Essay writing can be a dreaded task for students, especially as it can feel overwhelming not knowing where to start when questions are fairly broad. Not only does writing a strong essay require a detailed plan, but it also needs to develop a coherent argument that unfolds clearly to the reader. This guide will help you plan out your essay and organise your thoughts into a logical argument so you can achieve the grade you deserve!
1. Understand The Question
Start the essay writing process by taking time to understand the questions. Remember it’s okay to ask your teacher for clarification if you’re having trouble getting to grips with it. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the question open-ended or closed? If it is open-ended you will need to decide which aspects to focus your answer around. Keep in mind that you will need to explain how and why you have decided to focus on this area in your essay introduction, so make some notes on your reasoning.
- If it is a closed question, your answer must refer to and stay within the limits of the question (i.e. specific dates, texts, or countries).
- Finally, break down the different parts of your assignment question. Figure out what the task word means (eg- discuss, argue, describe) and identify specifically what you need to write about.
2. Brainstorm Ideas
Once you have started to make sense of the question, you can start to brainstorm your ideas. Don’t forget to make sure anything you explore relates back to the original essay question or statement. So, find some paper and get thinking!
- What you know about the topic – from lessons, reading.
- What you don't know about the topic, but need to find out to answer the question.
- Possible responses or answers to the question, consider your own opinion and what the main point you want to argue is.
- Jot down any ideas you may have about your conclusion, as you will also need to link to these in your introduction.
- What reasons do you have to support your main argument or message? (e.g., why should your reader believe you?)
- Finally identify some questions you can use to guide your essay research.
Once you have some solid ideas down, you can start your all-important research stage. Ideally, you need to find information that will help flesh out your essay, support your arguments and show off your knowledge and understanding.
- Start your research by going back through class notes, taking books out from the library and searching online for studies and articles from credible websites.
- During your research, it’s crucial to organise and group your findings into key points. For example: Which points are related? Which are counter-arguments? You should also decide what the overarching argument of your essay is going to be, based on the evidence you have gathered and analysed.
- Be sure to keep track of where you have obtained information from so you can reference quotes or statistics in your essay if you need to.
- Engage with what you are reading, ask questions and challenge points of view, as it will show in your essay if you don’t actually understand what you’re discussing.
- Finally, only note things that are relevant to your essay title. You don’t need to include everything about the topic and if you do this it will make planning much more difficult than it has to be.
Top Tip: Keep all your research in one place so it’s easier to refer back to during the planning and writing stage.
4. Make a Plan and Draft an Outline
The most important part of any essay- creating a plan and drafting a clear outline. Doing this will make sure your essay has a more coherent argument and also allows you to work out a logical structure and an end point for your argument before you start writing.
Before drafting your outline, decide on a logical order for your points. You could summarise each point on index cards or sticky notes and physically move them around until you have found the best flow- the key is the progression of your argument.
Keep in mind: How does each point link to the one before it and the one after? How will your paragraphs build your argument? Don’t forget to guide your reader through, communicating with them at every step.
Drafting Your Outline
Introduction: This should address the question, show why it's interesting and how the essay will answer it. Develop an overall mission statement.
Main Body: Build your argument. Put your groups of ideas in a sequence to make a persuasive argument. Remember to stick to one main point in each paragraph.
- Think of paragraphs as mini-essays. Start with a topic sentence to introduce the main point of the paragraph; explain that point further; provide evidence for the point; interpret/analyse the evidence; then summarise the point and indicate how it links into your overall argument.
- Each paragraph should link to the next using transition words or phrases – such as ‘alternatively;’ ‘consequently;’ ‘as a result’; ‘furthermore...’
- The paragraphs should be placed in a logical and consistent order. Play around with them until you get the best flow.
Conclusion: Summarise your arguments and evidence, and show how they answer the original question.
5. Write Your Essay
Once you’ve finished your outline, you’re ready to start writing. Remember, don’t submit your first draft - it’s crucial that you proofread your essay, get others to read over it and read it aloud for spelling and grammar errors. Once you have some feedback from others and have highlighted some areas that need refining, you can start fine tuning your essay. Don’t be afraid to do this a few times until you are happy with your work!