Essay Writing Tips for Students

Being a student myself, I understand that a lot of people struggle when it comes to writing essays. In this post, I will try and iron out all those ‘sticky’ points that confuse people and come up with a set of rules that will work for most essays. Please bear in mind that I am a literature student and essays in other subjects may vary.

Essay Structure

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Imagine that this sweet is split into three segments; the top, middle and bottom

The top section represents your introduction – you should make a broad sweeping statement that portrays the argument you are taking. Then this broad statement should be narrowed down to specific details, such as the texts, author or critical theory you will be writing about. Historical context can be mentioned in the introduction, but it is best to keep it brief.

The middle of the sweet represents the main body of the text. For each new paragraph, you should follow PEE – Point, Evidence, Explain. Make your argument, then find a quote from a critical source or a text to back up this argument. Then you can explain in more depth what you mean, and this includes bringing in textual analysis of the text, e.g. the word usage, metaphors, imagery, etc. You should be able to read the first line of each of your paragraphs and they should all make sense even without the rest of the essay. If you find that the first sentence of each isn’t relevant, then you’re not answering the question.

The final segment of the sweet is your conclusion. In this, you should begin specifically, summarising what you’ve argued above, and then make a broad sweeping statement as your final sentence to state your argument one last time. Similar to the introduction, there should be no textual analysis and there should be no new information. A conclusion is summarising what you’ve written above, don’t bring in a new idea at the end.

Hints and Tips

  • Do your introduction last; many students find it difficult starting an essay so it’s best to do this part after you’ve written the rest of your essay.
  • Get someone else to read it; they will bring a fresh perspective and point out what does not make sense.
  • Read it aloud; this enables you to see how well the words flow and if they go well together. It also allows you to check commas and sentence length; do you find you run out of breath before you reach the end of the sentence? If yes, it is too long!
  • Perhaps open with a quote; a lot of students find this easier as then can briefly examine the quote and then relate it to their argument.
  • No unnecessary signposting, e..g “firstly”, “in conclusion”, etc. This breaks the flow of the essay and makes it clunky. The reader should know when your conclusion is without needing a reference to it, as there should be a change in tone from direct to broad.
  • Always write “19th Century” as “nineteenth century”.
  • Don’t use phrases such as “as readers, we feel…” or “the reader thinks…”. This puts all the readers of the novel/text into one big category, but different people have different opinions and infer different meanings from a text. Instead, try saying “Dickens implies that…”, etc.
  • Don’t use rhetorical questions, or even questions that you will answer, such as “why would the author do this…?”

If you’re still struggling, I would suggest going to somewhere like JSTOR or Google Scholar to read peer-reviewed articles written by professionals. Take note of how they begin the essay, how they set out their structure, or how they conclude.

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