Books & Brains: 5 Steps to A Killer Essay

Today I’m trying out something a little different – I’m starting a series on the blog about university and academic subjects, starting with some help on writing a great essay. It should be said that I study humanities, and specifics of what you need to include in different essays vary by subject, so although I have tried to keep this advice as generalised as possible there may be some parts that won’t apply to the kind of work you’re doing.

 

1. Plan it out.

Probably the most obvious tip is plan the damn thing out. Dump all of your points, reference material, and ideas down on one big page, then start rearranging things until it flows well and you know you won’t have to start repeating yourself. Always refer back to the actual essay title if it’s been set, or if you wrote the title yourself, know that you can adapt it if you find yourself planning something that doesn’t quite fit.

 

2. Reference as you go along. 

Especially with shorter essays, it’s really easy to think that you’ll be able to power through and find the sources you quoted once you’re finished. Do not do this. This is a very bad idea. I can’t count how many times in my first year of university I was scrambling to finish hours before the deadline because I couldn’t find the one crucial article in the depths of JSTOR to put in my footnotes. I’m not saying you have to do all of the formatting at once, but definitely jot down the name of the author, the title, and the page number as you go along.

 

3. Cut the fat.

It’s so tempting to want to show the person marking your essay how much you know, but unless its completely relevant, they won’t care. It’s great that you remember everything you read during your week on feminism, but if your essay is looking at ideas of Marxism you’re just eating up space that could be used to explore your topic better. Same goes for facts, figures, and anecdotes about the thing you’re writing on – if it’s not helping you make a point, it’s a waste of your word count.

 

4. Be critical of the people you’re referencing.

This is probably one of the most difficult things to do, especially if you’ve just started studying, but it’s what’s going to get you those high marks. If you can quote from a source, that’s fine, but if you can also talk about why it might be biased (or in some cases has since been proven to be incorrect) it shows that you’re not just taking everything for granted, but actually thinking outside of someone else’s ideas and capable of coming up with your own.

 

5. Show your work in a research context.

The most valuable piece of advice I ever got about writing essays was given to me during the very last module of my degree, and I was so annoyed I didn’t get chance to use it earlier, and that was to make sure your essay talks about why it’s important that you wrote it. In your introduction, discuss what other scholarship there is around your essay topic (just to prove you’ve read it and demonstrate that you’re doing something new), and in your conclusion discuss how your work could be taken further. Obviously the latter might not always work, especially in your first few academic essays, but anything where you’ve done a good amount of research should have something that closely resembles this in the conclusion.

 

Do you guys have any other tips for essay writing?

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7 ways to slash your food bill

Make (almost) everything from scratch.

If you’re not a particularly skilled cook this is probably the most intimidating thing I could say, but seriously, cook everything you can from scratch. Instead of buying a jar of pasta sauce buy a tin of tomatoes, some herbs and some garlic – boom, two servings of sauce for pennies. Even for things like complex curries there are thousands of recipes for free online, and as soon as you’ve built up a bit of a spice collection you can make almost anything out of tomatoes, rice, and a few veggies.

 

Eat less meat.

Again, a slightly controversial one – the fact is that meat is damn expensive, and even replacing half of the protein in a meat dish with beans or pulses will dramatically reduce the costs of cooking. Using less meat you’ll also be more likely to pad things out with vegetables, which as well as being cheap are way better for you in the long run.

 

Buy healthy snacks in the baking aisle, not the snack aisle.

If you like nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for snacks, you’ll find them in unbranded packaging in the baking aisle – and unlike snacks, baking ingredients don’t get slapped with VAT. And unlike a bag of £1.50 crisps you might eat in one sitting, a large bag of almonds for £3 will likely last all week, and can be used on porridge and yogurt for breakfast too.

 

Substitue ingredients.

If a recipe tells you to use kale, use spinach, chopped up sweet potato can be used for carrots, quinoa can be subbed for rice or couscous, and fresh herbs switched for dried. Don’t be afraid to play around with recipes to swap in more affordable ingredients.

 

Don’t buy branded ingredients.

