Essay Writing

Now you’ve finished your preparation you need to get down to actually doing some essay writing! You will already have some pieces of writing and these now need to be crafted into your essay. First of all lets consider essay format.

Essay Format

There is standard essay writing format that should always be followed. No matter what your essay is about it must consist of an introduction, a main body (or middle) and a conclusion. There should be no subtitles (an essay being a continuous piece of prose). The introduction should say what is going to be said, the main body should say it and the conclusion should summarise what's been said, and possibly give an opinion. We’ll now consider each of the parts of essay format in more detail.

Essay writing 1: The Introduction

The introduction of an essay is a paragraph in which the reader is told what the essay is about, and what kind of information it’ll contain. A good essay plan is very useful for constructing an introduction. It helps you focus on what the themes of your essay are. "Attention grabbers" can be included in the introduction as long as they indicate what the essay is about. An example from an essay about hamsters:

“Until recently the Syrian hamster was thought to be extinct in the wild. It’s now been re-discovered to science after almost 30 years. This essay considers the history of the Syrian hamster from it’s initial discovery and description in 1843. The early use of the hamster as a laboratory animal is described, along with how this led to the domestication of the hamster as a pet. The origins of domesticated hamsters are examined, along with the effects of them all having descended from only three related individuals. The genetic and physical changes that have occurred in domesticated animals are discussed in relation to the original wild type animals. Finally the potential future of Syrian hamsters is considered, both in the wild and as pets.”

In this example the first two sentences make up the “attention grabber” (but remember this is a fictitious example!).

Make sure the reader knows where your introduction ends and the main body of your essay begins.

It’s okay if the introduction is the last part of the essay you complete. Since the introduction provides a snapshot of the rest of the essay you must know just where the essay is headed before you can write it. You’ll therefore at least need a good essay plan to follow. Even then you may want to check your introduction after you’ve written the body of your essay, just to make sure it really is introducing the essay you’ve just written!

Essay writing 2: The Main body

The main body of an essay should be written using paragraphs, each conveying one main idea, and perhaps giving examples. Each sub-topic or argument should be discussed in one or a few paragraphs, depending on the length and complexity of the essay.

Following an essay plan helps in structuring the main body, and for ensuring that only relevant information is included - and that nothing is forgotten. This is the point where you link together and tidy up the writing you did when you did your research. You may need to review some of the reading material again, and you’ll be glad you referenced everything properly! At this point you should remove any sub-headings (or plan headings) you might’ve been using up to now. An essay is a piece of continuous prose and should not be broken up under sub-headings.

An introductory sentence should indicate what each paragraph is about. Think about the transitions between the paragraphs of your essay and look for interesting words and phrases to move your essay along. Make sure that you aren’t overusing words and phrases such as "also" and “in addition” to move your writing forward. Avoid starting your paragraphs using numerical transitions, such as first, second, third and finally. The main body of each paragraph contains further information and ideas, and may give examples. The concluding sentence of each paragraph should lead the reader to the next paragraph.

Each sentence should be concise and convey a single idea. A mixture of short and long sentences can be used, but using too many long sentences is not a good idea (especially for the novice). Long sentences are more difficult to construct properly. It’s also often easier to make a point clear by using shorter sentences, which tend to be easier to read.

When essay writing be careful not to repeat words or phrases several times in the same paragraph, if you can avoid it. If necessary try rewording one or more sentences that contain the repeats. Also use a thesaurus to find alternative words that mean the same thing. If you use a word-processor see if it has an in-built thesaurus, and if it does learn to use it!

Always try to think about your essay writing from the point of view of a reader. If you’re bored with what you’re writing then a reader would probably feel the same way! Try to find interesting examples to illustrate your main points. Aim to seamlessly condense and combine the most relevant, important and interesting findings of your research. A reader should be able to glide painlessly through your essay without struggling to understand what you’ve written, or why you’ve written it. The order in which you’ve arranged your information should seem logical, and help lead the reader, as naturally as possible, to your conclusions.

Essay writing 3: The Conclusion

Make sure the reader can tell where the essay body ends and the conclusion begins. The conclusion of an essay should summarise the main points. No new material should be included and examples should not be given. An overall concluding opinion can be given, particularly when the essay is a discursive piece or involves critical evaluation. However this is not the place to reargue your opinion: it should already be clear why and how you came to your point of view. If it’s not clear you need to re-write the main body of your essay to make it clear.

Essay writing 4: The Writing style

The style of your writing should be tailored to the type of essay you’re writing, but unless you’re doing a “journalistic piece” you’re likely to be expected to write formally (ask if you’re not sure). For formal writing you should use impersonal language and not use slang or colloquial (conversational) expressions. Others, including your teacher, will most probably not understand dialect that you consider commonplace.

When writing formally don’t address your readers directly (as I’ve been doing here), and (mostly) don’t refer to yourself specifically. You may refer to the authors of any references you’ve been reading (see the referencing section to see how to do this properly). The only exception is if you have to critically evaluate various points of view or conflicting research. Then it seems unnatural to always refer to your own views in the impersonal (although it’s possible by using phrases such as “The evidence suggests…” and words like “apparently”). Using impersonal forms then can tend to weaken the strength of your assertions: “Given the evidence it appears that…” just doesn’t pack the same punch as “In my opinion…”. In this case I would definitely use the personal form (but if you’re in doubt ask your teacher, tutor or lecturer).

Essay writing 5: The Use and abuse of quotations

Don’t overuse quotations in your essay writing, and make sure any quotations you use are really relevant and add something to your essay. Unless a quote is exceptionally insightful or controversial it’s better to only quote key people in the field. Don’t use quotes simply to avoid writing something in your own words, and always credit the original author for any quotes you do use.

Now you've finished the main part of your essay writing don't rush to hand your essay in! The first drafts of all essays should be revised and edited thoroughly: now it's time to move to the next stage of essay writing, the editing...