Essay writing is an essential skill that all students need to develop in order to survive, and thrive in, school and beyond. Follow our nine steps to essay success.
Nail the question. It sounds obvious, but if you don't REALLY understand the question, you're doomed to fail before you even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). If you have any doubts whatsoever about what your teacher wants, double- and triple-check with them before you start.
Create a skeleton. Break the question down into parts to create an outline of your essay. Make sure all the points in the question are included in your outline. Need some help with this step? Grab a free copy of our essay planning template by filling out the form on this page.
Research. Gather as much information as you can about your topic. Use the library, research online (using lots of different authoritative sites), speak to people you know, gather interviews.
Brainstorm. Ask yourself a whole heap of questions about the topic. If you're used to creating mindmaps, this is the time to use one. Allow your mind to travel broadly on the topic to stretch yourself beyond what might usually be expected. Then when you've got all your questions, use more research to answer them!
Body build. In point form, start to put some muscle on that skeleton you built earlier. Don't start writing yet, but using all the notes you've taken in your research and brainstorm phase, plan out the main arguments you'll include in each paragraph.
Hang on a sec! Don't start with your introduction yet, that will come later...
Your essay body. Each paragraph in your essay should deal with a separate insight. Start each paragraph with a topical sentence, then support that topic with the evidence or reasoning found in your research phase.
The conclusion. Wrap up your essay with a quick summary that holds up your arguments one last time. Some students like to end with a memorable thought such as a quotation or call to action - but make sure it's relevant, and that you attribute it correctly.
Finally... the introduction. It's much easier to introduce something AFTER you've written it. Use your introduction to outline the points asked in the question, and describe how your essay addresses these points.
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Creating a good plan is a very positive early step towards writing a good assignment.
You should begin by analysing the question and brainstorming some ideas relating to the topic. You should consider what sort of answer is required and what sort of approach you need to take – these will affect the structure of your assignment.
Some assignments have a standard format (e.g. lab reports, case studies) and these will normally be explained in your course materials. However, some assignments don’t have a set structure – typically those which require you to argue a position – and for these you will need to devise a plan (or outline) before you start writing.
- After your brainstorming you should come up with a provisional thesis statement (a sentence or two which summarises your overall position on the issue) – this statement represents what your argument is leading to.
- You should then begin to construct an outline of your argument in dot point form (some people like to do a mind map at this stage, but it will eventually have to be converted into a linear form).
- You should then read and make notes, questioning and critically appraising the information you find.
- You need to repeat this process, modifying as necessary all elements as you go along.
All these elements and activities work together:
- Your thesis statement will give direction to your reading; it will help you to ensure that the focus of your research is relevant.
- Reading provides you with new material for your assignment – taking a critical approach to reading allows you to pose challenges and to arrive at new perspectives; it allows you to be original in your work.
- Your outline will change as you absorb more information from your reading and develop your own interpretations to inform your arguments.
- Your outline will also guide you in arriving at an appropriate balance: you’ll see areas which will require more reading, or, conversely, where some sections are becoming too large at the expense of others.
Eventually, you will have a plan which is detailed enough for you to start writing – you will know what ideas go into each section and, ideally, each paragraph; you will also know where to find evidence for those ideas in your notes and the sources of that evidence.
If you are unsure what kind of structure to use, click here. [link to I don’t know what the structure for this assignment should be]