How to write an essay

How to write an essay

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If you're working your way through your degree, you may well be required to write a number of essays for your assessment. This can be tricky if you don't have a lot of experience in essay writing, so today we're sharing tips on how to manage the essay-writing process.

Researching

To begin your essay, you first need to research the topic at hand. The earlier you begin this process, the easier it will be, so try to start well in advance. You should collect materials that you'll need, such as library books or online journal articles, and read as much as possible that might be relevant. At this point, you can take notes on any specific issues which seem to be important, but your primary aim is to understand the bigger picture.

Structuring

Before you start writing, you want to ensure that you have a basic structure in place. This will help to focus your writing and prevent you from going off-track. Most essays will follow a similar structure, for example:

What is X / What are the causes of X?

  • - A brief introduction to why the question of X is relevant or interesting to your discipline or to the world more broadly.
  • - First section: one view about X, often the traditional or older view, which you should set out as objectively and fairly as you can.
  • - Second section: a different view of X, perhaps a more recent or more controversial theory, which should also be set out factually and fairly.
  • - Third section: a discussion of what evidence or arguments supports the first view, and what supports the second view. You can begin some analysis here – making judgements about whether or not you find certain pieces of evidence or argumentation to be convincing.
  • - Fourth section: further factors for consideration. Perhaps there is a third theory or view to be considered, or a very new piece of research which shows some support for both the views you previously described. Or perhaps there is information from a different discipline which could be relevant to your argument. Here is the place to put your original ideas and to show your own thoughts.
  • - Fifth section: overall, do you find the first or second view presented to be more persuasive? Why is this? Show how the evidence or reasoning led you to one conclusion over the over.
  • - Conclusion: very briefly summarise everything you have said so far into a few sentences, to remind your reader of the take-home message.

You may need to adapt this structure to make it fit with your particular essay question, but this format is generally what is expected.

Writing

When it comes to the process of writing, some people like to be secluded away with no noise and no distractions so that they can concentrate. Others find listening to music helps them to focus, or that they need regular breaks for brief socialising such as getting coffee with a friend. You should try out various locations and environments until you find one which makes you most comfortable for writing, but that does not have too many distractions. When in doubt, the university library will have all the resources you need, and little in the way of chatter to distract you.

One useful tip is that you don't have to write your essay in the order in which it will be read. Introductions can be hard to write because they require you to summarise a very large amount of information. So you can start writing by skipping the introduction and beginning writing your first section, and then come back to the introduction once you are more comfortable with the topic.

Editing

Finally, it's important that you edit your work for clarity and to correct small mistakes of spelling and grammar before you submit it. Ideally, you want to take at least 24 hours away from your essay after finishing it before you edit. This will help to ensure that while you are editing, you are reading what you have actually written, not what you intended to write. If you must edit in a hurry, then it can be very helpful to have a friend check over your work. Even if they are not in your field and may not understand the content of what you have written, they can spot language mistakes and help with your editing process.

We hope that these tips can help to make your next essay fantastic! For more tips for students, check out our other Insights.