I won’t pretend that branded packaged food always taste exactly the same as unbranded (aside from cereal – honestly, give it a try and you can save pounds per box), but if you follow tip 1, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But when it comes to ingredients, at the end of the day a tin of tomatoes is a tin of tomatoes, noodles are noodles, and dried pasta is just dried pasta. Don’t waste money on things that won’t even affect the final dish.

 

Meal plan.

I can’t believe I ever used to do shopping without a plan for the weeks meals, because it honestly makes life so much easier. By planning what you want to eat you can put a shopping list together, meaning you never buy excess food and you hugely reduce the number of days when you’re staring into your fridge and thinking about throwing it all in and going out for dinner. Having a shopping list means you won’t impulse buy, either, because if you’re not heading down the crisp or sweet aisle you can’t be tempted.

 

Buy in some freezer food.

I know this seems like it goes against all the other tips I’ve given, but hear me out – you won’t always be up for cooking, and sometimes you’re just too tired to do anything at the end of the day. Instead of rushing out and spending £15 on a takeaway pizza, have some in the freezer ready for these kind of days so you’re not tempted. Even buying my favourite branded pizzas only costs me £2.50 per go, which is a huge saving.

 

2017 Autumn Capsule Wardrobe

Hello everyone! Today I’m going to be chatting a little bit about my autumn capsule wardrobe.

We’re most of the way through September, and admittedly this wardrobe is something I’ve been tinkering with since the beginning of the month, but I think I’ve finally hit the point where I’m happy that this set of clothes will see me comfortably through to the end of November.

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Usually when autumn rolls around in the UK we get a few weeks of delayed sunshine where it’s still acceptable to run around in jeans and a t-shirt, but this year the temperature has dropped really suddenly. I also know that while September and October tend to be quite mild, November can be teeth-chatteringly cold, which is why theres a lot more outerwear and footwear options than i would normally include in a capsule wardrobe.

Although included on the graphic I’ve decided not to count the jewellery in my capsule wardrobe number, just because these are the pieces that I wear daily so don’t alter the outfits that much.

 

Here’s a breakdown of the items:

4 jackets: a winter coat, a rain jacket, a trench coat, and a longline blazer

2 pinafore dresses: a red velvet dungaree dress, and a navy wool pinafore

4 jumpers: a purple v-neck cashmere jumper, a pale blue cashmere jumper, a red crew neck wool sweater, and a lambswool turtleneck

6 button-up shirts: one navy, one flannel, one denim, one patterned silk, one grid print, and one pale blue cotton

4 t-shirts: a long-sleeve stripe shirt, a grey t-shirt, a striped t-shirt, and a sturdy fitted black tank top

3 pairs of trousers: two pairs of jeans, one black one dark wash denim, and a pair of smart trousers

1 skirt: black jersey mini skirt

5 pairs of shoes: a pair of black brogues, black ballet flats, over-the-knee boots, tan Chelsea boots, and black ankle boots

4 bags: a khaki backpack for university, two bucket bags, one tan one black, and a small tan satchel

2 scarfs: one lightweight grey scarf, and one thick tartan scarf

1 hat: a black beret

TOTAL ITEMS: 35

 

I’ve tried to include a lot of layering options, as well as trying to keep in mind how much the temperature will drop over the next month or so. Sweaters can be worn on their own or with a shirt underneath, the light and thick jackets allow the same outfits to be worn in different months, and the shoes are a good range between dressy, comfortable, and water-resistant for when the rain really sets in.

I may update throughout autumn as to how many of the pieces get worn, and which have been my saviours, or even if bad weather means I’ve had to swap out a few things for warmer items.

Are any of you planning a capsule wardrobe for this winter?

Books & Brains: 7 Apps That Will Make You a Better Student

As someone who has just started their second degree, I have the benefit of hindsight when it comes to things that were useful at university. It felt like every year I would download a slew of new apps all promising to make me a better student, but by a few months in almost all of them had gone. So, here is the list of the apps that made the cut, and which I will still be using during my masters degree.

