If you’ve spent any time at high school, you’ll be well-acquainted with the process of writing essays. Whether you’re a junior student just learning to put a three-paragraph essay together or a final-year student pumping out four-page efforts multiple times a week, there’s no escaping the trials and tribulations of essay writing!
Although essays can be a bit of a grind, they’re an important skill to learn. They develop your ability to pick a line of reasoning and articulate it clearly. This is a critical skill no matter what line of work you end up in, so we’ve pulled together some of our top tips for writing essays to make the process a little bit easier.
Now, essays are used in a whole host of subjects – from Biology to English to Drama – and it’s important to remember that you might need to adopt different essay-writing styles for different subjects. In some cases, your teachers might even give you a specific structure to follow. That’s fine, and you should always follow the instructions your teachers give you. However, we think our tips will apply to most essays you’ll write. Read on to find out more!
Start to plan by writing down everything you can think of, then refine.
One of the hardest parts of the essay-writing process is the planning stage. This involves taking all the ideas that are swimming around in your head and refining them into a coherent story that makes sense to the reader. If you struggle with this, you’re not alone – it’s a skill that takes years of practice to master!
One strategy to approach this is to separate your essay planning process into two phases:
· During the first phase, you should write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t worry about whether it’s relevant or worth including: the idea is simply to get it out on paper.
· Once you’ve got everything on paper, the second phase involves refining this list down into a clearer set of points to include in your essay. Take the points you like, develop them, and save the others for another day.
The benefit of this approach is that it allows you to see all of your ideas in front of you before you begin assessing whether or not they’re worthwhile to write about. This means you’re likely to have a bigger range of points to choose from than if you’d filtered all your ideas out before writing them down. Remember: when you start an essay, you’ve got an opportunity to create something from scratch, and a critical part of this creative process is connecting ideas that you may not have previously seen links between.
Be very clear on what your ‘argument’ is.
Most essays are ‘argumentative’ pieces of writing. No, that doesn’t mean you should lose your temper over them… although we’ve all been there! An argumentative essay is one where your job is to take on a particular point of view, and to convince the reader that this view is correct. This might involve taking on a perspective about a character’s fatal flaw, or about the causes of a historical event, or a myriad of other things.
Whatever your argument is, it always pays to be very clear about it. Remember, although you might spend at least an hour or two putting together the essay, your teacher will only read it for a few minutes. If they can clearly understand your argument at a first glance and don’t need to reread every paragraph to understand exactly what you’re getting at, you’ll be in their good books straight away! A great way to achieve this clarity is to start and finish each paragraph with a link to the argument – and referring to it midway through long paragraphs will always help as well. This saves you from going off on a tangent and spending time writing about points that don’t back up your argument.
Give yourself a time limit, even if you don’t need to.
What does it mean in practice? Well, if you give yourself two weeks to write an essay, you’ll probably spend the entire two weeks agonising over small details. On the other hand, if you’ve ever written an essay under exam conditions, you’ll probably know that you can write something almost as good in just an hour or so!
When you get the opportunity, it can be a good idea to set an artificial limit on the amount of time you’ll spend on an essay. Perhaps you want to be slightly more lenient than exam conditions would allow and give yourself 2-3 hours, but getting an essay done in a single evening is always a good challenge! Not only will this leave you more time to do other things, it also means you’ll feel right at home when it comes to exam time.
Don’t go overboard with big words.
Have you ever heard the following saying?
“Never use a big word when a diminutive one will do the trick.”
In case you were wondering… diminutive means small. If you had to look it up, you’re not alone! Of course, using big words can make you sound smart, but if they make your essays harder to understand, then what’s the point?
There’s a time and a place for big words, but don’t use them just for the sake of it. As we’ve mentioned, it’s always important to think about the person who’ll be reading your work. Choose your words so that your argument is as clear as possible and your marker won’t have to check the thesaurus to understand what you’re on about! Don’t fall into the trap of being a pseudointellectual (okay, we’ll stop…).
Proofread your work!
Unless you’re a prodigy, you’ll very rarely be able to produce the best version of your work the first time around. Even professional writers can produce some pretty terrible writing on their first drafts! After you’ve finished the first cut of your essay, it’s always a good idea to return to the beginning and read over everything (maybe after a short break to clear your head). You’ll almost always find that there will be several minor tweaks you can make to your essay that will make it read much better.
Of course, if you’re in an exam situation, then you don’t have a massive amount of time to proofread your work, and you’ll probably want to spend most of your time writing rather than reading. Still, setting aside five minutes at the end of your allotted time to read over your essay and make minor edits is usually worthwhile. Even catching out one or two silly errors in your writing can make a massive difference to the overall quality of your essay, and the marks you get back!
Did you find this guide helpful? Our teachers at EduExperts are specialists in improving your essay writing. If you want to learn more, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local centre– we’d love to chat!