The idea of writing an essay can be daunting, especially when you’re being assessed on both your ability to present a clear argument and on your general writing skills and use of grammar.
We’re going to address both of these elements in this article, so stay tuned for plenty of tips and tricks related to essay writing.
By working on your essays you can improve your coursework to make an impression on your teachers and secure top marks.
Make an Outline of Discussion Points
Every great essay begins with a plan.
While there are exceptions, and some people can put together a coherent argument without first sitting down to plan it out, it’s rare to find a solid essay that wasn’t first planned out.
You may think that an outline is a waste of time though, that it takes away from time you could spend actually writing the essay.
But when you see the outline as the foundations you are going to build your essay upon, you will start to appreciate the importance of it in everything you write.
A common misconception is that a plan has to meticulously lay out everything you are going to say in the essay in excruciating detail.
This simply isn’t true.
A plan can be made in less than thirty minutes, and it should start with a broad overview of what you’re going to say.
Before getting caught up in the individual points you want to make and the research you’ll draw upon, it’s worth first creating a brief overview of your argument.
This is like the blueprint of your essay and can be as little as a few sentences or a paragraph.
In the overview, try to sum up what your argument is for the essay and how you will reach the conclusion.
For example, if the topic is on whether teaching online is as effective as teaching in the classroom, then decide the stance you’re going to take and then construct your points around it.
If you think teaching online can be as effective as teaching in-person, then write the most compelling reason you believe this down in your overview and then list strong points that support it as well as a few counter points for balance.
Once you’ve written out a brief overview, focus on the individual points you want to make to support your argument.
For most essays, three or four points which further your position on the topic should be more than enough provided you have done a good amount of research.
Once you have fleshed out these points into coherent ideas, then you can find evidence to back them up through research or looking through the text if it’s a literature assignment.
After constructing the key points in favour of your stance, find at least one or two counter arguments. This lets the reader know that you’ve conducted thorough research on the topic, not only on the ideas that you support.
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The Content of Your Essay
When it comes to the main content or the body of the essay, the two most important things to bear in mind are clarity and coherence.
Without one or the other, it becomes very difficult to improve your essay writing and general writing skills.
It’s much better to have a strong argument based on weak evidence than it is to have a diluted argument built upon strong evidence.
What I mean by that is it’s easy to get carried away as you write your essay and branch off into other areas you believe support the overall argument.
While it’s good to provide a well-researched account covering all of the bases, you should try not to get sidetracked with information that doesn’t pertain to the essay title or question.
If the title is about online teaching and your argument supports the idea that it’s as effective as in-person teaching, you probably shouldn’t talk too much about the importance of group work in the classroom or how teaching a foreign language requires a different methodology.
You can certainly link in relevant information, but sometimes these detours detract from the clarity of your argument and make it seem weaker as a result.
As well as making sure you focus on clarity in your writing, you should also do your best to keep things coherent.
That means having a flow to your key points, which lead to a logical conclusion based on what you’ve said.
Creating this sense of coherence will usually begin with the plan.
Once you have your points written out you should determine an order to present them in which makes sense.
One way to order your points is to go from a broad overview of the issue, and gradually zooming in and getting more specific as you go.
For example, to use the online teaching example, you could start by discussing the merits of online education, then the role of a teacher in a video class vs in-person class, and then the crux of the issue which is whether the lessons will be as effective online as in-person.
You could also take a back and forth approach as if it were a tennis match.
To do this, find one argument in favour of your point and then present the counter argument immediately afterwards. While this might not make for the best narrative flow, if you stick with it throughout the essay you will have a coherent structure to your essay.
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Researching your Essay Topic
If there’s one thing that will prevent you from writing an excellent essay, it’s a lack of research. This is especially true if you need to reference according to the Harvard style, but haven’t conducted adequate research.
If your argument is full of unsubstantiated claims then you run a high risk of losing credibility and the whole essay can seem like a bland opinion piece at best.
We can't stress enough the importance of doing due diligence and taking the time to research the topic you’re going to write about in advance.
Just looking up something on Wikipedia midway through writing your essay isn’t going to cut it if you want top marks.
You need to create your outline and then do the necessary research to lend weight to your argument and the individual points you plan on making.
In the text
If you’re writing an English literature essay, or one which concerns any work of writing, then you should first consult the text to get the information you need for your essay.
The type of research you can do in a text can be linguistic, structural, thematic etc.
For example, if you have to write about how an author uses metaphor to create a certain meaning, you’ll want to trawl through the book and find the most relevant examples of this literary technique.
If the essay is more broad and asks a general question about the main themes of the book, then you can scour the text for relevant information that pertains to key themes you have identified.
One of the best things to do though for any essay that involves a book or text is pick out some quotes you can interact with in some way. Maybe it’s a good point from which to explore a hypothesis you proposed, or maybe you’d like to counter it with your opposing arguments.
The bulk of your research should probably be done online.
Unless you have the time to go to the library and rent out all the necessary evidence and information, you’ll likely have to rely on the internet to find credible sources you can cite to support your argument.
The first thing to bear in mind is you’ll need to dedicate enough time to doing your research before you start writing the essay.
Once you’ve allocated time for research, you’ll want to clarify what it is exactly you want to find.
Take another look at the essay title, make sure you fully understand it, and then establish your argument.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to do some background research on the topic to see what the most commonly debated issues are. Then you can zoom in on the individual points you want to make, and try to find examples or studies that back them up.
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Vocabulary and Grammar
Another important element in writing a great essay is the words you use, and how you put them together. You should look to improve your grammar if the goal is to work on your overall student performance.
We’ll keep this brief, so you can use it as a checklist either as you write or after you’ve finished your essay.
- Prefer the Active Voice
Always try to use the active voice when possible.
One of the cardinal sins of essay-writing is using too many verbs in the passive voice.
There’s only so much ‘it is believed’ and ‘it was claimed’ that a reader can take before they get confused about who exactly is doing the believing or claiming.
Think about the subject of every action taken and try to include them when you can. It can be as simple as writing ‘experts believe’ or ‘the students claimed’.
- Keep it Simple
When it comes to vocabulary there are ways to make yourself sound smarter, but more often than not it’s best to keep things simple.
The phrase ‘operate the computer’ sounds far worse than ‘use the computer’, because it comes across as an attempt to seem intelligent by using the longer word.
In a lot of cases you should favour the smaller words, though using the right vocabulary for a specific meaning should also be a priority.
- Less is more
If you’ve ever read an article that’s one big block of text, you’ll know exactly how laborious a task it can be.
Divide your text up into paragraphs and sentences where appropriate, and make sure your sentences are punchy.
There’s nothing worse than an overly long sentence. Especially when it’s followed by several more.
If you find it difficult to keep things brief, at least try to mix up your sentence length.