Essays Techniques

Being able to write well is not only fundamental to passing your exams, it’s a vital life skill. Using good grammar and correct spelling are essential, so if you’re weak on these, try and brush up a little more! Make sure you understand how to use paragraphs correctly. No one wants to read one long stream of consciousness. So take a look at these essay writing technique tips.

General technique

Essays need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. The introduction should outline the problem, explain why it’s important, and briefly outline the main arguments. Don’t start with a dictionary definition – this is clichéd and boring. It should sum up the main arguments in the middle and finish with a conclusions that finally answers the essay question.

Good essay writing technique means having a well-ordered essay. Make sure you plan your essay. Make a bullet point list, table, or spider diagram with the main components of your answer and clearly order them. Poor structure is one of the main reasons students get marked down in essays. Order your thoughts logically and stick to your essay plan. You may want to use subtitles to help you organise your essay.

The main thing that the examiners are looking for is to see that you’ve understood the question. Demonstrate your keen conceptual awareness and understanding of the key issues. Do not be vague. Be specific and illustrate your work with appropriately referenced examples. Use figures or pictures or maps to illustrate your point. Demonstrate that you’ve done the wider reading.

Make sure you answer the question. If it’s a ‘compare and contrast’ kind of question, you’ll need to demonstrate both sides of the argument. If it’s a ‘define and explain’ kind of question, you’ll need to show that you have a deep understanding of the topic. If it has two parts, divide your essay into two parts to answer the question. Read widely around the topic before you even start and you’re halfway there.

In the conclusions, you need to sum up your arguments. Do not introduce anything new at this stage. Highlight the most important points and provide a final conclusion.

Remember to proof read your work! Critically read it through with a red pen. Have you repeated yourself? Be your worst critic and CUT savagely. Use everyone one of your alloted words to good effect. Cut the waffle and stick to justified (and referenced) statements. Keep your writing clear and simple.

Correct spelling and grammar is a must. Some general language tips:

  • Avoid semicolons as they are difficult to use correctly and effectively.
  • Paragraphs should follow a ‘theme’. They generally consist of more than one sentence.
  • It comprises, but is composed of (it never comprises of).
  • Avoid using the same word too frequently or twice in quick succession.
  • Do not use clichés, metaphores or similes.
  • Do not use abbreviations. Stick to formal English (don’t use don’t).
  • Try to avoid using the first person. (“I”).
  • Try to use the active voice rather than the passive voice where possible – it makes for more direct and interesting reading.

If you don’t understand English grammar, read Eats, shoots and leaves by Lynne Truss.

Finally, make sure you read carefully any feedback you are given on your essays. Your tutors will be keen to help you learn and progress.

Referencing and citations

At undergraduate level, more so than at A-Level, you will need to demonstrate evidence of further reading. Lectures are supposed to be a pointer and guide for your further reading. By reading, we mean published, peer-reviewed literature; Wikipedia does not count! Other websites (including this one) should not be cited in essays, but you can use them to further your understanding and get lists of peer-reviewed literature to read.

Make sure you understand the referencing style (copy the syle used in Elsevier journals as a good guide), and if you don’t understand, ask your lecturer and teacher. See the example paragraph below.

Example referencing style

Despite substantial evidence for multiple glaciations in Britain and Scandinavia during the Quaternary, the interaction between these ice masses in eastern England and in the North Sea remains unclear. There is extensive evidence of large Scandinavian and British ice sheets in the North Sea during each of the main glacial stages (Ehlers et al. 1984; Sejrup et al. 2005; Davies et al. 2011). Coalescence of the British-Irish Ice Sheet (BIIS) and Fennoscandian Ice Sheet (FIS) have been suggested during MIS 12, MIS 6 and the Devensian (MIS 5d-2) (Catt and Penny 1966; Catt and Digby 1988; Bowen 1999; Carr et al. 2006; Catt 2007; Davies et al. 2009; 2012), with Scandinavian ice reaching the coast of eastern England during MIS 6 and MIS 12. However, recent research in north Norfolk has challenged this argument, suggesting that the North Sea Drift tills, which were traditionally thought to comprise Scandinavian and Scottish tills, have purely a Scottish provenance, and may in fact be older than MIS 12 (Lee et al. 2002; 2004; 2012).

