How to Write Better Essays | 6 Practical Tips

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Date of Publication: 23 September 2021

Writing can feel unnatural to some of us. By our very human nature we are social beings and so often find it difficult to communicate and express ourselves through writing. 

When it comes to talking and having a conversation with someone, you wouldn’t need to think about a structure, referencing, or even research. So it’s no surprise that many students struggle with essay writing.

For those of us who find it difficult to write a great essay, it’s commonplace to turn to our internet browsers for assistance. After all, there are so many websites who can claim to help you write a better essay – some may even write an essay for you! But as appealing as these sites may claim to be, you should avoid them at all costs. 

Instead, you need to turn inwards and work out what it is that’s blocking you from writing a masterpiece. Some claim that it can be boring, while others feel overwhelmed with the different topics, as well as the pressures of meeting deadlines. 

Once you’ve worked out what your blockers are, you’ll find it much easier to target these specific problem areas and become a more proficient essay writer. 

To give you a helping hand, we have compiled our top 6 tried and tested tips to help you write better essays.  Align them with your own personal qualms and you’ll have all the tools you need to get better at writing essays.

 

girl-typing-essay

Tip #1 – Planning/Preparation

Before writing your essay, it’s important to plan ahead – the process of selecting what you want to include in your essay, as well as what the overall structure will look like. That is, what journey you’re going to take the reader on. 

Having a well-planned and organised essay will help put your thoughts into order, making sure your points are clear, logical and thoroughly explained. Planning an essay in this way will not only allow you to see whether you have hit the marking criteria, but ensure you’ve included everything you wanted to cover in the discussion. 

Depending on what type of essay you are writing, formulating your plan can vary from one subject to another however, assignments are usually formulated in one of the following ways:

  • As a question.
  • A statement is given to you and you will be asked to create an argument for your point of view.
  • You will be given a task to ‘outline’, ‘discuss’, or ‘critically assess’ a particular argument point of view.

Something that may sound obvious, but one of the problems that many students face is not fully answering the essay question or including enough relevant information. It is possible that you may muddle up your subjects or modules – so remember to always write your essay based on the question that is set, and everything you need to include in your essay will be taught in your class. 

Teachers and tutors have a set syllabus that they follow to ensure that anything you need to mention in your essay will be taught or touched upon during your lectures/seminars, so you are never left in the dark. 

 

The process of essay planning:

Everyone writes and plans differently. However, it is important to find a plan and writing process that suits you. 

Here is an example of just one way to plan an essay that you may find helpful:

  1. Break down the different parts of your assignment question: Find out what the question is asking you to do then identify what you need to write about. Find out whether it is asking you to ‘discuss’, ‘argue’, ‘describe’ etc – knowing this will help you develop your main ideas to answer the question.
  2. Brainstorm everything you know about the topic: Identify your thoughts on the subject and what your instinctive response would be to the essay question. This will help you narrow down key topics to research further. Something that some students tend to forget – remember to go through your notes you have taken during classes, seminars and lectures! These notes can help remind you what you have covered during classes – and if you have lecture slides, use them to your advantage!
  3. Research: If you were provided with a reading list, use this to your advantage. Skim through the recommended reading and once you have identified your key points that will help you answer your question, put these together in a mind map or on a large piece of paper (whatever works for you).
  4. Once you have your research, you can then organise which points relate back to your question, thinking carefully about how you will prove/argue your point. Begin arcing a loose structure with the arguments of your essay, but ensure you remember to include evidence that you have gathered against your statement.
  5. Decide on your main points: You can make a summary of each of your separate points that you have researched previously. You can put these points on cards or sticky notes and then physically move them around until you have found the best flow for your argument. Remember to think about how each point links to one another. How will your paragraph build on your argument?

This is a rough guide to help structure your essay in 5 easy steps. Of course, you can make your own adjustments to it – your essay plan should make your life easier and make complete sense to you. 

Once you have a clearly defined and strong essay plan, you’ll soon discover that the task of actually writing it becomes more efficient. 

 

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Tip #2 – How to write an essay introduction

Now we’ve learnt how to structure an essay, let’s start at the very beginning of your writing process: the introduction. As well as what are the key points that are needed to ensure you write the best possible start to capture your reader. 

What does an introduction usually need to include? Putting it simply, an introduction generally comes in three parts.

