How to Write an Essay

How to write table of contents

1. Writing an essay: First Draft.

  1. Why write essays?
  2. Getting started.
  3. Argument.
  4. Structure.

2. Writing an essay: Editing.

  1. Revising the Structure.
  2. Grammar and Spelling.
  3. Bibliography.
  4. Readers.

3. Writing an essay: Main Points.

1. Writing an essay: First Draft

1.1 Why write essays?

You may listen to a lecture or read a textbook or article and feel that you understand a particular topic well. However, having to give a fairly lengthy, coherent and well-reasoned answer to a question about the topic may highlight gaps in your understanding. Writing essays helps clarify your reasoning and is invaluable in helping you develop understanding and knowledge of your subject. Your essay also, of course, enables an examiner to give you constructive feedback.

1.2 Getting started.

Read the question and any recommended sources. As you read and think about the question you will inevitably think of areas where you need further information. Use the Reference or Bibliography sections in your source books as well as library and Internet searches to find relevant material. When writing essays keep a note of everything you read as you go along. It is infuriating to come across a lovely quote in your notes that will perfectly illustrate the point you are trying to make only to find you have failed to keep a record of where the quote is from. Note the publisher, author, date, title, and page where the quote can be found. It is helpful to jot down some context as well. Why did you think that quote interesting or relevant?

1.3 Argument.

If there is one golden rule to writing an essay, it is answer the question. An essay that fails to answer the question does not demonstrate much understanding of the topic. Make certain you have identified all the key words in the essay title. Think about what the question is asking. Jot down all your ideas. The essay could probably be tackled in a number of ways. You have to reflect on what seems the logical way to approach it for you. What, having read the question and the sources, do you feel should be the main focus of the essay? Write this insight down as a single sentence. Now you have your thesis, or argument. This is what the essay is going to be about.

1.4 Structure.

All essays need an introduction. When writing an essay, use the opening paragraph to state your argument clearly. Your reader now knows what to expect when reading your essay and will be able to judge whether or not you keep to the point and how well you develop your argument. You should also include an overview of the structure of your essay, perhaps mention the evidence you will be referring to and define any technical terms that you are going to use. When you write an essay, you need to be very clear as to how the points you are making support your argument. If there are alternative points of view you should acknowledge and refute them early on in your essay. Start each new paragraph with a topic sentence highlighting what the paragraph will discuss and stick to this stated theme. Show how your argument is supported by the evidence gained from the sources. Signpost this evidence: For instance, for example etc. Your argument should be organised in a straightforward manner. In the conclusion, summarise the main points of your essay.

2. Writing an essay: Editing

It is important, when writing an essay, to always proofread your work.

2.1 Revising the Structure.

Make sure that your introduction accurately describes what follows in the main text. The body of the essay should be presented in the order of the stated outline. Check that you have clearly stated your argument in the opening sentences and that the argument has been adequately demonstrated in the main body of the essay. In essay writing, you need a straightforward and consistent structure with one paragraph following on from another coherently and meaningfully. Each paragraph should carry the argument forward. The conclusion needs to follow logically from the points made. Check that any quotes you have used are really relevant to the point you are raising. Quotes should not appear without explanation and discussion. Are you agreeing or disagreeing with the author? State why. Above all, check that you have answered the question.  

2.2 Grammar and Spelling.

The use of simple syntax is recommended in essay writing. Proofread your essay for examples of ambiguity, verbosity and contradictions. It is important to avoid unnecessarily “padding” the text with rambling explanations, reiterations of the same point or long quotes. Make sure you understand and have adequately defined any technical terms used. Use a spell check. Find out how your essay should be presented e.g., wide margin, double-spaced, typed on one side of the paper only etc.         

2.3 Bibliography.

Check the bibliography. Every source you refer to in the text has to be referenced in the bibliography. Likewise, all texts acknowledged in your bibliography should be mentioned in your essay. If you have been adding to your bibliography as you read, take out the texts you didn’t make use of to write the essay.

2.4 Readers.

When writing essays always keep your reader in mind. It will help you clarify your ideas if you assume little or no knowledge of the subject by your reader, as you will need to explain your argument carefully, step by step. This will demonstrate that you fully understand what you are writing about. If possible, let a friend read through your essay before handing it in to the examiner. The feedback could be invaluable. Do you explain the terms you use? Is your meaning clear and unambiguous? Is your argument logical and coherent?

The final stage in writing essays is to rewrite your text correcting or improving any weaknesses discovered in the editing.

3. Writing an essay: Main Points

  • Read as much about the subject as you can.
  • Keep a list of sources as you read.
  • Acknowledge all sources both in the text and in the bibliography.
  • Write in a clear, straightforward style.
  • Do not pad.
  • Explain definitions.
  • Check your paragraphs follow logically.
  • Keep your reader in mind.
  • Do multiple drafts.
  • Proofread.

Above all: Answer the question.