With exams being cancelled for a second year and grades hinged on coursework and class assessments, writing a strong essay is more important than ever. It can be especially overwhelming when questions are broad and you have no idea where to start. A strong essay should have a detailed plan, but it will also need to develop a coherent argument that is relevant to the question.
Step 1: Understand the question
Take time to understand the question that you will be answering; underline or highlight any important information and note how many marks you will be awarded. Remember: asking your teachers or tutors for clarification on a question you don’t understand is normal! When trying to understand a question, think about the following points:
- Is the question open-ended or closed? If it is open-ended you will need to decide which aspects to focus your answer around. You will need to explain how and why you have decided to focus on this area in your essay introduction, so make some notes on your reasoning.
- If it is a closed question, your answer must refer to the question and stay within any limits it mentions, i.e., specific dates, texts, or countries.
- Break down the different parts of your assignment question. Figure out what the task word means (e.g.- discuss, argue, describe) and identify specifically what you need to write about.
Step 2: Brainstorm your ideas
Once you have familiarised yourself with the question, you can start to brainstorm your ideas. This can be done in a variety of ways, including lists, mind-maps, and tables, find a brainstorming method that works for you! Remember: Anything you choose to explore in your essay must relate back to the original essay question. Think about the following points:
- What you know about the topic – from lessons or reading.
- What you don't know about the topic but need to find out to answer the question.
- Possible responses or answers to the question, consider your own opinion and what the main point you want to argue is.
- What reasons do you have to support your main argument?
- Identify some questions you can use to guide your essay research.
Step 3: Researching the essay topic
Once you have some ideas down on paper, you can move onto the research stage. You need to find out information that will help build you essay, support your arguments, and show off your knowledge and understanding of the topic to the examiner. Think about the following points:
- Go through class notes, taking books out from the library and searching online for studies and articles from credible websites. Ask your teacher if you are unsure whether a website is a creditable source or not.
- Organise and group your findings into key points. For example: Which points are related? Which are counter-arguments? You should also decide what the overarching argument of your essay is going to be, based on the evidence you have gathered and analysed.
- Keep track of where you have obtained information from so you can reference quotes or statistics in your essay. You don’t want to be unknowingly plagiarising someone else’s work, and it’s easier to find references if you’ve written them down!
- Ask questions and challenge points of view – you want to create a well-rounded essay that explores all points of view, even if they challenge your own.
- Only note things that are relevant to your essay title. You don’t need to include everything about your chosen topic, this will cause your essay to lose focus and confuse the reader.
Step 4: Drafting your essay
Creating an essay plan and drafting a clear outline is important when writing a strong essay. This will ensure that you have a coherent argument with clear points; it will also allow you to work in a logical structure without the risk of forgetting any information. Make sure you decide on a logical order for your points, making sure your reader will not get confused – communicate with them at every step. Remember: Each point should link to the one before it and after it. Use paragraphs to help your essay flow better. Use the following essay outline to help you:
Introduction: This should address the question and how the essay will answer it. Develop an overall mission statement.
Main Body: Build your argument. Put your ideas in a sequence to make a persuasive argument. Remember to stick to one main point in each paragraph.
Start with a topic sentence to introduce the main point of the paragraph; explain that point further; provide evidence for the point; interpret/analyse the evidence; then summarise the point and indicate how it links into your overall argument.
Each paragraph should link to the next using transition words or phrases – such as ‘alternatively;’ ‘consequently;’ ‘as a result’; ‘furthermore...’
Conclusion: Summarise your arguments and evidence and show how they answer the original question.
Step 5: Writing the Essay
Once you have finished your outline, you’re ready to start writing! Refer to your notes and outline if you get stuck. It’s vital that your proofread your essay before submitting, reading aloud will help you identify any spelling or grammar mistakes. Remember: Do not be discouraged by any feedback – your teachers want you to get the best possible grades and will always give you tips on how to improve.
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