- Understand the question. Underline key points or words. Is it asking you to discuss, contrast, define or evaluate? Answer the question that’s actually on the page, not the question you wish was there.
- Do your research. Make detailed notes from your sources (books, articles, films). Make sure you always write down the full details of where any quotes or ideas come from. Exercise caution when using internet sources – Wikipedia, whilst a wonderful resource, should not be quoted as a source.
- Plan your structure. Start by just getting your ideas down with a spider diagram or a list. After you’ve done that, begin to re-arrange material into a more coherent structure, deciding on what to include in your introduction, your main points for each paragraph and how you will draw it all together in the conclusion.
- Use the active voice wherever possible. The active voice occurs when the subject of the sentence is also the ‘doer’: eg. ‘Hitler’s army invaded Poland’ rather than ‘Poland was invaded by Hitler’s army’. The first sentence is much more direct and snappy – the passive voice can easily sound waffly.
- Don’t make sweeping generalisations. These can include sentences such as “Many people think that [insert opinion]”. Be specific – if you can’t say which people, and reference where they’ve said it, then it’s probably best to re-think what you’re writing.
- Be careful not to present other people’s ideas and opinions as your own. It’s easily done, but it’s still plagiarism. If you’re putting forward an opinion that you’ve read on a particular subject, write: ‘[Dr X] wrote in her paper on [Y] that it’s possible that [Z]’.
Most important, though, is to remember that your essay should be your chance to put across what you think and feel about a subject. If you can follow the advice above, and put something of yourself into your essay, then you’re onto something very good indeed.
For some other great articles on Essay Writing, check out what our tutors have written on the subject.