Essay writing isn't always easy, so here are some top tips to help you get started.

Arden University student typing on laptop

Writing an essay can be an intimidating task. While opinion and originality are valued, there is a certain science behind the art. Here we outline some solid tips that could help you take your essay writing to the next level.

Understand the question 

It may seem like we’re stating the obvious, but when writing an essay, it’s very easy to diverge from the question being asked. Understanding the question and the language being used in the question is vital in being able to write an essay that hits the mark. 

Evaluate? Analyse? Discuss? Compare and contrast? Pay attention to the specific words, as it will affect the way you approach your topic. If you’re unsure of what is expected from these words, don’t be afraid to ask your tutor! As you’re planning and writing the essay, it’s a great idea to pause occasionally and re-read the question, to make sure you’re still addressing the main point.

Pick the topic: research, research, research

Know what you’re going to write about before you start writing. It can be tempting to put pen to paper - or more likely, fingers to keys - as you’re reading, but start by just taking notes. The more sources you have (within reason), the stronger your own argument will be.

When you’ve understood the question, generate a thesis for the essay that you can summarise in one sentence. It should be a narrow statement that you will analyse, defend and sometimes give your opinion on. Having this thesis will help give your essay focus, as you keep referring to it during your research. 

Structure and focus

Structuring an essay is fairly straightforward. Sticking to that structure, however, can be a little more difficult. If we follow the common three-point essay (five if you include three main body paragraphs in the middle section), then it is, on paper, a fairly simple structure. A classic piece of advice on structuring: in the introduction, tell the reader what you are going to tell them; in the body of the essay, tell them; and in the conclusion, tell them what you told them. 

Leave the introduction and conclusions until last - go straight for your strongest argument to begin with and fill out the body of your essay. Once the main arguments have been made, writing the introduction and conclusion will be a piece of cake.

Take a break, edit, proofread

Once you’ve finished your first draft (assuming, as a diligent student, you haven’t left it until the last minute to complete!), leave it for a day. Coming back to it with fresh eyes later will help you notice mistakes or inconsistencies. Make the next time you look at the essay an editing run through. Check that it flows and doesn’t jump between points too dramatically. And most importantly, of course, is making sure you’re always addressing the question.

When you’ve done that, the final few checks should be the proofread - mainly ironing out punctuation and grammar mistakes, and making sure those references are formatted correctly. Doing this can help get you those extra marks that can take your grade up a level.

The rest

Don’t be afraid to use technology to assist you in your essay writing (we don’t mean procrastination favourites, such as browsing BoredPanda or social media). There’s some great apps which can help alleviate some of the pressures of writing, such as Evernote for the research and reading stages, and Grammarly for the final editing and proofreading stages. 

And don’t forget - essay writing can (and we think, should) be fun! Pick the right topic and explore with interest. Even a subject that at first may seem boring, can be fascinating if you apply the right mindset and exercise your curiosity!

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