The Art of Essay Writing: How to Write an Essay

When writing an essay, the planning stage is just as important as the writing itself. Deciding what information you would like to go into the essay. As well as how to structure this information to be most readable is extremely important when writing an essay, as it enables you to set out your arguments in a clear and logical manner. In most English speaking countries around the world the use of essays is essential in assessing competence and learning development. The most common form of essays used to this aim are discursive essays, such essays may typically vary in word count from 1,000 to 5,000 words, above which would be approaching the realm of a dissertation. However, when approaching such essays there are certain steps and practices that you can take into account to help you along the way.

The first step is to read the question! This may seem obvious, but often people can misinterpret questions and not fully understand what they are asking. A good starting point is to write out the essay title, then highlight the most important parts of it. For example:

‘People who go to private schools are more likely to get into University’. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

In the above example, the most important parts of the essay title are highlighted. Looking at these, it can be seen that the focus of the essay title is whether or not the writer agrees that attending a private school increases the likelihood of a person being accepted into University. Throughout the essay, the writer must ensure this topic is the focus of the discussion, and that the question of how much they agree with the statement is answered.

Understanding the Concepts

The second step when thinking about how to write an essay is to determine whether or not there are any words or concepts in the title that you do not fully understand. In the above example, there aren’t any complicated concepts, however some writers may not know much about private education or the University application and acceptance process, so may want to research these.

Write Down your Initial Thoughts

The third step when considering how to write an essay is to write down the initial thoughts that come into your mind when reading the question. This could be done in a spider diagram or just as a bullet point list. For example:

  • I don’t agree that having a private education increases a person’s likelihood of being accepted into University as everyone should have a fair chance regardless of their background
  • Universities are meant to look at academic achievements, personal statements, and in some cases interview outcomes to decide whether to offer an individual a place
  • However, it is possible that some Universities may be more concerned with financial situations than with academics
  • Some Universities may allow their decision to be influenced by factors other than academics, regardless of whether this is fair

Due to the essay title asking the question ‘To what extent do you agree with this statement?’, the writer must recognise that they are expected to consider both sides of the argument. This means that, regardless of personal opinion, the essay must be written without bias and with consideration for all possibilities, before finally coming to a conclusion weighing up all of the key points. Following this, directed research can be done to find the right resources to support your arguments. Often with academic assignments, whomever you are writing the piece of work for (school, University, etc.) will have composed a reading list to guide your research in the right direction. It is advisable to use these recommended sources if available. A combination of online resources and books, journals or articles will help to form a well-rounded knowledge basis, as well as ensuring that you have a variety of references.

How to Structure your Essay?

The fourth step when thinking about how to write an essay is to determine how best to structure your essay. Here is an example of a plan for the previous essay title:

  1. Introduction – this is where you should address how you are going to tackle the question, highlighting what the essay will aim to look at and how you plan to answer it. For the example question, the writer would aim to discuss the controversies surrounding private schools and University applications, as well as to discuss how the essay will be set out and what arguments will be looked at.
  2. Main body paragraphs – depending on your word count, the main body can be covered across many different paragraphs. Each paragraph should have a focus, and look to cover one side of the argument. It is necessary for all arguments to be supported by evidence. For the example question, the first two paragraphs would look at evidence to disagree with the statement, followed by a couple of paragraphs showing evidence that would support agreeing with the statement.
  3. Conclusion – this is where the key points discussed throughout the essay are summarised, with the final closing statement showing what side of the argument you believe to have been best supported by the evidence reviewed. A sentence can also be included on personal opinion of the topic if relevant. For the example question, the writer would establish what the key points were to influence whether or not they agreed with the statement, followed by the final decision as to what extent they agree with the statement having reviewed the evidence.For more information about how to write a conclusion see our conclusion writing guide.

Understanding the Criteria

The final step when considering how to write an essay is to look at the word count for this essay and what criteria is to be met to ensure all necessary information is included to achieve the outcomes. In addition to this, the writer must establish what style of referencing is expected and how many references they should include. To do this, look at the guidelines for your own piece of work. For more information on how to reference in Harvard style, look at our referencing guide in the resources section. A good piece of advice is to reference as you go, as people often struggle at the end of their work trying to remember where they got their information.

Use of Sources and Referencing

There are three main types of sourcing that are commonly used these include citations, footnotes and endnotes. Citations are in-text references, whilst footnotes and endnotes are references given at the end of a page or piece of work, using a numbering system with footnote or endnote markers. For more information about how to use sources see our sources guide.

Determining which type of method you use will be determined by the referencing system that you adopt. As each referencing system will have its own rules about how to cite information. Referencing is a system used in the academic community to highlight where certain ideas and information, theories, quotes, and any other evidence and information used to undertake the assignment has come from and can be found. See our referencing guide for further information. You may also want to consider using the Cite this for me tool if you are struggling with your referencing.

Finally, Proofread your Essay

Once you have written your essay, the final and often one of the most overlooked steps is to proofread your essay and ensure that you have not made any errors. At Express Proofreading we offer a professional academic proofreading service. We are able to ensure that your work is not only free from spelling mistakes and grammatical errors but we will also check syntax, sentence structure and are able to recommend improvements and suggestions that may be relevant to your work. We will also check that your tables and footnotes are accurate and consistent with your bibliography.