How to Write an Effective Essay

How to Write an Effective Essay

A step by step guide to essay writing with tips and tricks to get you a good grade.

Read the essay question carefully and make sure you know what is being asked of you. Many essay questions contain words like “discuss”, “describe”, “evaluate”. Don’t overlook those words.

Planning your essay

When you’re happy you know what is being asked of you, start planning:

  1. Identify the focus of the assignment. What key debates or conflicts of opinion are your tutors looking for you to discuss?
  2. What evidence do you already have? Look at course notes, books, lecture notes, assignment guidance.
  3. Identify your own point of view. Where do you stand on the issue? You may find this changes as you write your essay!
  4. Consider how you’ll persuade other people of your point of view. What key evidence (facts, figures, case studies, examples, other respected peoples’ opinions etc) will you present?
  5. How would someone prove you wrong? Find weaknesses in your arguments. Either try and plug them or acknowledge them (and contrast with other positions).

Sometimes it helps to create a mind map, like this:

You put the essay theme in the centre, and then draw branches off with the main issues and ideas. This helps you organise your thoughts. When you’ve got all your ideas on paper, it’s time to start slotting them into your essay structure. You can do this on your computer (which means you can print, edit and share the mind map) using software like Xmind.

Essay structure: overview

Most essays follow the same basic structure:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

The introduction sets the scene, putting the essay question in context and explaining any necessary background information the reader needs. It may set out what the essay hopes to achieve.

The body is usually broken into several paragraphs, each dealing with an issue raised by the essay question.

The conclusion brings together what has been discussed and answers the question.

Creating a draft

Start to slot your issues and ideas into the essay structure. At this stage, don’t worry about everything you write fitting together and making sense.

Fill them out to form paragraphs. Stick to one idea per paragraph so the essay is easy to follow. Don’t forget to keep notes of where you found any supporting material as you’ll need this for when you come to add in references later.

By this time, you’ve probably got some idea of what your conclusion will be. Have a go at drafting it up. Be very careful not to include ideas and thoughts in the conclusion that haven’t already been explained (and for this reason, you won’t need to include any references there either).

Few students write their essays in the introduction – body – conclusion order. Many students like to write their introduction last as it’s easier then to set out what the essay will cover.

Polishing your essay

Part of the process of essay writing is going over what you’ve written and editing it. Aim for the following:

  • Avoid sweeping statements that have no evidence.
  • Cut out anything unnecessary – waffley statements that have no real value, for example.
  • Make sure you support any statements by referencing them to good quality, reliable sources such as books and journals.
  • Make sure you actually answer the question – you must actually spell out your answer, not assume that the reader will understand your point of view from reading the essay.
  • Read your essay out loud when you’re done, and have someone else read it through for you, to ensure there are no mistakes and everything makes sense.

Achieving the really high grades

To achieve a really high grade for your essay you need to do some or all of these things:

  • Avoid obvious content.
  • Take the less usual side of the argument.
  • Back up your arguments with high quality sources, concrete examples, facts and figures.
  • Show evidence of original thinking beyond what the text book and most popular sources say.
  • Be critical – this means looking at the pros and cons of your arguments, contrasting different standpoints, evaluating the value of other peoples’ opinions and so on.
  • Make sure your presentation is immaculate – spelling, grammar, referencing, spacing, fonts and titles.