’t. Most universities will also allow for student logins to well-known websites that can provide specific articles and research papers with tons of filters.
The Wiley Online Library is great for this sort of thing. Find it HERE.
If you’re struggling, speak to a member of the library staff or if your university has a dedicated team for help with essays (don’t get this confused, they can’t write anything for you) then try get in touch with them or ask a student support officer or your tutors. We can’t stress how important it is to use all the tools given to you. If for any reason, you don’t have access to anything try speak to a staff member who can help you out.
The content and quality of the essay depends on the writer so make sure you have some basic tips and method down before you get stuck in. It also helps a lot if you’re passionate or have an interest in the topic because realistically, why would you be writing about something that doesn’t interest you? It can be very difficult to write about something that a. you know nothing about and b. something you’re not interested in. The topic doesn’t need to relate to you directly, it can be a small aspect or link that you identify with and want to know more about. Remember, it also has to make sense with the brief / theory / topic you’ve been given.
The most daunting task of writing an essay is getting started. Writing the first word. Yes, a blank page is terrifying but what’s more terrifying is writing a 2000 word essay the night before the hand-in. Nobody is saying you have to start with the introduction (although it would make sense) but you can start with the area you’re most interested in. We often take for granted the small wonders of our computers. Everything is going to get edited at some point, so even if you write something you don’t like or you think it would fit better someplace else, you can do it!
After you write the first few sentences you should be good to go. After that, you just need to keep your articles on hand and some notes or a plan of your essay. The environment you’re in should be tailored to you. Where do you work best? A quiet room or in the library is usually the best place. Whether you’re listening to music or watching Friends, it’s up to you as long as you don’t get distracted.
Take breaks! Not only while you’re dedicating time to writing your essay – this is also important – but also every few days. Take a day or two to not focus on your essay and work on your other pile of design work that has accumulated. Then, when you come back to read through what you have written, it will be with semi-fresh eyes. Having a balance between the essay and other commitments is difficult but not impossible. Plan your time, have a schedule, it’s things you’ve already been told so we won’t dwell on it.
After you have written your essay, it can be the best time to come up with your essay title. A 6-8 worded sentence that summarises what you will be looking into is perfect. Coming to such perfection takes time. You could always create a few options and ask yourself or your peers which ones reads best. It could be a standout winner or a mix of a few.
But before you think you’re done, you have to take the time to read over your essay, then read it again, and then read it again. Keep doing this till you’re fully happy with it. A good trick can be to print out the essay so that you have something physical to read. Grab a coloured pen or highlighter and be amazed by how many spelling or grammar mistakes you could find.
Don’t always rely on the spelling checker in whichever program you are using. It can also be helpful if you want to move around chunks of your essay or figure out where you want pictures to be added. Creating physical notes for yourself is far different to seeing the same words on a screen.
Lastly, an architecture essay has got to have some visuals because after all, we are visual thinkers and designers. The most important tip is that the images should be absolutely relevant to the essay and add to it. If the images are just there to look pretty, then don’t bother putting them in because it won’t make any sense and the marker won’t like it either.
You could even scan in some sketches you do to explain features of a building for example. It adds a personal touch that shows you had a real interest in the topic. Don’t forget to add captions to your images and the sources for images you’ve taken from the Internet.
Lastly, the presentation of your essay is also important. As designers, we’re expected, in a way, to create our work to the best visual standard possible. So why not get rid of the standard template essay cover (unless your university asks for something plain) and create a visual yourself. Customise the accent colours or apply a cool format – something that helps you stand out. Check out some cool layouts on Pinterest.
To summarise, the few things that will help you write a great architectural essay are to do your research, save the articles and papers you want to use, make sure you take full advantage of the university resources, proofread your work multiple times and add those useful images at the end.
Let us know what some of the things you do for essays are and if you have a foolproof method for getting through writing an essay. You can leave a comment below or contact us through our social media.