How to Write an Essay Structuring your ideas!
Why do you write an essay? • You write an essay to answer a set question. • An essay is a formal way of writing. It has a clear structure. In English, essays do not have subheadings or pictures. They are written clearly in paragraphs, beginning with an introduction and ending with a conclusion. • The main purpose of an essay is to answer the question given. Don’t simply retell the story. Explain your points about your opinion.
Structure of an Essay Introduction This is one paragraph that states your argument and gives your reader an idea of what you will be talking about in the essay. Body The body is made up of a number of paragraphs. Each discusses a different point. Together the paragraphs answer the set question. The paragraphs refer to things that are in the text to support the ideas. It is excellent to use direct quotes as well. Conclusion This is one paragraph that re-states and sums up the ideas in your argument and lets the reader know that you have finished. It does not bring in any new ideas!
What goes into the introduction? • The introduction is an opening paragraph that briefly explains what direction you are going to take in answering the question. • It should summarise the main ideas that you are going to discuss so that the reader has a clear understanding of what you are going to be talking about. • You should also attempt to make it interesting to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to read on!
What goes into the body? The body of the essay explains your ideas to the reader. It is made up of several paragraphs. Each paragraph should present a different idea and be organised as follows: • A topic sentence – the main idea of the paragraph • Explanation/discussion of your topic sentence • Quotes or examples from the text you are referring to • An explanation of how this is relevant to and explains the question that you are answering
What goes into the conclusion? • The conclusion sums up your argument on the topic. • It should briefly re-state the key points of your argument and describe the way that they collectively answer the question and prove your ideas to be true. • Never, EVER bring a new idea into your conclusion! The conclusion is the end of your essay and should neatly finish up your argument. This means you should never give any new information in this paragraph.
Audience The audience (the people who read your essay) is formal. This means that you should use a wide, proper vocabulary rather than slang or colloquial language.Easy ways to formalise your language include: • Avoid using contractions (e.g. say “would not” instead of “wouldn’t”, “does not” instead of “doesn’t” etc.) • Never use the word “I” in an essay. You are discussing your ideas, but you should speak as though what you are saying is commonly accepted truth, not you own opinion. For example, instead of saying: I think Shakespeare uses his characters to show that true love conquers all. Say something like: Shakespeare uses his characters to show that true love conquers all. This is a more formal way to explain your point. It also makes you sound more authoritative, and therefore makes you sound like you must be right!
Planning • The key to writing a great essay is to plan it before you start. NEVER sit down to write an essay without planning it first. You will end up with an unstructured response that doesn’t make sense and probably doesn’t answer the question properly. • Not everyone thinks and writes in the same way, and as such, people will plan in different ways to suit them. Eventually, with time and practice, you will figure out a method of essay planning that is comfortable for you. In the meantime, there are some simple tools that you can use to get your head around an essay topic…
1. Pulling the Question Apart • The best way to start is by figuring out what the question is actually asking you to talk about. Try highlighting or underlining key words and writing simple notes around the question that help explain what you are supposed to do. e.g. How does Shakespeare show throughhischaracters the ideas and values he is presenting to the world in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”? So…the question is asking me to explain what the ideas and values are in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and the way that these are shown through the actions and interactions of the characters…
2. Brainstorming • Brainstorming is a great way to think of interesting ideas on the topics. • Try spending a few minutes writing down everything that you know about the topic off the top of your head. Don’t worry about what comes out, just let your thoughts flow onto the page and see what you end up with. • If you get stuck, read over the question again and see if you can think of anything new.
2. Brainstorming Once you have some ideas, try drawing a Mind Map. One like this is a good start for ordering your thoughts: Further thoughts First Idea Second Idea Essay Question Third Idea Fourth Idea
3. Research and Note-Taking • The next step is to find solid evidence to back up your ideas and prove that they are true. • Depending on the essay question, the expectations of the assignment and your teacher, you may be required to research a number of different books, websites, etc. to find information. • You can search for information based on the ideas you already have. Look back to your brainstorm. • In an English essay, you should definitely use your text as a source of information, evidence and quotes!
4. Develop Your Argument • Once you have some ideas and quotes to back them up, you can start to develop your argument. Look at the information that you have and figure out what point of view you are going to take in answering the question. • Try drawing another Mind Map to put your ideas in order: First Paragraph Second Paragraph Main idea of paragraph, quotes that relate to this idea etc. Main Theme of Your Essay Fourth Paragraph Third Paragraph
4. Develop Your Argument Another way that you can plan and structure your argument is to fill out the following outline…
Introduction 1. Catchy opening sentence 2. Elaboration of topic moving from more general to more specific statements. Indicate main points of discussion the essay will address: • First main point • Second main point • Third main point…etc. 3. State the main theme or point of your essay at (or near) the end of the introduction.
Body 1. First paragraph: typically the strongest or second strongest point of your argument • Start with a topic sentence introducing the point • Elaborate with supporting argument • Second supporting point • Third supporting point…etc. • End with a linking sentence to the next paragraph’s topic sentence 2. Second paragraph: next strongest point in your argument • Topic sentence • Elaborate with supporting argument • Second supporting point • Third supporting point…etc. • End with a linking sentence to the next paragraph’s topic sentence 3. Third, fourth, fifth…etc. paragraphs: format as above 4. Final paragraph of the body before the conclusion: save your strongest or second strongest point for this paragraph • Topic sentence • Supporting points • Linking sentence to the conclusion
Conclusion 1. Start with a re-stating of your main theme or point (in different words from your introduction) 2. Move from specific statements reiterating your main points to more general observations without introducing new ideas 3. End with punch, a strong statement backing up or reinforcing your argument
5. Get Writing • Now that you have a detailed essay plan, it should be fairly easy to fill out your paragraphs with linking sentences that create a good, logical flow when it is read • Remember to keep referring back to the original question as you plan and write to ensure that you are answering all aspects • Draft your essay, then edit and rewrite it to ensure it makes sense, uses correct spelling, formal vocabulary etc. • GOOD LUCK!