Knowing how to write a good essay is an essential part of any academic journey. At some point in school, you will need to be able to write a good essay, especially at the university level. In this blog, we outline the top ten tips on how to write a good essay, so you can craft the perfect essay for school.
1. Analyse the question
Before you even begin trying to write your essay, you must first understand what the question is asking you to do. Depending on the difficulty level of your class or module, the question may in fact be asking you to do several things. Break up the question into parts, define unknown words and phrases and re-write the question on your own, easy to understand, vocabulary to get a deeper understanding of what it’s asking you to do.
2. Test your answer
Prior to putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) try to assess what you already know about the topic. It’s a good idea to make a mindmap and answer the WH questions: what? who? where? when? why? If it’s relevant, add questions that start with how too. As you do this, you’ll start to paint a picture of what you already know and what you don’t, this allows you to identify gaps in your knowledge but also to help your brain to begin to make connections and become invested in the topic.
3. Know your goals
Knowing your goals is essential when it comes to completing an assessment you’ll be graded on. It allows you to identify exactly what you need to do to pass and ensure study sessions and class time don’t feel pointless. If you have essay criteria or a rubric, it’s a good idea to stick this somewhere you’ll see it. Another great trick is to write out the assessment objectives in a checklist, you can look back at this after writing to make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes. If you want an A, write a checklist for all of the things you need to do in order to get one. Remember to always look back at your goals to stay on course.
4. Begin your research
Starting with the gaps in your knowledge, and always looking back to the essay question, begin reading up on the topic. Your essay is supposed to show your expert knowledge on the topic at hand, so you’ll need to ensure you have built the relevant subject knowledge. Remember that if you have the knowledge, the essay will come, don’t worry about the writing at this stage. Get a notebook ready and write out your notes in a way that you can easily refer back to them. If you’re reading multiple books, for example, you may want to divide your notebook into different sections so you can find your notes from a particular book. The more organized your notes are, the easier it will be to reference important information as you write out your essay. Remember, if it’s not relevant to the essay question then don’t waste your time on it.
The drafting phase
5. Write your first draft
You’ve completed your research and gained the knowledge you need to answer the question, it’s now time to write your first draft. My top tip for any of my students is to write out your first draft without any consideration for spelling, punctuation, grammar or structure. You can clean up your draft later, for now, focus on answering the question. Writing is a process and often as we write, we learn more about a topic and what we know about it. Think of your first draft as rubbish and accept that without a rubbish first draft, you can’t have a perfected final one!
6. Put it into a structure
Now you’ve written a rubbish first draft, it’s time to put it into a readable structure. Start your second draft on a brand new document or blank page, this will help you to re-write e.g. deleting what’s unnecessary, re-phrasing points made, re-jigging the structure. If you attempt to edit the same document you wrote your rubbish first draft on, you may be more inclined to keep what’s already been written because it would be easier, but trust me, you don’t want to do that!
A good structure to use is as follows:
- Introduction: Introduce your essay and the question you aim to answer
- Main Body: This is where you’ll answer the question. Try dividing it into these sections:
- Point 1, evidence, explanation
- Point 2, evidence, explanation
- Point 3, evidence, explanation
3. Conclusion: Summarize your main points but avoid adding any new ideas or opinions.
7. Edit for SPaG
No, I don’t mean spaghetti. SPaG stands for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Put your essay through a grammar checker and edit based on the feedback you get. Remember that AI grammar checkers don’t always grasp the context well, so use your judgement if something doesn’t seem to write. After you’ve completed this step, you’re well on your way to having a nice clean draft.
8. Clean up references
While at high school / secondary school, you may not be asked to cite your sources or create a bibliography, but you will be asked to do this at the university level, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit of knowing how to cite your references correctly. If you’re unsure of what ‘citing’ actually means, this is the method of making clear where you have got your evidence and quotes from to ensure you don’t get in trouble for copying what somebody else has said. Here’s an example of how to reference other people’s words in the main body of your essay:
Notice how words of Rowling are presented in quotation marks and followed by her last name in brackets? Try to make sure this is done for all of the words you quote that are said, written or published by other people.
At the university level, the way you reference in-text citations varies depending on the style used. Make sure you understand the university’s referencing system before submitting your essay.
At the end of your essay, create one page where your bibliography will be. This is a list of your reading and research and it looks something like this:
Your bibliography should be listed in alphabetical order and follow your school’s referencing style. The example above is the basic style to demonstrate that the following key details are always included, these are:
- Surname followed by initials
- Book or resource title
- Date of publication
Depending on the resource you are referencing and the style, this may look a little different. Always check with your tutor first to check you’re doing the right thing.
9. Get feedback
Ask a friend, teacher or relative to read your essay and give you feedback. Make sure they understand the criteria too, so they can give you feedback that links to what your teacher is asking of you.
10. The final edit
Use the feedback you have received to clean up your work. Give it a final read through and if there’s anything you really feel needs to be changed then now’s the time to do it. You can go back to your checklist and see if you’ve hit all of your targets. Once done, congratulate yourself on how hard you have worked and finally get it submitted! Well done!