On writing an EMA, by Cora Beth Knowles



As I write this, I’m mired in an EMA up to my neck. I’ve been working on it for two weeks, I’ve written 23 pages, and there’s no end in sight. So now is the perfect time for me to write up some EMA recommendations, because EMAs are on my mind – and because writing advice gives me a legitimate way of avoiding my own EMA for a while!

Here are my five top tips for writing the World’s Greatest EMA:

  1. Time. There’s just no substitute for it. If you start early, things will start to occur to you: in the bath, on the bus, in a lift in Ikea. Your mind will start to make connections between things that you’ve read and can’t quite remember, and ideas based on your own experience. It takes time for all of those connections to bubble up to the surface of your mind: it can’t be rushed, particularly if the subject area is pretty new to you.
  2. Hard work. Well, that’s not going to be a popular tip: but from where I sit, with piles of paper covering every available surface, I don’t see a way around it. I’ve written a lot of EMAs and dissertations in my life, and I’ve never found a shortcut. Putting together a substantial bibliography takes some doing: reading everything in that bibliography is even more of a challenge. Then you have to distil all of that information into a coherent argument, and make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes in the guidance. All of this feels like wading through custard: but the absence of hard work always shows.
  3. Humility. People without humility select a topic and pursue it with aggressive enthusiasm. They don’t go back to the guidance notes and realise that they’ve been missing the point a bit: they storm ahead with confidence, because a great idea is a great idea, isn’t it? If you can accept that your EMA is not about writing the essay you always wanted to write, but is actually about writing the essay your marker always wanted to read; if you can park your ego somewhere and pick it up after you’re done; if you can put the instructions first, and your own preferences last – then you stand a much better chance.
  4. Over-writing. Again, this may not be popular: but I’ve found that it’s a good idea to write more than you need. If your first draft ends up about 500-1,000 words more than the maximum you’re allowed, that’s perfect: it means that you have to trim it. It hurts, when you have to cut out all of the phrases which sounded really clever in your head – but those are the bits that will make you cringe when you re-read that draft a year later!
  5. Lowering the bar. Somebody said that to me, years ago, and it was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given. After a while you can get so caught up in fine-tuning your writing that you lose all perspective: that’s the point at which you need to lower the bar, and accept that your EMA is as good as it needs to be. You’re not writing the definitive work on the subject: it’s just an essay!


Now, the only thing that remains is to see whether I can take my own advice. Hard work – that’s the key. Of course, Bake-Off is on, and I need to check my emails, and the washing has to be put away, and I meant to colour-coordinate my files so that I can find things a bit more easily. But I’m sure I’ll get it done before the cut-off…


Cora Beth Knowles


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