Tips for Researching and Writing Your Essay
Two years ago, I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the winners of the Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize Essay Contest. Through the essay process, I was able to practice my creative nonfiction writing skills in a way that didn’t seem tedious. As you work on your essay, I recommend that you give yourself enough time to research and edit thoughtfully. Whether you win or not this year, it’s a worthwhile experience to examine the courageous life of Emir Abdelkader and to work on a unique and competitive project.
Below, I’ve elaborated on four key tips to keep in mind as you research and write:
Notes make everything easier!
As you read about Emir Abdelkader — I focused on Commander of the Faithful by John Kiser — it helps a lot to take notes as soon as you find something that you think you’ll want to include in your essay. My preferred method was to have a two-column table on Google Docs where I copied the quote or paraphrase I might use with its page number and the category to which it belonged. This simple table made the process of outlining more efficient.
Reflect on the big picture.
To make sure that your essay captures the essence of Abdelkader’s legacy, you should spend time thinking about why the story matters given its historical context. There are many interesting details you will learn about the Emir and including some in your essay will make it more readable, but make sure that the primary themes are not lost. Consider how others would have dealt with the trials that Abdelkader faced if they were in his shoes.
Then and now…
Building off of the previous tip, once you have identified the significance of the Emir’s legacy, you should apply the lessons to current events. Follow the news! What are the diplomatic and human rights issues that are plaguing our world? Consult different sources — I quoted from the academic work of Edward Said — as you explore similar problems of the nineteenth and the twenty-first centuries. It’s a tough question, but how can we build compassion among people who have been taught to hate the other?
Clean it up!
Even if you have outstanding content and analysis, your essay may not get as far as it should without clarity and organization. Once you have finished writing, I recommend that you wait a day before editing. With a fresh mind, you can catch mistakes much better. Read it aloud a few times. Have your mentor or a friend take a look. Are your sentence structures varied? Is your word choice precise and natural? Is the flow logical? A challenge is to make sure that your essay has a consistent tone. Excitement and care for the topic should be felt through your words.
BONUS: To stand out, find your own voice. Be honest and don’t be afraid to share your upbringing and what surprised or inspired you most about Abdelkader!
Best of luck!
Written by Daud Shad, AEP Blogger
April 2, 2018
If you have not had a chance to enter your essay or poster, there is still time! The Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize deadline is May 15, 2018. More information can be found at http://www.abdelkaderproject.org/about-the-contests/