The key to writing an excellent essay lies in planning beforehand. Students who start writing without a plan often struggle to answer the question set and may include information irrelevant to what has been set.
When you receive details of the assignment, read it carefully to clarify your word count and the deadline. If the essay is not due for five weeks and you have some free time now, it is better to start now rather than leaving it until later. If you have to rush the essay because you have left it to the last minute, you may end up with a poorer mark than expected.
It is best to read through the assessment criteria carefully and look at your existing notes on the topic. As you read information on the topic – textbooks, journals, academic websites – make a note of each source as you go along. This should save you valuable time referencing later, as it can be time consuming to try to find these sources later. Aim to only read work from reputable academic sources, although it is fine to read Wikipedia at the start to see a brief overview of the topic.
As you gain a greater understanding of the essay question, this is the time to start producing a rough plan of which topics you will cover and in which order. Remember that you can always change this plan later on if necessary. Throughout keep referring back to the question to ensure that your plan is relevant to what you have been asked to do.
Stuck for inspiration?
Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start; a blank Microsoft Word page can be intimidating even for the most seasoned essay writer. Free writing is a technique to help get your creative juices flowing. This involves setting a timer (two minutes may be good to start off with) and then writing continuously for that amount of time. If you are not sure what to write, just write ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over. Spelling and grammar is not important here, as this is just a way of helping you get your ideas out on paper. Once you have written down some ideas, you hopefully now have a basis for further research and ideas to explore.
The overall structure
An essay is like a burger - the top bun is the introduction, the meat is your argument (arguably the most important part!) and the bottom bun is your conclusion. How you decide to structure your argument is up to you. This may consist of:
Introduction –> First Theme –> Second Theme –> Third Theme –> Conclusion
Introduction –> Arguments For –> Arguments Against -> Conclusion
Your introduction should be roughly be 10% of the total word count. For example, this would be 150 words in a 1500 word assignment. If possible, echo words from the title within your introduction. If your title was "Discuss recent developments in communication technology," then in your introduction you could say "This essay will consider recent developments in the field of communication technology…” Don’t leave any room for doubt. Although it may feel that you are simply repeating the essay title, this technique ensures that you are directly answering the question.
It should not be a surprise to your reader which argument you intend to use in your essay. Use words and expressions which clearly show the plan behind your writing, for example: “The essay is divided into four main sections. Firstly, it will consider.... Secondly, it will analyse....” This gives the reader signposts showing what the rest of the essay will cover.
Writing your main paragraphs
Each paragraph should follow a similar structure. You may remember your teachers at school advising you to use this system – this is because it works well! It is known as PESEL.
Point - make a point
Explain - explain that point
Support - support the point using evidence, reasoning or examples
Evaluate - evaluate the point. What are its strengths and weaknesses? How can you overcome any counter arguments?
Link – link this paragraph back to the essay title
An example of PESEL can be found below.
Point - The Nazis used the Gestapo as a successful way of controlling the population.
Explain - This instigated fear and encouraged compliance from ordinary Germans.
Support - After Hitler took control of the Gestapo in 1934 they infiltrated every aspect of life, tapping phones, encouraging people to inform on neighbors and overall keeping a close eye on the population.
Evaluate - However, it must be noted that many German cities had less than 50 Gestapo officers, and they mainly relied on denunciations from ordinary citizens. Thus the popular image of the Gestapo with spies everywhere terrorizing the public does not quite reflect reality, but was effective in squashing opposition.
Link – This illustrates how the Nazi state were able to dominate Germany.
Your conclusion is just as important as your introduction. Again, it should be roughly 10% of the total word count. As the University of Leeds put it, ‘a conclusion is not a summary of everything you have just written. The conclusion should make it clear to the reader what the overall message and argument is that you want them to take away. It should end in a way that is thought provoking, and looks to the future.’ (University of Leeds, 2017. Essay Writing: The Conclusion. [online] Available at: https://tinyurl.com/ycxbuqfy. Accessed 10 August 2017) Avoid simply repeating earlier points that your reader is already aware of.
When you have finished writing your conclusion, look back at the essay title again. Is what you have written directly relevant to the question? If not, you may need to consider changing the conclusion. It is essential to demonstrate how you have answered the question.
Do not include any new arguments or ideas. You should know roughly what your conclusion will include before you write it, as it will be based on your argument throughout the essay.