How to write an essay

Staring at a blank page two days before a deadline is probably not an unfamiliar feeling to the majority of students. It can be pretty disheartening to say the least. So how do you go about filling that page with stuff that actually makes sense? The Mix breaks down how to write a good uni-style essay.

Two young people are sitting. They are wondering how to write a good essay. This is a wide-angle image.

How do you understand an essay question?

Before you start writing, pause. Read the essay question and then read it again. Underline the key points that need to be addressed to keep them in mind when you’re writing. You also need to make sure that you understand the style of question. For instance, there are different types of essays so you’ll need to figure out whether you’ll be writing an expository essay or an argumentative essay. If after a couple of tries you really don’t understand it, go and see your tutor or teacher – it’s what they’re there for.

How do you research an essay?

If you’re trying to write an academic essay, you’ll need to make a reading list and read lots. Ok, so you don’t have to read the entire library. But, at the very least, you should be reading the core texts your teacher or lecturer suggests. And if you have time, pick up some stuff that hasn’t been covered in class (to do with the essay topic, of course)

Remember, your lecturer is familiar with all the info that THEY’VE given you so if you just use that in an essay they won’t find it interesting. On the other hand, if you show them something they haven’t seen before, you’re likely to score some extra marks and maybe even get one classification higher on the marking scheme. Journal articles are great, too, as they tend to get to the point more quickly – although books are better for detailed information.

For every piece of writing you read, whether it’s a journal article or a book, make sure you note down the title, the author, publisher and page number of useful passages. This avoids you having to look for them again when you write your bibliography.

How do you plan an essay?

Planning is an essential part of the writing process but honestly, there is no one right way to plan. Everyone is unique, meaning they study in different ways and they plan in different ways. So whether you like sprawling spider diagrams or simple lists, as long as you’re planning before writing you’re going in the right direction

We’d probably recommend starting by scribbling down everything you think is important and/or relevant to the question then formulating this into a plan. From there, you can work out your main points, the best people to quote, and how you’re going to answer the question.

How do you structure an essay?

By this point you should know that you’ll pretty much always have an introduction and conclusion, hopefully with some sort of a coherent argument in between, but how do you construct each individual section of an essay?

How to write an essay introduction: Your first paragraph should directly answer the question (this isn’t a whodunnit, you don’t need to leave them guessing) through a thesis statement. This is a sentence that basically sums up your answer to the question and your reasoning for it. On top of this, you’ll have to set out a framework for the rest of your essay.

How to write the main body of an essay: In the main body of the essay you need to develop your argument/thesis statement by laying out two-three key points in a clear and logical order. You’ll have to condense each of your points into topic sentences which you can back up with research and quotes. And make sure to pay attention to the question throughout the entire essay to keep you on track.

How to write the conclusion to an essay: This is essentially a summary of your entire essay. You’ll have to restate your thesis statement and show how you got there. It’s important to note that you should NEVER add any new points/evidence into your conclusion since you won’t have time to develop them.

How do you present an essay?

  • Remember to save the document regularly, in at least two places, for example your hard drive and online. It may seem like overkill now but you’ll be thanking us when your laptop decides to break down in the middle of writing your dissertation.
  • Make sure you type the title of the essay and your name at the top of the document in bold (unless your department has special rules about presentation, then just follow those).
  • Use a standard font. Personally, we’d recommend Times New Roman or Arial, size 12.
  • Don’t use colours. Just keep it classy and stick to black.
  • Always double space your lines to allow room for the marker’s comments.
  • Number your pages and include a word count if required.

Make a first draft checklist for your essay

Don’t just hand in the first 2,000 words you write. Learning how to write a first class essay means you’re gonna have to draft, check, improve and repeat quite a few times. So once you’ve done your first draft, print it out and run through this checklist:

  • Check for plagiarism. Make sure you haven’t, even accidentally, regurgitated lectures or copied whole chunks from books. If you need help with that, you can see our article on plagiarism here. No 1. Wrong answer for how to write a first class essay is by plagiarising someone else’s work.
  • After you write a topic sentence, back up your point of view with a quote or fact.
  • Ensure the essay makes sense and has a good structure. After you’ve done a first draft, grab the red pen and move whole paragraphs around if you have to. If you’re still worried, get a friend to read it too.
  • Correct any spelling or grammatical mistakes. Don’t rely on spellcheck to catch them all.
  • Check your facts and quotes. Mistakes could lose you marks and quoting anyone inaccurately can get you in serious trouble (refer back to our plagiarism article).

How to write a bibliography

Usually pieces of academic writing have what’s known as a bibliography at the end of them. It’s essentially a long list of all the books and research papers that you’ve referred to in your essay. Again, your department probably has guidelines on style, but it’s usually alphabetical and looks similar to this:

Smith, J, The Mix is my life (Make believe books, London, 2003)

Do you have any tips for how to write an essay? We would love to hear from you, share your ideas with the community on our discussion boards.

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 19-Apr-2022