Writing an essay is often one of the most dreaded tasks among students. Whether the essay is for a class, an exam, or maybe even a contest, most students often find the task very demanding and time consuming. While writing an essay can often be very frustrating, there are many useful steps and basic rules a student can follow that will help break down the essay writing process into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.

1. Revise

This is one of the most important things you can do before writing your essay. Albeit cliché, it is true; fail to prepare, prepare to fail. The thought of revising can be daunting, at first. Usually your lecturer will offer some advice as to what to expect and maybe some hints as to what to look over. However, should they not, have a look at some past papers as these will give an idea of what questions to expect. Make your own notes, in your own words, also, as this will not only help you to retain the information but understand it better. When looking over articles and/or slides, there are a few questions that you should be asking yourself in order to help you critically analyse the material:

  • - Is the purpose clear (is the study worth conducting)?
    - What is the scope of the main and subsidiary questions (aims and objectives)?
    - What assumptions are made – are they implicit or explicit?
    - What sort of arguments are used and how much evidence is presented with them?
    - Are alternative views presented or is a reason stated for their exclusion?

2. Read/ understand the question

This point is crucial. You could write an outstanding essay and end up failing all because you did not address the question correctly. The majority of your marks are awarded through relevance; ensure everything you are writing ties back to the question.

3. Plan your essay structure

In order to ensure you won’t waste any of your time, plan ahead! Ensure to use a clear structure to warrant clarity in your argument. This is a good time to practice writing your essay under time restricted conditions and ask people to read through it, preferably fellow students on your course or lecturers who would be best to advise on the content. Your institution will have an allocated tutor whose job it is to help advise with essay writing, there may also be essay writing classes available out with school hours.

4. Write your plan on exam sheet

This will help you to stay focused; you can refer back to your plan throughout which will stop you going off topic and help to keep your points relevant.

5. Introduction

Your introduction should be no more than 100 words, it should briefly introduce the topic and clarify key concepts. Remember you are only stating what you are going to discuss, use short, concise sentences to avoid going into too much detail and always include the question.

6. Main body

Every essay should have a main point, a key idea and central argument – this is where your thesis statement comes in. When writing your essay draft, continuously circle back to your thesis statement with 3 questions in mind:

  • - Does each paragraph develop your thesis?
    - Do I have enough supporting evidence?
    - Do I need to adjust my thesis based on my evidence?

Throughout your essay you should provide critical analysis and evaluation for each point while this is important, it is also crucial to provide a critical distance. This is an opportunity to discuss why the basic premise may be wrong or limited. It is an opportunity to show you can think for yourself, rather than just memorize a list of points.

7. Conclusion

It is important to remember that the final impression is just as important as the first and, again, should be no more than 100 words. Whilst new material should not be introduced at this point; avoid simply summarising your essay or re-phrasing your introduction. Your conclusion should refer back to the original question and acknowledge both arguments and state which you feel is strongest thus directly answering the question.

8. Refer back to question

Whilst this is necessary to demonstrate your understanding of the topic and helps to validate your argument it also helps to ensure you are not going off topic.

9. Form conjunction

Make your essay flow smoothly by linking your main points together with transition words and phrases; this makes it easy for your readers to see the relationship between your ideas and how they develop your points. For example, you can use “therefore” “consequently” “thus” or “as a result” to show that the next idea is the logical result of the previous.

Be sure to avoid phrases that are considered as jargon in your field of study, a good report will explain key points in a way that enables anyone to read and understand your essay. Be sure to reference your information and theories, this clarifies any doubts the reader may have about the validity of your points and lets them know that you have done your studying.

10. Manage your time

Although you may be under time pressured conditions, it is important to allocate your time wisely. It is a good idea to try and set at least 10 minutes at the end to review and read over your essay. If you find that you are running out of time, quickly bullet point your next points and then write a conclusion. Whilst this won’t gain you any marks, it will allow the examiner to better understand your conclusion and what you were intending to write about.