Writing an essay can seem like a huge task, but with a bit of organisation, a plan and a breakdown of the essay question, an essay can become a manageable assignment.
Here are some tips to help keep the stress levels down and assist you to write an essay you can be proud to submit.
Choose a question:
- Choose a question you are interested in finding out the answer to.
- Define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade? Once you have determined your purpose, you will need to start breaking down the question.
- Highlight the key words in the question. These will become the focus of your essay. These highlighted words will become the focus of your plan. Highlight words that might narrow the argument down, for example, “between chapters 1 and 3”, “during the 19th century” or “with reference to the minor characters”. Use a dictionary to look up any words you don’t understand.
- Highlight what the question is asking you to do. Is it ‘discuss’, ‘argue’, ‘explain’, ‘compare’? Does the question ask for personal opinion or experience? Make sure you keep coming back to these instructions to make sure you are meeting the criteria.
- Don’t Google the question! There may be plenty of answers to the question online, but that doesn’t mean they’re good/right.
Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.
- In order to write a successful essay, you need to organise your thoughts. After you’ve highlighted the key words in the question, jot down your ideas around them. You can do this either in a mind map, spider diagram, or whatever way your planning works best. By taking your ideas and putting them to paper, you will be able to see links between your ideas more clearly, and this will help to flesh them out with examples and evidence.
- A good way to organise the essay is to divide your answer to the question into three parts. If you’re having trouble finding points ask yourself, ‘what are three good reasons this answer to the question is the right one’. Those three reasons become your main points to answer your topic and the ones you will back up with quotes from the text or examples from the performance.
- Note some quotations that may be useful, but also jot down the page number, so you can ensure the source of the quotes is acknowledged and referenced if they’re used.
Write your thesis statement.
- Once your ideas are sorted into relevant categories, you can create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay; it answers the question. To discover your thesis question, look at your outline or diagram.
- Your thesis statement has two parts. The first part states summarises the question and the second part answers it, presenting the point of the essay.
Write the body.
- The body of your essay argues your answer to the question or topic. Each main idea from your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.
- Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. This topic sentence should have impact, so make it strong. Under your topic sentences, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence form, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information (quotes, examples, evidence) that will help link ideas together. Use words like ‘however’, ‘moreover’, ‘in addition’ to link to the previous paragraph.
- Always begin your paragraph with a topic sentence to make clear what the paragraph is about. For example:
“Playwrights often present similar ideas in different ways. Williamson’s interpretation of Hamlet is no exception to this.”
“The death of Tom Robinson can clearly be linked to three people.”
- Explain your point and give a clear example from the text or production to support.
- Finish each paragraph by linking the idea back to the question.
- Embed your quotes effectively and intelligently. Don’t include a quotation for its own sake, or one that floats amongst your sentences. Integrate them into the paragraphs with context. For example:
Richard III defends his actions, believing that, “Conscience is but a word that cowards use” (Shakespeare, Act 5, Scene 3, p14). ü
Richard III defends his actions. “Conscience is but a word that cowards use”. (Shakespeare, Act 5, Scene 3, p14). û
- Avoid passive language or sweeping generalisations. You should use strong, impactful sentences backed up with relevant evidence.
Add an introduction.
- Now that you have developed your thesis and planned the body of your essay, you can write your introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention, show the focus of your essay and answer the question.
- Make sure you name any texts to be discussed.
Write the conclusion.
- The conclusion should do just that: conclude. No new information should be brought up in the conclusion and you should avoid using quotes or evidence in this part. The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. To write a strong conclusion, simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.
Polish your essay.
- If this is a draft, it is important you are submitting your best work for drafting. Your teacher should not be seeing the first draft of your work. You should proofread (reading your essay aloud will help you to find errors) several times and make sure you are giving a draft that is free of errors. If your teacher is spending their time adding or subtracting apostrophes, correcting spelling, telling you to reference or adding inverted commas to quotes, they will not be paying close attention to the content, which is where the good grades are. Help your teacher to get you the best grade possible by submitting your best work for drafting.
- Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Make sure that your paragraph order makes sense and you have effective linking sentences.
- Read the question again. Have you answered it?
- Read the assessment criteria. Have you met the requirements?
- Have you ‘discussed’, ‘explained’, ‘analysed’, ‘compared’ as the essay question asks you to do? Have you included personal experience or opinion in every paragraph (only if the essay question indicates)?
- Delete anything irrelevant and stick to the word limit.
- Read your essay again (and then maybe again!).
- You are ready to submit!