  1. The first part is usually the general statement – this part is where you show the reader why the topic is important, capturing the reader’s attention that will lead them into the topic of your essay question.
  2. The second part of the introduction is the thesis statement – this is your response to the question; it is the most important part of the introduction. Giving the reader the information of what your essay will be about, the thesis statement tells the reader the specific topic of the essay which can include advantages and disadvantages, briefly explaining both sides of your essay question.
  3. Finally, the third part of the introduction is meant to tell the reader what to expect from the body of the essay – this is where you will outline your arguments. Keeping your essay consistent is important, so you don’t lose track of what you will be mentioned in the main body. It will tell the reader what they can expect to see in the essay and what order.

Why not create a checklist to ensure you hit all three aspects of a good introduction? Here is an example of a checklist you could use:

  • Does the essay begin with a general statement which introduces the topic?
  • Does the introduction include the thesis statement (introducing advantages and disadvantages)?
  • Does the introduction outline the main points?
  • Do you have a clear, well-organised structure? Is it in chronological order?

 

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Tip #3 – Creative writing to strengthen your essay

Did you know that you can use creative writing techniques to strengthen your essay? The concept is to make your essay unique, one of a kind, and break traditional academic forms of literature to make it a more engaging read. 

Incorporating this writing technique will capture the interest of your reader and convey the message you are trying to put across with conviction, keeping your readers engaged throughout.

What are the techniques you can use for your essay?

Firstly, think about your reader. If you are writing an essay for school or university, it is most likely to be marked by your teacher or university lecturer. As they’ll likely be reading tens of other essays all on the very same topic, you will want to answer the question effectively whilst being straight to the point – ensuring they can easily find the information they need to help you score higher marks. You’ll have a set question which you will be focusing on which you should ensure you refer back to original questions throughout the essay – you don’t want to lose your reader’s focus attention!

Secondly, another creative writing technique you can employ within your essay writing is the three act structure. This method is not only used in a creative writing piece, but also in films and TV. These “acts” are not distinct from one another, but rather they flow seamlessly throughout to give a natural movement of motion and plot.

Using the three act structure for a school or university essay, you would start with writing the set up – this is where you will establish what you are talking about, essentially setting the scene. You could create an introduction by opposing the essay question, highlighting your main concerns with the statement whilst backing it with evidence.

Secondly is the confrontation – This will typically be the longest part of the three sections. You will want to introduce all your surrounding problems about the topic of your essay. Develop your arguments and ensure you relate back to your original question, how is it answering it? And again, continue to use evidence throughout answering the question.

Resolution – This is where you will be summarising your mentioned arguments with your point of view. When mentioning your opinion, just remember to make sure to include evidence in how you came to this conclusion. You can now tie off any loose ends by offering an alternative explanation for a counter argument. 

Keeping this method in mind can keep you focused and centred to your point, and could help bring you straight to the point, reducing the amount you waffle in your essay. You can also rest easy knowing that your essay has good pace and a natural flow – covering all the elements and points you need to achieve good grades. 

For more information on how to incorporate creative writing into your essay check out our article “10 Top Tips: Creative Writing Techniques to Improve your Essays.”

 

student-sat-at-desk-studying

Tip #4 – Critical writing

What does a critical essay look like?

This is a type of academic writing where you as the writer will analyse and evaluate text. For you to become a pro at critical writing, you will need to support your arguments and ideas with evidence as to how you were able to come to a specific conclusion.

Putting it in simpler terms, the key to a critical essay is to claim a particular point and then provide evidence to prove that claim. Sounds easy? In fact, many students struggle with critical analysis, and this is where students tend to lose the most marks in an essay. But let us share a great process for you to succeed at critical writing. 

  1. Examine a source: read through it carefully and critically 
  2. Organise your thoughts: figure out the core claim and evidence, research secondary resources
  3. State a thesis: make sure it has both a claim and details sustaining it
  4. Write an outline
  5. Write a draft of your critical easy
  6. Edit and improve your essay 

(Vos, 2019)

Examining a source: This is a great opportunity to practice smart reading. It’s when you read a piece of literature, identify the specific details to the author’s claim, and then describe how they present those claims surrounding the topic of the literature. Highlight part of the literature that will help support your arguments, identify both the strengths and weaknesses of what the author has mentioned. 

Organising your thoughts: if you are still struggling to find core evidence to support your points, maybe consider finding some examples of other critical essays related to the topic you’re writing about. This will help you understand what sort of structure you should be aiming for and the type of writing style you will need. Use these as guidelines rather than copying their ideas – you should never copy someone else’s work. These can really help you to start pulling ideas into a structure that will work for you. 

