How To Write An Effective Architecture Essay
Architecture essay writing gives us skills in communication, conducting research and conveying our ideas in a coherent manner. It can also be a useful skill if you plan to work in other areas of the architecture industry such as media or journalism. Essay writing also helps us to understand existing theories and case studies which can further our knowledge of the profession as a whole. You never know how it can also tie in with your design projects to give them another angle or level of complexity. But it can be quite difficult as a creative to write effective essays since this isn’t typically a strong suit of ours.
The reason why essay writing is a common module across all years is because it helps to develop your persoal interests and opens you up to the various theoretical influences within the industry. Of course, you may wonder how essays as an architecture student may differ to those of other courses. Really, there isn’t much of a difference in the actual writing and structure, but unlike other courses, you are able to branch out and incorporate your creativity through the design of the architecture essay - which is actually part of the marking scheme.
So there is room for you to add elements to enhance the look of your essays and with more complex projects such as dissertations or a thesis, you are also able to weave in bits from your design projects and references, case studies and methodologies. This is really common and I would suggest you make the most of this as it can help strengthen your work across modules.
what should your architecture essay be about?
Picking a topic for your architecture essay can be daunting, especially if you haven’t been given a starting point. Sometimes you might be given prompts, themes or general questions to work with. But the number one feedback you’ll get is to “be more specific”. This may seem repetitive and vague but often the best essays are the ones that tackle or explore a golden nugget that you are personally invested in. I think it’s important when choosing a topic to make sure you actually are interested because, well, you’re going to be writing a few thousand words about it. Sometimes htis may link to your design project or themes, or other times it can be totally unrelated - which is completely fine!
This is why doing your research is really important. Try not to be too dismissive when you begin because you are still trying to figure out what your golden nugget is. The sources you find at the beginning may not be the ones that end up in your essay and that’s okay. The initial research doesn’t need to be through complicated journals either as you can find your ideas through articles or videos.
tools and systems
In terms of the tools and systems I’ve adopted over the years, this has evolved to be much more precise and organised. I find that having these systems in place makes your life much easier to plan essay as well as execute them. A great video I’ve gone back to by Elizabeth Filips called How to Write a First Class University Essay in 3 Hours has helped me to mark out chapters of my thesis or architecture essay.
This is a really good base to work with and of course it can be done in my favourite project management system, Notion. I’ve written previously about Notion and you can find several templates to help you get started as an architecture student over on my store. I’m also going to be making a YouTube video on how you can use a similar system specifically for architecture essays.
Another such tool is MyBib. There are similar tools and websites out there which aim to help you organise your sources for your architecture essay but I find MyBib really easy to use and intuitive. Usually you can search for books and journals just from the title and it’ll find it for you and fill out all the necessary information in your chosen style. The export features are also great and MyBib saves your bibliography so you don’t need to worry about saving it all the time.
You can also copy the in-text citations to use whenever you need them so you don’t have to worry about writing them out each time. Finding tools like this really does make your life easier and can help you be more organised. For note-taking purposes, I try to do a similar thing in Notion by creating a gallery database and sorting by types of sources i.e. books, websites and articles. Then I can go inside each page and make notes of my own to then use throughout the essay.
When conducting your literature review you can either skim read and come back to it when you start writing your draft, or, you can stay one step ahead and make notes as you read. These don’t need to be formal sentences, just thoughts or ideas you might have and how it can relate to your research question. Then, when referring to the table you’ve made breaking down your chapters and aims, you can come back and quickly pick up the specific ideas you want to include in your architecture essay. Research and planing goes a long way and can help you avoid the writer’s block or fear of a blank page most of us get when starting a new writing project.
Reading other essays also helps quite a bit because you begin to put on your academic hat. Do try to avoid using unneccessary jargon to make your points seem complicated. I think if you’re leaning towards saying stuff in a complicated way, try and find synonyms for the word you’re trying to replace without sounding repetitive - I do this a lot! If you don’t know where to begin on finding essays, this can be something you could request from your module coordinator or even speak to students in the years above you if you can have a look. When reading other architecture essays, don’t just focus on the text itself but have a look at the structure and the kinds of things you can learn from it. For example, writing about the methdology of your research in the first chapter can set the structure for the essay going forward as it’ll help you get a better sense of the order in which you need to present your findings.
incorporating sources seamlessly
One thing that is difficult to do is finding a natural way to include quotes and references from other texts without sounding unoriginal or like you’ve dismissed any other readings. If you use the system I mentioned above where you create a set of notes for each source you find, you’ll be left with a bank of quotes that you can use throughout. When setting up your table, it may also help to include a column with sources so that your key ideas are also backed up by a text you’ve read. You might choose to include that specific quote and build your point around it, or you might have a go at revisiting the text alongside your writing. I think the latter is a good way of working because it will keep things fresh in your mind and you might also find unexpected golden nuggets you didn’t notice previously.
Another tip is to try and avoid phrasing the quote like ‘XYZ has mentioned in their text ABC that…’ because while this is common practice it might come across like you’re forcing in quotes because you know you need to. Instead, try to frame a sentence around a quote instead, which will help it feel much more natural. I personally try to use maybe 1-2 references per paragraph or 200 words as a rule of thumb but if you are specifically discussing a certain theory or case study this could be more frequent.
design and effort
As I mentioned previously, the creativity and design of your essay is also included in the mark scheme so do take your time to try and spice things up and make it look visually interesting. For my 4th year essay on Shopping Sites, I used a graphic style of retro computer illustrations to frame my essay as if it were an old webpage. I used coloured icons for each of my chapters and even created a scroll bar for each page. The design itself doesn’t need to be complicated, just interesting enough so that it looks like you’ve thought about the context and really put in some effort.
The first place I would begin is Pinterest. Obviously, the design depends on your topic and the tone of the essay too but keeping things like formatting, colour and fonts do make a big difference. There are even websites such as Behance which you can use to find editorial designs which you can use as a starting point or template for the design of your architecture essay. Just have fun with it!
I hope that’s given you a solid framework to start with. Writing effective architecture essays can be done with a strong plan, in-depth research and a touch of creativity. Let me know if you have any question in the comments below or drop me a DM on Instagram @to.scale