 

Pomodoro Timer

Yes, yes, this is on everyones student app list, but it seriously works. If you haven’t already heard of the pomodoro method, it’s where you work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break, and you repeat the cycle until the task is done. Generally I will take a longer break after a couple of hours of doing this, and this way you’re always rushing to cram more in to the 25 minutes so you’re very productive, but then you don’t feel burned out because of the five minute break.

 

Cold Turkey

This one is seriously a game changer. Cold Turkey allows you to block all distraction sites for a set period of time, meaning you can still work on your computer and use your internet browser without the risk of being sucked in to a social media time wasting loop. You can also make your own lists of distractions and blocked sites, meaning you can make sure you have access to everything you need to study, without the access to all the other junk.

 

Forest

This is the only paid app of the bunch, but it’s less than £1.50 and a great investment. Forest is similar to Cold Turkey in that it restricts your access to a distraction – in this case, using your phone. You can set a timer for how long you want to go without using your phone, and you plant a tiny virtual tree, which grows if you manage to complete the timer. If you check your phone in this time, the tree dies. Guilt works wonders on your self control.

 

Evernote

This is such a great all round app, not just because you can sync up your phone and you computer, but it allows you to shove documents, photos, scans, and little notes all in one place that’s accessible from all of your devices. It’s free and comes with a ton of storage, and works great for storing notes and important documents that all come in different formats.

 

Evernote Scannable

The best thing about Evernote is that it even comes with its own scanner app which links directly to your account, meaning you can scan pages of notes or books through your phone camera and they’re stored alongside all of your other documents. This is a lifesaver if there’s only one copy of the book your class needs in the library, or you don’t have time to digitise your notes.

 

Dropbox

This is another obvious one, but seriously, back up your damn work. The good thing about Dropbox is you get a decent amount of storage for free, plus you can access it from your phone or any other computer. You can also set your computer to automatically back up all files and photos to this, meaning you don’t even have to think about saving your work. You would not believe how many times this app has saved me when my computer crashed.

 

Mendeley  

Mendeley is something which just makes research that little bit easier. It’s an app, available for your computer and phone, which allows you to save, share, and read academic articles from around the web. It also comes with a bibliography generator in all major formats, meaning writing up your references is just that bit less stressful.

 

I’ve been using a combination of these apps for at least the past two years, all of which have been useful again and again and been a huge boost to my productivity.

Are there any other apps you would recommend to students?

 

2017 Autumn Bucket List

I always get a thrill when the season changes, and in the UK this year it feels as though as soon as we hit September the temperature plummeted and we could start hauling out the jumpers.

Although I always love feeling the weather change (especially when Autumn comes around – I can’t cope with heat) I feel like I never fully make the most of seasonal activities, especially as I work weekends so it can be quite difficult to cram things into my week.

After seeing some of these floating around the internet, I thought it would be helpful to create a small Autumn Bucket List, as it won’t only get me excited about the next few months but also gives me a little motivation to get out and do something other than sit in an armchair under a blanket.

Without further ado, here it is (and in cute graphic format, no less)!

 

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Do you have any plans for this autumn?

Why I’m not buying clothes for a year.

This September marks the start of my masters degree, which although is really exciting, also marks the start of a year where I’m going to have some huge financial changes.

Due to the number of hours I can work at my part time job without burning out alongside the very low student loan I receive from the government, although I have some family help to get me through the degree I will be living on less than the UK minimum wage until next September. I’ve already got plans to drastically reduce my food and transport spending for this year (more about that in another blog post), but it never seems to be the essentials that leave me with pennies in my account at the end of the month – rather, it’s the non-essentials that I somehow keep justifying to myself that add up.

It’s for this reason that I’m targeting clothes specifically. Most of the clothing I do buy is either from eBay or charity shops, so it’s not like I’m splashing major cash around to fill my wardrobe, but the fact is, I don’t need more clothes. However limited or unfashionable, I do technically have enough items of clothing to see myself through the seasons without too much of a hassle. The reason I keep buying them, despite having more at home, is because I’m a very self-conscious person. I’m a chronic over-thinker and a plus-sized person, so I use clothes as a substitute for confidence. I somehow convince myself that if I just buy the right outfit, or have the perfect wardrobe, no-one will notice that I have awful social skills or think that I’m actually much thinner and prettier than I actually am.

