Is your child looking for essay writing tips? School House is here to help. From the top three tips to four essay problems solved, Tavistock Tutors offer their expert essay writing tips.
Essential essay writing tips:
1. Answer the question
An essay is a discursive piece of writing in response to a question. All your points should relate back to this question; the final line of each paragraph should address it and shed some further light or understanding on it, no matter how pedestrian or repetitive such a technique might sound. You must also recognise the command words of the question and perform them: ‘Discuss’ and ‘To what extent’ want you to weigh up different sides of a debate; ‘Explain’, ‘Why’ and ‘How’ will want you to look at factors as a cause of something. The starting point of any essay has to be a short, one-line answer. Try looking at essay writing examples on similar topics for inspiration.
2. The three S’s: structure, structure and structure
No one likes it, but you’ve no choice: structure is everything. If teachers are constantly scribbling things like, ‘waffley’ or ‘explain’ in the margins to your work, then you’ve got a problem with structure. Don’t try to be clever about structure: all the way up to degree level, examiners simply want clarity of thought and complexity of ideas. One useful method is called the PEEL system: see what you think and make it work for yourself.
3. Planning: more structure
There’s no getting away from Aristotle. As he says in his Poetics, we all need a beginning, middle and an end: an introduction, a main-body and conclusion. Demarcate these sections with full line breaks so they’re crystal clear for the marker. In your introduction, start by answering the question and outlining the structure of the essay: ‘… The most important reason for the Great Reform Act of 1830 was… However, there are a variety of other factors at play… We will look first at…. then… before finally considering… in order to show that this was the most important…’.
It seems dull, but it doesn’t matter: the form of the introduction and the structure should be dull. It falls to the analysis in between to carry the intrigue of the response. In order to ensure that the conclusion ends with a bang, make sure that all the previous points flow ‘naturally’ in a crescendo to your final one. For example, start from the least important factors at play to the most important one and then, in the conclusion paragraph, drum home why the factor you’ve chosen is the most important. Obviously this isn’t a Rosetta Stone for every essay structure or plan (and is very history-centric), but it shows you how structure and planning are crucial to making your overarching points work.
Frequently encountered problems
1. The First Person: To be or not to be? Contrary to popular belief, fashions change in academia. It’s just become acceptable again to use the first person in essay writing, but it still divides people. Unless explicitly told otherwise, stick with the third person for the time being (the inclusive pronoun ‘we’ is always at your disposal, don’t forget). Again, check recent essay writing examples that your teacher should be able to provide you with.
2. Do, don’t dally Structure is important, but writing something is better than handing in a blank sheet. You can, if you’re struggling, start writing out points and then fit them into your structure later: it’s not ideal, but under certain circumstances you’ll get away with it. Indeed, some people are do-now-edit-later types so they must act accordingly.
3. Grammar It’s not taught properly but is so crucial to all essays. If you often get ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘unclear’ in the margins, then grammar might help you to structure your thought patterns and, all the more crucially, make them clearer for the examiner. Read more here.
4. Creativity If you’re simply struggling to get something on the page and number 2 remains elusive, then there are techniques out there that can help you to ‘be creative’. Taken with a pinch of salt and adapted to your own needs, these systems can prove effective.