How to Write an Essay

| April 10, 2013 | 0 Comments

Essay Writing

Essay writing can be a daunting task. Of course, anybody can write an essay without structure, without an argument, indeed one could even write an essay about their day! However, producing the kind of essay that university professors would be happy about requires a little technical finesse, especially at uni level where standards are drastically raised and competition is aplenty.

STRUCTURE

The first thing to note is structure. A structure requires planning. Introduction, background, argument, counter-argument and conclusion. This would be the most basic of plans but it gives the essay a structure – this is what uni professors are looking for when awarding marks. Often, uni professors operate under strict guidelines to award marks according to a marking scheme. This is for accountability purposes so they can back up why they marked your essay up or down.

If you can, get hold of a marking scheme to build your essay around, this way you’ll be able to write a structured essay catering to the needs of the essay question. Professors will see that you have attempted to answer the essay question in a structured manner and award points for it. This is independent of whether they think your essay is right or wrong.

Remember, when writing an essay not on Mathematics, there is rarely a clear cut correct answer. Only arguments, expert opinions, evidence, counter argument and anecdotal evidence.

INTRODUCTION

Writing an introduction is the first part of the essay after the initial plan. In the introduction of the essay you should speak about “what your essay will attempt to do”. For example an essay on the oil leak from the BP Deep Water Horizon and it’s impact on the surrounding environment can go like:

“This essay will attempt to analyze the effects of the Deep Water Horizon incident on the surrounding environment. The essay will evaluate the political, environmental, social and economic implications arising from the incident”

Such an introduction gives the essay writer four topics to write about at length and gives a structure to the essay from the outset. It is clear and simple for the reader to understand what the essay is about and what you are trying to achieve.

After the introduction, it is important to give a historical background of the essay topic. In this case you might want to give descriptive information about the drilling industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

Further Reading: How to write an Introduction to an Essay

 

EVALUATING EVIDENCE

When making arguments, “evaluating” evidence is important . Evaluate means to weigh evidence against other evidence and decide on what is significant to the title of the essay. For example when discussing the political fallout for the major embarrassment the incident was for B.P, this may outweigh any short term economic concerns for the company: by apologizing for the accident and promising payouts to local businesses affected by the oil leak, they are investing in their future ability to trade in that country.

That would be a sound argument that political fallout is much more significant than short term economic loss. Being able to logically discuss arguments like this is what university professors are looking for in an essay. Furthermore what would gain you extra marks for a 2:1 or 1st is the ability to correctly reference empirical evidence throughout the body of your essay.

 

REFERENCING

Referencing if done correctly is a powerful way of convincing the reader that your argument is strong and substantiated. If a credible source is cited in a statement you make, it gives your statement significant weight and demonstrates your ability to gather empirical evidence.

For example, “The cost of payouts to businesses is insignificant compared to the benefits of  continued trading in the United States(Smith, 2011)”. This statement is bold as it makes an assertion backed up by an expert’s voice.

Once you have a set of arguments in place for the main body of your essay, we can begin to think about writing a conclusion.

However, before moving onto the conclusion I advise that you refer back to the essay question and essay plan and make sure you have not gone off track. I can remember essays I wrote where after a while I began to veer off trajectory and away from the original essay question, broadening my answer too much. For example, writing about previous oil drilling disasters is fine as long as it is in context with answering the question. But writing too much about a previous incident and relating your arguments to it can be detrimental.

Further Reading: How to Use References in your Essays

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Other checks before proceeding to the conclusion is whether you have been critical. “Critical Analyses” is probably a word you have heard before, but difficult to quite grasp and utilize in a meaaningful way. As I understand, critical analysis refers to logical discussion of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats and outright criticism of theory and/or empirical evidence. For example, if a journal claims that “99%” of locals are against multinational oil drillers” you can criticize such a statement in a number of ways. Is the sample size sufficient? Were the questions in the survey unbiased?  Ultimately when criticizing empirical evidence you need to question if the findings are reliable or valid. These two terms are very important in the realm of research methodologies.

Further Reading: How to Critically Analyse Your Essay

Also: Steps to Take to Improve the Quality of Your Essay

CONCLUSION

Once you have ensured you have an essay structure, stuck to answering the essay question and demonstrated critical analysis skills you should write a conclusion.

A conclusion summarizes your arguments and evaluates them. I often like to amalgamate my strongest arguments and then use my weaker arguments to give an overall contrast and give a definitive answer. It is important that the conclusion does not leave the questionn unanswered. For example you can say: “The evidence shows that political factors have the greatest influence on the implications on the environment following the deep water horizon incident”….That is a definitive answer, you must then explain why and how you came to this conclusion but do not forget to mention the “buts” – other factors like the economic, social and environmental influences which are all at play.

So there you have it, that is my guide to writing a successful essay and I can assure you that if you take in the important points; an essay plan, argument and counter argument, logical critical analyses and evaluation of empirical evidence, you will have a good chance of writing an exceptional essay.

Further Reading: How to Write a Conclusion

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Category: Essay Writing Guide

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