Here are my top tips for writing an essay. Each year I mark hundreds of essays. Most could have got much better grades. Clear, well-structured essays earn better grades. I’ll show you an easy way to write clear well-structured essays.
People hate to write
Most people hate writing. Even professional writers suffer from “writers’ block”. They will do anything else except actually write. Students with assignments do not have the luxury of years to prepare their masterpieces. They work with tight deadlines. If you follow the advice in the earlier post “researching an essay” then you are already past the first barrier, you have begun to write!
Let me explain: As part of the research process, indeed as the goal of that process you have a title and a summary paragraph. I described the summary paragraph like this:
The first sentence should define the areas or issue. The last should present a conclusion. In between the sentences should each address one thing, and together they should present the arguments and sorts of evidence that lead to the conclusion.
If you have actually done this, instead of skipping over it as an unnecessary extra, you have a framework that you will now expand writing your essay.
From summary to essay
You are basically going to turn each sentence into a paragraph or two of your essay. So, how many sentences do you have? (Remember, they need to be short and focused.Long and complex sentences should have been edited out!) If each sentence was a paragraph (of the average length of paragraph you write) how close would you be to the word target? When this estimate is over you may need to begin thinking of what to cut, or trying to write shorter paragraphs – often shorter simpler sentences will help you do this ;) If the estimate is under, you may need to make each sentence of the summary (or some of them) into two paragraphs. Ideally, at this stage, you are aiming to write an essay that will be 10-20% over the word target. Don’t worry at the next step, editing, you will cut it down to size!
These paragraphs should be easy to write – you have already done the research. They will be focused – since each expands on one simple sentence. They will lead your reader sensibly through the arguments and evidence to your conclusion. Congratulations. You will be one of the few students to write a coherent essay!
Already you are on track for better grades. It would horrify you how many incoherent essays teachers have to mark. If you doubt this befriend some (ex)teachers on Facebook ;)
The final steps in writing an essay
You have two tasks left:
Edit, then edit again. Cut the waffle. In speech we need time to think. So we use words and phrases that mean nothing, or which add little to the meaning. They give us time to think. Cut them out!
We imagine descriptive words, especially superlatives, make our writing and ideas stronger. Usually they don’t – cut them. A slimmed down, taut and powerful essay will come out of this painful process!
Write a conclusion. What it will look like depends on the subject and type of essay. BUT it should say nothing new. A conclusion should merely repeat in compressed form what you have already said. It serves to remind your reader what you said. Ideally it also draws attention to how cleverly and in what a focused way you arrived there.