State a thesis: based on the information you have gathered from your reading, you will want to start directing your evidence towards the thesis question. Ask yourself; what is the point I am trying to make here and how does it relate to the original question asked? But avoid putting in “in my opinion” or “I think”. You need to express your opinion in using the third person and then back your points with evidence. 

Using evidence is the foundation of an effective essay: Not only will it provide proof for each of your points, but will help the reader see your point of view with conviction. Critical writing is about your thinking skills, testing you on your analysis and argument building process. These skills are highly valuable and can be transferred into your day-to-day working life – whatever you decide to do in the future. It is a very good skill to have.

Finally, don’t be afraid of critical writing! It may sound daunting at first, but once you have completed a few essays with critical writing, you will have a structure that works best for you. You then can carry this structure on for the rest of your other assignments. 

 

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Tip #5 – Read widely

Hopefully, if you are writing an essay for a university module, you have chosen a subject that you are passionate about. This will help bring enjoyment to this activity, allowing you to explore the subject you enjoy the most, while deepening your understanding. 

But if you aren’t too familiar with the topic or subject you’re writing about, where can you get started with reading? It can feel quite daunting writing your first essay, thinking where do I start? How do I find the correct literature to develop my point of view – let alone thinking about how to use evidence to support my arguments. 

Modules you will be covering in school or university will usually provide an extensive reading list for you to get started on. This would usually contain your core reading, which your teacher or tutor will regularly refer back to during your lectures and seminars. 

Further down the list, it will also likely contain some recommended reading which you should be covering outside of your core studies. Now, even though this is an extensive list with your core reading and recommended reading, you must go above and beyond this list – not only will it make your essay stand out with further reading, you can gain better insight in other academic research in your essay topic. 

Search for book recommendations online, browsing the ‘People Also Bought’ sections of bookstores, scrolling through journals or by joining discussion forums. There’s so much content available to browse, you’ll face no shortage of secondary reading to soak up.

So once you have your reading list, how do you get started?

Set yourself reading goals! Before you start reading, why not consider asking yourself why you are reading and what you are trying to achieve? This will give you an idea of what type of literature you are looking for, adjusting your research to find different topics of interest to help build on your essay. 

Here’s some tips to then read according to those motivations: 

  • If you are reading for general interest to acquire background information for lectures you will need to read the topic widely but without much depth.
  • If you are reading for an essay, you might want to focus your reading around your essay question and find small areas of the subject in great depth. Make a note of your essay question so you don’t get side-tracked. 

(University of Reading, 2021)

 

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Tip #6 – Find a ‘study buddy’

Are you someone who often finds it hard to study for long periods of time? Do you usually leave your essay deadlines until the last minute? You’re not alone. 

Finding the motivation within yourself to focus your efforts on essay writing can be extremely difficult, especially if it’s a topic you’re not particularly interested in.

Something that people tend to forget that they can use to help them focus is finding a study buddy. This could be someone that you have your lectures or seminars with, or it can even be someone that may not be studying the same module as you. Just finding that study buddy to sit with you in the same room, to both get your head down and start working can actually become very motivational. 

You might believe that you don’t need a study partner or a study buddy at all, and you aren’t alone in thinking that. Some students actually believe that it is more effective as well as convenient to study alone as it means you don’t need to adapt to anyone, and that is completely normal.

But if you struggle to work alone, how can a study buddy be beneficial for you?

Firstly, it can be extremely beneficial for you and your partner as you can continue to motivate each other. Even if you were to just sit in the same room and study together, it could motivate the both of you to work. You could even set allocated times on how long you would work on something, and then go for a break together. 

Secondly, you can adapt your study sessions to however it could benefit yourself and your study buddy. If you are studying with someone that is on the same course as you, before meeting up you could discuss with them before meeting on what section of the essay you will be working on, and you could both bring material to work on it together. 

 

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Summary

So there you have it; our top 6 tips on how to ace your next essay! 

We hope you found this article useful and even if you don’t end up using some of the tips mentioned in this article, we hope you can take some inspiration from the ideas we’ve suggested and evolve them into techniques that work for you.

Once you have a technique that works, you can rinse and repeat it on all your future essay writing to ensure yours are the very best they can be! 

Looking for more study inspiration or further advice? We have many other articles offering helpful tips for students, take a look at them here.

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