So, the things I’m hoping to get out of this challenge are this:

  1. To save money. If I’m not spending it on clothes, it can go into savings to help me pay off my student overdraft.
  2. To appreciate what I already own. If I’m not buying anything new I can lose interest in what I already have, plus I will be much more likely to take care of my clothing.
  3. To become more confident. I’m hoping that by wearing the same things over and over again, my thought will be less focused on my appearance and on more important things – namely, my masters degree.

 

Like most challenges, there will be a few rules that I’m going to stick to:

  1. I can buy socks and underwear if the situation gets desperate. I don’t think this one needs too much explaining, plus it would be good to use the money saved from clothes shopping to invest in some more expensive and hardwearing items if needed.
  2. I can get things tailored. I am in the process of losing weight, but I don’t want that to give me an excuse to run out and splurge if I do end up ultimately going down a dress size. I can get some pieces taken if if needed, which is not only cheaper than buying something new, but still means I’m appreciating and caring for things I already own.
  3. I can borrow items from other people/ accept hand-me-downs. In case of emergency (like halloween costumes or cocktail parties) I will be able to borrow items from other people, and if someone (like my mum, who is the same size as me) offers me some of their old clothes, I can accept them, but only if I know I will actually wear them and they will add something to my wardrobe that I didn’t already have.

 

I will hopefully be posting some updates over the next few months about how I’m getting on, possibly alongside some of the outfits that I’ve been putting together with what I already owned. Wish me luck!

Taking a break from the bookish community.

Hi guys, today I wanted to talk a little bit about why I’m making the decision to step back from bookish social media.

I love books. They’re in every room in my house, I wax lyrical about recent reads to anyone who will listen, and obviously, love them enough to run two blogs around them. The issue is that recently I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure and a lot of FOMO from different streams of the community.

I’m not saying that the community is toxic or bad or detrimental in anyway. Hell, discovering the bookish side of Tumblr five years ago is what made me rediscover my love of reading and introduced me to YA and a loving community of other readers. If wasn’t for booklr and booktube, I don’t think I ever would have kept up reading in the same way I have during my degree. I’ve met some amazing friends, discovered books I never would have picked up, and read more than I ever have before.

The issue, if you can call it one, is that the community is so vast, so diverse, and so varied that I’m finding myself constantly feeling under pressure. I watch booktubers who read more than ten books a month, which is just staggering to me, and people hauling upwards of twenty books in one go, talking about how exciting they all are, and all of them somehow find their way onto my Want To Read list on Goodreads. Having this giant, overwhelming TBR at all times that just keeps getting bigger has turned from something amazing to something terrifying, and not being able to read every recent release or recommendation makes me feel like I’m being left in the dust of other readers.

Goodreads itself has become stressful too – although I love having a record of everything I’ve read in any given year, and a place where I can check what other people thought of a book I’ve just finished, feeling like I can’t fall behind with my reading challenge is really affecting the way I read. I avoid long, difficult books, not because I don’t want to read them but because I’m worried I’ll fall behind. Being ‘ahead of schedule’ makes me feel like I’m winning, whereas being ‘behind schedule’ makes me feel like I’m losing – losing what? Reading and enjoying books has never been a competition, but with so many other people to compare myself to, it’s turned into one for me.

Also, because I’m getting so many recommendations at all times, I feel like I’m not discovering anything myself anymore. I go into a bookshop or onto a website with a specific list of things that I want, carefully curated based on other people’s thoughts, and checked against reviews. It’s been years since I’ve wondered into a shop and only bought books I’ve found by chance, going off nothing other than the blurb.

I want to spend some time to reset to zero, as it were, to enjoy reading a book not because it will put me towards my Goodreads goal or so I can post about it on my blog, but because I’m actually enjoying it. I want to feel like I can take the time, unrushed, to work my way through a tough classic, or not worry if I find an obscure antiquarian book that can’t be logged and shared with starred review. I want to get back to reading without obligation, and without stress.