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How To Write An Essay

Getting started

Examine the question. It is important to closely analyse the question.

Look carefully at the key words which the question contains, as these will give you the pointers on how to proceed with your essay.

Researching your topic

Gather your information. Take detailed notes of all recourses to which you refer – either directly or indirectly.

Planning

It is useful to make a rough plan or diagram of your essay at this stage where you write down paragraph headings. Later, when you are actually writing your essay, you will be able to look back at this to remind you of how your thoughts actually progressed and why you made the choices that you did. Structuring your essay in this way will also help with coherence as your argument will be more clearly developed and concise, with paragraphs flowing naturally to your conclusion. Doing this will also reveal any gaps in your evidence or linking which you can sort out before beginning to write.

Writing your essay

At last, the moment has arrived when you begin to write. If you have followed through carefully all the stages above, then this should be the easy part.

Structure

Introduction

Remember that your introduction is the first statement your examiner will read. A good introduction sets out clearly your response to the topic and how you are going to present that response. It’s as simple as that. It is commonly agreed that quotations should be omitted from your introduction as this is where you are going to say what your response is not that of others. Remember to keep your introduction short and to the point ending with a ‘feed’ into the opening paragraph of the main body of your essay.

Main Body

In the main body of your essay, each paragraph should be based on a separate but related aspect of the main topic of the essay. Following the plan you made earlier, write each paragraph almost as though it were under a sub-heading to the main title and supplement each of your points with the evidence you have collected.

Supporting your statements is vital and, in the case of a literary essay, this evidence should also be analysed. This means that you should comment on individual words and/or phrases that seem to you to be of particular interest or importance. Analysis of this kind will not only get you extra marks but will also sometimes suggest additional lines of thought which may be helpful, if relevant to the main argument.

Quotations should not be too long, never more than a few lines at most, except in exceptional circumstances, and should adhere to the referencing style you have been requested to use. It is usual to indent longer quotations and set them out on a separate line, single-spaced, following a colon. Shorter quotations (i.e. a line or less) should be incorporated within the text and enclosed within quotation marks.

Try to end each paragraph in the main body of the essay with a ‘hook’ to the next i.e. an idea that introduces the topic of the subsequent paragraph; follow this up by opening the next paragraph with reference to the link. This will help your essay to flow better and seem to be establishing a pattern which will ultimately lead to your conclusion.

Paragraphs should move on using the basis of furthering the argument. This can be achieved in several ways:

  • Sequential writing, where one event follows naturally from another
  • Elaborative writing, where you develop a point made previously
  • Contrasting/comparing, where an idea contradicts or questions a point in a preceding paragraph

Conclusion

The conclusion should be a summation of your argument. Students often lose marks for presenting an abrupt conclusion which overlooks the implications of the overall argument, its future development and unavoidable contractions/omissions due to shortage of space. It is acceptable to use quotations in conclusions but not to introduce new ideas at this stage. By now, your reader should have been given such a strong sense of your central argument that no further information is necessary anyway. In your conclusion, you are just giving a more generic context to your specific thesis and tying up any loose ends which you feel have occurred during the writing of the essay.

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