How to Write Better Essays | 5 Practical Tips
Writing can feel unnatural to some of us. When it comes to talking and having a conversation with someone, you would not have to think about structure, referencing, or even research. Hence it is no surprise that so many students struggle with essay writing.
For those of us, who find it difficult to write great essays, it is quite common to refer to the internet for assistance. After all, there are so many websites that claim to help you write a better essay - some may even write an entire 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 figure what it is that could be creating a writer's block in your head. Some claim that it can be arduously boring, while others feel overwhelmed with a variety of topics, as well as give in to the pressures of meeting deadlines.
Once you have worked out what your blockers are, you will find it much easier to target these specific problems and set on a path to become a more proficient essay writer.
To give you a helping hand, we have compiled our top 5 tips to help you write better essays. Align them with your own personal qualms and you will have all the necessary tools you need to get better at writing essays.
Tip #1 - Planning/Preparation
Before writing your essay, it is important to plan ahead - the process of selecting what you want to include in your essay, as well as what the overall structure should look like. That is, what journey you are going to be taking the reader on.
Having a well-planned and organised preparation before writing an essay will help you put your thoughts together in one place, and thus make your points clearer, more 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 would ensure that you have included everything you want to cover in your 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:
- 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.
- 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!
- Research: If you were provided with a reading list, make use of it. Skim through the recommended reading and once you have identified your key points, it will help you answer your question, then put these together in a mind map or note it down on a large piece of paper.
- Once you done your research, you can organise those points that relate back to your question, by 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 the evidence you have gathered against your statement.
- 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 help make your life easier and make complete sense to you.
Once you have a clearly defined a strong essay plan, you will soon discover that the task of actually writing it becomes more efficient.
Tip #2 - How to write an essay introduction
Now we have learnt how to structure an essay, let us talk about the beginning of your writing process: the introduction. As well as 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 entail? Putting it simply, an introduction generally consists of three parts.
- The first part is the general statement - this part is where you show the reader why the topic is important, trying to capture reader's attention that will lead them into the topic of your essay question.
- 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.
- Finally, the third part of your 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 do not lose track of what you will mention in the main body. It will tell the reader what they can expect to see in the essay and in 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?
- Does your essay have a clear, well-organised structure? Is it in chronological order?
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, 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 would be marking various other essays all on the very same topic, you should want to answer the question effectively whilst getting straight to the point - ensure they easily find the information they need to help you score higher marks. You will have a set question which you should be focusing on, which should ensure that you are referring back to the original question throughout the essay - you do not want to lose your reader's 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 by 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 your essay answering it? And again, continue to use evidence throughout whilst 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 of vagueness in your essay. You can also rest easy knowing that your essay has a good pace and natural flow - covering all the elements 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."
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 need to support your arguments and ideas with evidence to prove how you reached 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.
- Examine a source: read through it carefully and critically
- Organise your thoughts: figure out the core claim and evidence, research secondary resources
- State a thesis: make sure it has both a claim and details sustaining it
- Write an outline
- Write a draft of your critical easy
- Edit and improve your essay
Examining a source: This is a great opportunity to practice smart reading. It is 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 literature. Highlight the part of literature that helped you 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 examples of other critical essays that are related to the topic you are writing about. This will help you understand what sort of structure you should be aiming for and the type of writing style you require. Use these as guidelines rather than copying their ideas - you should never copy someone else's work. These can really help you 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 should start directing your evidence towards the thesis question. Ask yourself; what is the point I am trying to make here and how it relates to the original question asked? Avoid saying “in my opinion” or “I think” as you are supposed to express your opinion using the third person.
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, do not fear critical writing! It may sound daunting at first, but once you have completed a few essays with critical writing, you will have created a structure that works best for you. You could then carry this structure for the rest of your assignments.
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.
However, if you are not familiarised with the topic or subject you are writing about; where should you get started with reading? It can be difficult to start writing your first essay by thinking about where do I even start? How do I find appropriate literature to develop my point of view?
The modules you will be covering in school or university usually provide for an extensive reading list that you can rely upon. This usually contains your core reading lists, which your teacher or tutor will regularly refer back to during your lectures and seminars as well.
Further down the list, it likely would also contain some recommended reading which you should be engaging with outside of your primary studies. Even though the list would be extensive, with all your core reading and recommended reading, you should try to go beyond the recommendations - this would not only make your essay stand out but you can also gain better insight into other academic research papers in your essay topic.
Search for book recommendations online, browsing the ‘People Also Bought’ sections of bookstores, scroll through journals or join discussion forums. There is so much content available to pick and choose from, you should not be facing any shortages of secondary reading to grasp from.
So once you have your reading list, how should you get started?
Set yourself reading goals! Before you start reading, consider asking yourself what you are reading and what you are trying to achieve with the text? This will give you an idea of what type of literature you are looking for, then adjust your research to find different topics of your interest to build your essay.
Here are some tips to read according to your 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 subject in great depth. Make a note of your essay question so you do not get side-tracked.
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Improving writing skills takes effort. Instead of using essay writing websites, identify obstacles and address them. Plan, structure, and answer questions effectively. Use creativity and critical analysis. Read widely and utilise recommended resources for success.