Bowen, D.Q., 1999. On the correlation and classification of Quaternary deposits and land-sea correlations, A Revised Correlation of Quaternary Deposits in the British Isles. Geological Society Special Report, Special Report 23. Geological Society of London, London, pp. 1-10.

Carr, S.J., Holmes, R., van der Meer, J.J.M. and Rose, J., 2006. The Last Glacial Maximum in the North Sea: Micromorphological evidence of extensive glaciation. Journal of Quaternary Science, 21(2): 131-153.

Catt, J.A., 2007. The Pleistocene glaciations of eastern Yorkshire: a review. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 56(3): 177-207.

Catt, J.A. and Digby, P.G.N., 1988. Boreholes in the Wolstonian Basement Till at Easington, Holderness, July 1985. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 47(1): 21-27.

Catt, J.A. and Penny, L.F., 1966. The Pleistocene deposits of Holderness, East Yorkshire. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 35: 375-420.

Davies, B.J., Roberts, D.H., Bridgland, D.R., Ó Cofaigh, C. and Riding, J.B., 2011. Provenance and depositional environments of Quaternary sedimentary formations of the western North Sea Basin. Journal of Quaternary Science, 26(1): 59-75.

Davies, B.J., Roberts, D.H., Bridgland, D.R., Ó Cofaigh, C., Riding, J.B., Demarchi, B., Penkman, K. and Pawley, S.M., 2012. Timing and depositional environments of a Middle Pleistocene glaciation of northeast England: New evidence from Warren House Gill, County Durham. Quaternary Science Reviews, 44: 180-212.

Davies, B.J., Roberts, D.H., Bridgland, D.R., Ó Cofaigh, C., Riding, J.B., Phillips, E.R. and Teasdale, D.A., 2009. Interlobate ice sheet dynamics during the Last Glacial Maximum at Whitburn Bay, County Durham, England. Boreas, 38: 555-575.

Ehlers, J., Meyer, K.-D. and Stephan, H.-J., 1984. The Pre-Weichselian glaciations of North-West Europe. Quaternary Science Reviews, 3(1): 1-40.

Lee, J.R., Busschers, F.S. and Sejrup, H.P., 2012. Pre-Weichselian Quaternary glaciations of the British Isles, The Netherlands, Norway and adjacent marine areas south of 68°N: implications for long-term ice sheet development in northern Europe. Quaternary Science Reviews, 44: 213-228.

Lee, J.R., Rose, J., Hamblin, R.J.O. and Moorlock, B.S.P., 2004. Dating the earliest lowland glaciation of eastern England: a pre-MIS 12 early Middle Pleistocene Happisburgh glaciation. Quaternary Science Reviews, 23(14-15): 1551-1566.

Lee, J.R., Rose, J., Riding, J.B., Moorlock, B.S.P. and Hamblin, R.J.O., 2002. Testing the case for a Middle Pleistocene Scandinavian glaciation in Eastern England: evidence for a Scottish ice source for tills within the Corton Formation of East Anglia, UK. Boreas, 31(4): 345-355.

Sejrup, H.P., Hjelstuen, B.O., Torbjorn Dahlgren, K.I., Haflidason, H., Kuijpers, A., Nygard, A., Praeg, D., Stoker, M.S. and Vorren, T.O., 2005. Pleistocene glacial history of the NW European continental margin. Marine and Petroleum Geology, 22(9-10): 1111-1129.

Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.

According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:

1. Pick a topic.

You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.

If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?

Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.

Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.

2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.

In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.

To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.

If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.

3. Write your thesis statement.

Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?

Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”

Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”

4. Write the body.

The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.

Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.

5. Write the introduction.

Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.

Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.

6. Write the conclusion.

The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.

7. Add the finishing touches.

After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.

Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.

Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.

Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.

Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.

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