Regardless of whether you love doing essays or you hate them, one thing’s for certain: the further you advance through the education system, the more frequently you’ll have to do them. If your area is the arts, humanities or social sciences, once GCSEs are over essays(whether as coursework or in exams) will be the primary way that you will be assessed. This will be the case right up until your senior year as an undergraduate and (if you go down this path) in postgraduate studies as well, at which point some of those essays will be swopped for dissertations and theses, which can weigh in at anywhere between ten and one hundred thousand words.
If you work in the sciences, you may be able to escape essays at A Level, but come university these will form at least part of how you are assessed. Moreover, many of the types of work you’ll have to do will require the sort of writing skills that essays demand.
So one way or another, you’ll have to come to terms with writing essays if you’re going to want to succeed in education after the age of sixteen or eighteen. Unfortunately, many people see the process of writing an essay as something almost mystical, with the secrets of writing one efficiently and effectively being unknown to mankind.
But this isn’t the case. If you can break down the challenge into a smaller series of tasks, not only will the whole process be less stressful, but you’ll also likely get a much higher mark.
We’ll start our rundown from a point where your reading and research is either almost completely done or at least well underway; starting to actually write an essay before that point is just madness. A word of advice about your research, though: as you do it, make sure you’ve continually got your essay title or instructions firmly in mind at all times, so that you’re continually on the lookout for relevant information only.
1) Plan your essay by thinking of paragraph headings and put all your points under them
Start with headings for the main body of the essay. These will be the main sub-areas of the topic that you will need to address in answering the title of the essay. Think of them as like pigeonholes into which you’ll be slotting all of the information you need to answer the question. Without these to structure everything, your essay will just be an incoherent mess. Once you’ve got the headings, go back to your notes and books and bulletpoint every piece of evidence you want to put in for each heading, along with the arguments you’ll be making relating to it.
2) Think of the best order to put the paragraphs in and how you will link one to the other
It’s crucially important that you don’t start writing until you’ve done this. The paragraphs of your essay need to follow a logical order, as it’s inevitable that some of the evidence you give or arguments you make will only make sense if the reader has first been told information relating to some of the other paragraph headings. So work out what would be the most logical order for your paragraphs to appear in your essay, and in doing so think about how each paragraph links to the next. This will give you a way of writing the all-important introductory sentences to each paragraph.
Plan your introduction and conclusion
Once you’ve reached this point you’ll have a firm idea about what your essay will be saying and how it will say it. This is the stage when you plan your introduction and conclusion. Again, do this with bullet points. The introduction will simply need to set up your answer to the question by both providing the reader with a small amount of context about the subject area of the essay (including why it generates debate), and a rundown of what areas you will talk about to address this debate—this information will of course be based on those paragraph headings from before! The plan for your conclusion, meanwhile, will tie together everything you’ve argued and all the evidence you’ve given; no new arguments or evidence are brought in at this point. So look back at all of your paragraph headings and the bullet points within them and decide what the main things that tie them all together into an overall answer to the question.
3) Start writing, making sure your paragraphs are a good combination of evidence and analysis and make proper use of all your research
Now it’s time to start writing. If you’ve provided yourself with good bullet points, this process should be less daunting than you’d originally thought it would be. The key things you’ll need to be aware of at this point are that each paragraph is doing what you’d originally intended for it to do, and that it does so in a balanced way. By “balanced” we mean that it combines both evidence from your sources and good-quality arguments of your own (even if these draw on arguments made by others). This balance is the key thing that your lecturers or teachers are looking for. When you read back your draft paragraph, ask yourself this question: “Is this just a series of facts, is it purely my opinion or arguments, or is it an interdependent mixture of the two?” To get a good grade your paragraphs will need to fall firmly into that last category.
4) Remember that an essay is a communication tool
Your essay might to your eyes seem like it perfectly communicates all the complexities of the subject, but that’s because you’re the one who chose the words and sentences that form the essay. The fact is, though, that just because you want your sentences to say one thing doesn’t mean other people will understand them the way you intended them to. Ever received an email or text message from a friend and you didn’t understood what they were on about, because they just assumed you knew certain pieces of information that they didn’t include in the email or they didn’t express themselves clearly? This is unfortunately how lecturers and teachers quite often feel when they read essays. And their response to it is simply to give you a low grade!