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Essay writing tips

The purpose of an essay is to answer a particular question, usually with a logical and extensively
researched argument. The writer takes a position by critically assessing the relevant information. A
series of arguments are made, all of which support the position taken. For clarity each of these
arguments can be presented in a separate paragraph with supporting evidence, analysis and
examples. All evidence should be referenced. Every effort must be made for the complete
document to be coherent and easy to understand.
An essay is a good method of assessment because it evaluates your ability to research a topic, relate
content from the subject being taught and develop an argument. Therefore an essay goes beyond
the module content and gives you an opportunity to formulate and express your own ideas within an
academic framework.
As with most professional communications you need to consider the institutional context, in our
case the university and your audience, those that will read it. The content must be formed within
the university guidelines and targeted at the audience. The writing should be formal and objective.
The essay in terms of the language and structure is as important as the message that is being
conveyed. The students that appreciate this tend to get higher grades!

What makes a good essay?
In order to convince the reader an essay requires the following ingredient:
i. It answers the question or completes the task.
ii. It should have a ‘thesis statement’, the answer, and make a supporting argument.
iii. Must develop and discuss a sequence of interrelated points.
iv. It must include evidence and examples from the related subject, or other reputable sources.

Basic steps in writing an essay
There is no one way to write an essay and even the same author may approach different essays
differently. These steps may be helpful however, especially in avoiding procrastination. One
possible list is the following:
 Analyse the question and define the key term
 Identify a possible thesis statement
 Research the topic
 Make notes of whatever you find useful
 Create a plan, an essay outline
 Create a first draft
 Read it and make changes
 Have a friend read it.
 Finalize formatting, references and citations.
 Submit final draft.

Another way to categorize the essay writing process is the following:
1. Choose and analyse the question:
 Consider the availability of resources and relevance to course material.
 Consider the key words that define the topic.
 Create more specific questions out of the original essay question.
 Make plan based on sub questions.

2. Research and make notes:
 Explore library and online resources.
 Read potentially relevant resources briefly to assess their relevance.
 Develop answers to questions.
 Make notes of key points.

3. Create plan:
 Brainstorm main ideas.
 Organize ideas.
 Check if plan covers questions.
 Consider implications beyond the question raised.
 Flow diagrams and mind-maps may be useful.

4. First draft:
 Form paragraphs out of main ideas.
 Start from wherever you prefer.

5. Revise and edit:
 Check again that question is answered.
 Check structure and sequence of ideas.
 Get someone to proofread it.
 Check style, tone, vocabulary.


6. Final draft:
 Check assignment requirements
 Check university and department requirements.
 Check spelling, grammar, punctuation and references.


Some quotes about writing:
‘The scariest moment is always just before you start.’ – Stephen King, On Writing
Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a
dozen.’ – John Steinbeck
‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’ – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Further Reading
Cuba, I 1998, A Short Guide to Writing About Social Science, Harper Collins.
Emmerson, L (ed.) 2005, Writing Guidelines for Social Science Students, 2nd edn, Dunmore Press,
Southbank, Victoria.
Oshima, A & Hogue, A 1991, Writing Academic English, Addison-Wesley.
Palgrave essay writing study skills,
http://www.palgrave.com/skills4study/studyskills/reading/essay.asp