So, despite your hardest attempts, you’re still unsure as to how to approach an essay. Whether it’s your first or your tenth try, this guide is for you.
Ensuring that the language of your essay, as well as your writing approach and method, is correct is vital in achieving success in your studies. This is because up to 20% of your result can be affected by errors in language (depending on your university or institution). We’re here to help!
The following article will outline the important aspects of essay writing by breaking it down into an easy formula that can be applied to various different types of essay question and hopefully make tackling an essay less daunting and more fun! (Okay, maybe not fun – but definitely less daunting!)
1) First up: reading the question
It may seem silly, but many people lose marks just by incorrectly reading and misinterpreting the question. So ask yourself these questions:
1. Have I fully understood (all aspects of) the question?
2. Do I need more help in understanding the question and what is wanted from the essay?
If you answered ‘yes’ to number 2, then don’t hesitate to ask your tutor for additional clarification – it is always better to double or triple check than to get this bit wrong because it’s from here that all of your content develops.
2) Essay planning
Always create an essay plan. This can take any form of your choosing, such as in note-form or even a spider diagram, but having an essay plan will not only help to manage word count but will also keep your content relevant with a focus on the eternal “am I actually answering the essay question?”
Top Tip: diagrams and pictures may be helpful in the planning stages but shouldn’t be included in the final essay!
3) Using your own words, plagiarism and referencing
Being able to paraphrase, that is to summarize the key points from a different source such as module materials or a person’s ideas in your own words, is an important way to show that you have understood the meaning of research material and will prevent plagiarism.
1. Never copy someone else’s work – it’s not unlikely that you’ll be caught
2. Don’t use words too close to the ones you are summarizing (paraphrasing)
3. Always reference your sources clearly (and in accordance with your university or institution guidelines)
Referencing is important because it gives credibility to your claims and it allows the reader to find your sources and check for plagiarism.
Top Tip: There are many different types of referencing formats demanded by differing institutions, so find a guide to the format you are required to use and either print it or buy a copy if you are able. Having a hard copy available next to you is a great time-saver when essay writing. Computer programs that help you keep on top of your referencing is also available for further support in this area.
4) Writing an Introduction
The intro is important as it outlines what you intend to do over the course of the essay. This should never be longer than 10% of your overall word count. Try to avoid using personal pronouns in essay writing (unless it is a self-reflective essay) and instead phrases such as “Over the following pages, this essay will aim to [incorporate essay question here].” Then explain, briefly, what your content is in relation to the essay question.
Top Tip: Always return to the phrase “this essay aims to [insert claim here] by [insert evidence here]” to keep your writing relevant.
5) Paragraphing and flow
Breaking your work into clear and concise paragraphs is important for ensuring there is a nice ‘flow’ to the work. Flow can be established in your essay plan and aided by using the following connecting words when beginning a paragraph.
- Following on from…
- In addition to…
- Subsequently, from this…
- Shifting the focus to…
- With relation to…
- Leading on to…
- Consequently to the above mentioned,…
- With respect to the aforementioned,…
- In the wake of…
Top Tip: Always read your work aloud. This will help you to find the natural pauses in grammar and paragraph breaks so as help you avoid ‘fatty’, ‘sticky’ and dense text.
Each main point in your essay should follow a simple formula: the P.E.E. method.
That’s it! It really is that easy – state your claim, show your evidence such as a quotation from a valued source or quantitative research (don’t forget to reference!) and explain how that evidence supports your claim. Simple! Don’t over-do it and always make your points concise and, most importantly, relevant to the essay question.
Similar to the intro, the conclusion should take up no more than 10% of your overall word count. Here’s a handy table for conclusion writing:
Make it clear and concise
Summarize key points which you have made in the main body of your essay
Make reference to the keywords in the essay question
Turn key phrase “this essay aims to…” into “this essay has…”
Waffle and use generalizations
Introduce new points, ideas and examples
Include irrelevant information
Give personal opinion (unless definitely asked for in the essay question)
Conclusion connecting words –
- In conclusion,…
- In summation,…
- To conclude,…
Top Tip: Consider your conclusion like the ‘tying up’ of all your points and finish with a lovely summation to support your overall argument.
8) Double-checking and re-drafting
It is vital to redraft and double-check your work because silly errors in grammar and shoe-horning of irrelevant material may not at first be so obvious and can ultimately cost you critical marks. When spending hours looking at the same words over and over again, it can be difficult to get perspective on your essay (Lord knows, I’ve tried!). So, it is indispensable
to get a fresh pair of eyes to look over what you have written.
A friend can be helpful, sure, but a professional proofreader is just that – a professional. They know exactly what will lose and gain you marks and are able to give an impartial assessment of your work, ultimately improving your essay and fast-tracking you to success.
9. Using a proofreader
A proofreader will make your job invaluably easier, and the process of using one will surely be highly useful, hassle-free and efficient if you do the following:
- Only submit to them when your essay is in its finished form
- Only submit your finished essay to them once (and not several times as different
drafts and in different forms)
- Stick to the submission date if you agree on a date in advance to send the
proofreader the document – if you submit it to them late, this will shorten the amount
of time they have to work on it. If you really cannot submit it on time, be open and
understanding in your communication with the proofreader so you can find a solution
Final Top Tip: I recommend using a proofreader to check your writing because their work is to make yours better. You can avoid kicking yourself for losing marks over linguistic errors and this allows you to focus fully on the content.
o to wrap up, I do hope that this guide has made essay writing less daunting and (hopefully!) more fun.
A final checklist for your essay:
- Have you answered the essay question (… actually)?
- Have you followed an essay plan?
- Are your points relevant and necessary to answer the question clearly?
- Have you thoroughly and correctly referenced your sources?
- Have you had a fresh pair of eyes impartially assess your work?
- Follow this and you will be well on your way to success in achieving your desired, and deserved, results in your studies!
Good luck and happy writing!
By Sarah Milligan