The above essay is actually a meta-essay, in that it is written in the precise form that it describes. The key to writing such an essay is planning. How does one plan such a well-structured essay?
First: one gather information. As you read about a topic, you should be trying to structure the information in roughly three broad points that will become the support for your argument. You should be able to express each of these broad points in a short sentence. Each point or line of evidence should be distinct from one another.
Second: form the thesis statement out of the broad points identified during your reading. Each of the points should be represented briefly in the thesis statement, and will then serve to structure the essay in paragraphs.
Third, write the opening paragraph. Keep in mind that the goal of the first paragraph is to gently lead the reader to the thesis statement. By the time they reach the last sentence of the introductory paragraph, they should have all the contextual information they need to understand the thesis.
Fourth, write each supporting paragraph separately. Make each of the points you highlighted in the thesis statement into a topic sentence, followed by information that relates back to that topic. Do not include more than one topic in a paragraph. At this point, do not worry about transitioning between paragraphs.
Fifth, write the concluding paragraph. Paraphrase your thesis sentence — more or less — for the opening sentence, then broaden the scope. Link everything to the main topic and try to leave the reader with something important: perhaps about the impact the topic might have, implications of your argument, or the like. You have some freedom here. Be creative and critical, but always relevant.
Finally, read everything together. You might wait a day or so before between the previous step and this final step. This is your chance to tweak the writing and smooth over any awkward phrases. Add some transitions between the body paragraphs if needed. Look for basic errors like incomplete sentences, copy-paste issues, and the like.
If you followed the steps above you should now have a well-structured essay that makes your ideas transparent to whoever may read it. If you are a student hoping for a good mark, here’s a secret from cognitive science: fluency effects mean that your easy-to-read essay looks better to your marker than an hard-to-read essay with ideas of the same quality. With a bit of planning, you can take advantage of your marker’s cognitive biases, and have them thank you for it.
Write a first draft
Your first draft will help you work out:
- the structure and framework of your essay
- how you will answer the question
- which evidence and examples you will use
- how your argument will be logically structured.
Your first draft will not be your final essay; think of it as raw material you will refine through editing and redrafting. Once you have a draft, you can work on writing well.
Structure your essay in the most effective way to communicate your ideas and answer the question.
All essays should include the following structure
A paragraph is a related group of sentences that develops one main idea. Each paragraph in the body of the essay should contain:
- A topic sentence that states the main or controlling idea
- Supporting sentences to explain and develop the point you’re making
- Evidence. Most of the time, your point should be supported by some form of evidence from your reading, or by an example drawn from the subject area.
- Analysis. Don’t just leave the evidence hanging there - analyse and interpret it! Comment on the implication/significance/impact and finish off the paragraph with a critical conclusion you have drawn from the evidence.
- a concluding sentence that restates your point, analyses the evidence or acts as a transition to the next paragraph.
See The Learning Centre guide Paraphrasing, summarising and quoting
Tips for effective writing
- Start writing early - the earlier the better. Starting cuts down on anxiety, beats procrastination, and gives you time to develop your ideas.
- Keep the essay question in mind. Don’t lose track of the question or task. Keep a copy in front of you as you draft and edit and work out your argument.
- Don’t try to write an essay from beginning to end (especially not in a single sitting). Begin with what you are ready to write - a plan, a few sentences or bullet points. Start with the body and work paragraph by paragraph.
- Write the introduction and conclusion after the body. Once you know what your essay is about, then write the introduction and conclusion.
- Use 'signpost' words in your writing. Transition signals can help the reader follow the order and flow of your ideas.
- Integrate your evidence carefully. Introduce quotations and paraphrases with introductory phrases.
- Revise your first draft extensively. Make sure the entire essay flows and that the paragraphs are in a logical order.
- Put the essay aside for a few days. This allows you to consider your essay and edit it with a fresh eye.
See The Learning Centre guides to Introducing quotations and paraphrasesandTransition signals