Each September the university welcomes a new cohort of students to the Foundation Year Program (FYP). The first FYP essay—written, like all FYP essays, in response to an essay question drawn from a list of options—is considered a rite of passage at King’s. On the first Friday of the program the essay questions are released to great anticipation, and papers are due two Mondays later. Not surprisingly, many students find sitting down to write their first university-level essay provokes a few nerves.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get help. Not only are students encouraged to ask their tutors questions and discuss ideas with their peers, but FYP also has its own, dedicated writing coach, Mark Burke. Since 2017, Burke has been working with FYP students eager to improve their writing. As a graduate of King’s—Burke completed his BA in 2003 with a Combined Honours in Contemporary Studies and Philosophy—he knows the material and what’s expected.
“Students can bring basically any FYP-related issue they like to me,” he says. “My focus is obviously on written work, but in FYP it can be difficult to separate out the ‘thinking’ portion from the ‘writing’ portion of the program. As a result, I often find myself talking through texts and ideas with students in order to help them with their writing.
“I try to be as approachable as possible: if you have a question that you think I might be able to help you with, please feel free to ask me. If I don’t know the answer (which happens frequently enough), I will usually be able to point you toward someone that does.”
In addition to being the FYP writing coach, Burke is also a part-time instructor in the upper year honours programs, where he frequently teaches students who he knows from FYP.
“It’s always a pleasure to see students I have worked with either as a FYP tutor or (more recently) in my role as a writing coach,” says Burke. “It’s satisfying to read well-written and insightful papers by students that I have helped previously. I’m happy to say that this happens all the time!”
With the deadline for the first FYP essay approaching, Burke shared a few tips for this year’s cohort.
“Think about what your goals in the paper are, and how each part of the paper contributes to your goals. Ask, for example, how each paragraph fits into your overall plan, or think about why you have used a particular term rather than another. The more thoughtful you can be about the components of the paper, the better they will fit together into a coherent, interesting whole.”
“Separate the activity of thinking about the material from the activity of writing. Thinking takes time, it isn’t something that occurs in a vacuum. Writing also takes quite a bit of thinking – so if you only try to think about the material while you are writing, both the writing and the ideas will be weaker. Don’t be afraid to spend a few hours just thinking about the topic before you begin writing.”
“University can be a test of your ability to manage your time wisely. When it comes to written work, having sufficient space between the completion of the first draft and the editing stage is crucial. Try to approach your paper with ‘fresh eyes’ so that you aren’t too close to see problems. I generally recommend at least 5 or 6 hours between the time you finish the draft and the time you edit it, though a full day is ideal. Note that this is ‘ideal world’ advice!”
“This might sound obvious but, in my experience, it isn’t. Don’t write about something because it is easy, or because you think your tutor will like it. Try to find something that genuinely interests you and then pursue it. Beginning with something that you find interesting will make the whole process more engaging and, generally, will produce a paper which is more likely to be interesting to your reader as well.”
Image: from “Ye butcher, ye baker, ye candlestick-maker: being sundry amusing and instructive verses for both old and young, adorned with numerous woodcuts,” by Robert Seaver; Boston : Houghton Mifflin ; Cambridge : Riverside Press