Throughout the learning journey students will be required to write essays as routine assignments in their own time and later under the pressure of examinations. Learning how to write an essay effectively to convey information, points of view and to address specific points is an important skill to master. Below we’ll explore some of the key components to consider when writing an essay.
1. Understand the question
First things first, spend time properly reading the question. What may seem like a small detail could actually be an important instruction. What is being asked in the question? Does it ask for an essay or a speech? Perhaps it requires the student to write a persuasive piece. Is there a set number of related texts you need to refer to? Reading the question slowly and absorbing its meaning is the first step to a good essay.
This is much easier to do for an assignment, as you will have more time at hand. Read and research into the topic, and, if time allows, read around it to broaden your knowledge. Don’t limit this to websites! Books, journals and publications will all offer different viewpoints and information. Think of it like food for your work, the more and wider variety you can include, the healthier your essay will be. However, if it is an exam essay, you should have a pretty good idea of the texts that are likely to come up in questions and you may even be allowed to take certain pieces (such as set books or poems) in with you. In addition, if you’re preparing for exam essays, always refer to and practice past papers so that you become familiar with the language, style of question and the type of essays you might be asked to produce during the exam.
3. Plan and Draft
Whether for homework, coursework or an exam, always make time to plan and draft out your essay. This is especially important during an exam as it will help formulate your ideas and help to structure your answer properly. Some students might prefer to do this as a quick spider diagram to cover the main points of the question or simply as a list of bullet points and statements they want to address during the essay. It helps break the task down into smaller, more manageable chunks.
4. Key Information
When creating your plan, jot down the key information you want to include – a quote here, statistics there, references from journals you want to include. This could just be keywords against areas of your plan to help jog your memory. Don’t forget to refer back to your overall plan.
This is linked to planning, but the structure of an essay is crucial. A solid introduction to bring in the themes of the essay, a conclusion to wrap it all up and several body paragraphs. Keep to your plan and try to avoid ’filler’; this will not only waste time on a but will dilute the clarity of your essay and affect how well the marker feels you know the subject matter. Try and stick to the ‘PEEL’ principle of Point, Evidence, Example and Link for each of your paragraphs. This will help you know when you’ve written enough and help you move on to the next one.
If you have been given an essay as an assignment, don’t leave it until the day before the deadline to get started. You’ve likely been given several weeks to complete this as the teacher or professor is looking for an appropriate level of detail to warrant this time period. In an exam setting, make sure that you allocate your time properly. The first part of the exam is often smaller, lower mark questions with the essay sitting in the second part of the paper. Some students find that it’s worthwhile to spend less time on the lower-mark questions to allow them more time on the 30-mark essay question.
7. Don’t Panic
We all know what it’s like trying to get your thoughts down in a limited time frame, with adrenaline coursing round your body. If you do get stuck, just take a minute to help you remember the argument or fact you’re trying to recall. If you can’t recall it, leave a bit of space to come back to it and continue with your essay. Again, try and steer clear of filler so that it doesn’t dilute your content and essay structure.
Finally, don’t forget to try and allow just a few minutes to re-read your essay to make sure you’ve answered the question to the best of your ability. Good Luck!