Stages of writing an essay
Understanding how to write an essay can seem very difficult. Often, many students don’t even know where to begin. But it can be much easier if you break it down into these stages:
- Defining the task
- Improving/perfecting the result
A good essay is an essay based on good initial sources – on your own summaries of the literature you’ve read, of your professor’s lectures, and on your own thoughts on the problem. Start with finding and systematizing them. Also, it is important for your arguments to be related to the questions raised in your essay. These tips guarantee a high-quality result.
People who know how to write an essay understand that making good summaries is an important academic skill not to be neglected. Why? Because, while summarizing, you should pay attention to key moments of the work or lecture (both theoretical and practical). Which facts confirm the author’s statement, which ones go against it? This is what you should outline.
It’s perfectly natural to make more notes while reading some texts than others. These are the ones that are more important or interesting to you. In fact, you should determine which materials are more or less useful.
Here’re our tips: divide your notebook into two columns. The first one is for summarizing the material, while the second is for comparing your summary to other facts you know – whether through reading or discussion – and for listing your thoughts and critical notes. It’s an easy and natural way to cross-reference your notes, the factual data, and your own comments.
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What to read and how?
It’s always important to pick what you read: on each topic, it’s better to read two-three key articles or book chapters that are clear theoretically, which contain clear factual data (the later, the better), or which list important literature on the topic. Such “strategic reading” forms the fundament of your further studies. Also, coursework plans and your professors can help you find texts and books to read.
Sometimes it’s useful to read a couple of case studies with opposing points of view. This can help you avoid over-generalizations in your essay.Preparing to write an essay
Usually, the task of writing a college essay includes analysis: you have to explain why something happens, and how. Obviously, raw facts are very important, but don’t answer these questions in themselves.
How to write an essay plan? Before preparing the plan of your answer, make sure that you’ve understood the question properly. Often, questions are quite tricky and can be interpreted differently, so you have to pick your approach and be able to explain it. If the question is too demanding or too broad, you can pick only some of its aspects to answer. If your choice is well-argued, with proper proof, you won’t have any problems!
The structure of your answer should consist of:
- Introduction: the main point of the topic and your explanation for choosing it
- Main body: Expanding the topic through your ideas, your models and your factual data
- Conclusion: Generalizations and final words on the topic, areas where it can be used.
Think of it as a sandwich – where the development of the topic is like the patty.
A good way to write an essay is to use sub-headlines to mark key moments of your argument. They can help you evaluate your thoughts better. It also helps you to follow your goal, rather than simply repeating yourself. These sub-headlines should clearly mark your main points. The way they follow each other can show the logic of your research.
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Writing the essayIntroduction
It should start with a brief statement about your understanding of the thesis and your approach to the answer. It is very useful to outline your goals, list what your essay will NOT include, and define the main terms.
If your essay evaluates how scientists use key terms in different definitions, you should outline these moments, too. Your own ideas about it are better off in the main body of the essay. These are the best tips on how to write an essay introduction.Main body
Here you should develop your ideas and arguments. It’s important to use existing data and other academic research on this topic. This part is the most difficult, and sub-headlines are very important here. You should explain your analysis through logical statements.
One paragraph should contain one main thought. You can also give successive numbers to your paragraphs to ensure that each paragraph follows one another step-by-step. In your final draft, you can remove these numbers. Start writing your essay with us.
Factual data and other sources
In writing academic college essays, the use of empirical data and other sources is important, so how to write an essay with the proper data? All data have their time and place, so check whether they fit your research before using them. Even if you use, for instance, a table of British social mobility, list the time when this table was completed.
Outlining the time and place is a way to prevent over-generalization. If you think that all times and places are similar in many important aspects, you should prove it, not merely state it.
Remember that your data is illustrative and is not a conclusion in itself – it should support your arguments and statements. Good use of data testifies to their strength.
Always remember that data on controversial questions is always arguable (“lies, damned lies, and statistics”). Nobody expects a definite answer from you. But you can understand the nature of the data you use: how reliable are the indicators? What do they say about causes and consequences?
It can be hard to understand how to use academic literature on the topic without plagiarism. When you quote, always list the quoted sentences in quotation marks, giving a link to the source, including the page number. Even if you rephrase the sentence in your own words, link to the source: “In this paragraph, I shall use the works of Smith and Grossman (1990, Ch. 3)…” Failure to do this can also get you accused of plagiarism.
If you outline the ideas of an author (or several authors arguing among each other), you should also list the source: “According to Pritchard… Smith’s critique of Pritchard shows that…”
Do not link the works which you haven’t read, unless you’re quoting an author that lists another one, then you can write something like “As Pritchard (1985. P.23, quoted in: Smith. 1994. P.104} writes…”
The conclusion of an essay can outline your main arguments, but only briefly.
It can also list the implications of your essay and its links to other issues, for instance: “the essay is about gender relations in agriculture, but a more complete analysis would also study the class relations”. Then you can write some sentences explaining why and how this can be done.
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Paragraph sentence structure
|The topic sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph
|Data, evidence and arguments for the main idea
|Sentence that links to the next paragraph
Checking your essay
Checking your first draft is very important. Your main task when drafting is to develop your argumentation, listing them in proper sequence along with the data. After you write it, give your mind a day or two of rest before returning to improve it.
Pay attention to the strength of your arguments. Does your essay fit your initial plans of structure and analysis? Does it follow the structure well? Are enough data used? Does the data correspond to the topic?
Then, as a last step, check the style (orthography, punctuation) and the flow.
We hope that this information will help you in the question of how to write an essay that will receive good marks from examiners.
What do college examiners want from students?
Your experience in writing academic essays will help you regardless of how you end up. Your academic marks are a way for your professor to give you feedback and support your work while ensuring your good performance.
Good marks are given for your ability to outline and prove your thesis, based on your knowledge. Remember that many sociological or historical subjects don’t have “right” or “wrong” answers, like in math – there are only good and bad arguments. Also remember that your examiners want independent thinking from students, not for you to merely agree with them.
You have to critically evaluate the data and the arguments, link the key subjects of all issues, understand what is more or less important, use analytical approaches and study the different and contradictory ways of analyzing the issues and the data.
It’s important to write clearly, making the most of the limited length. This is what college professors appreciate in student essays.
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Basic Essay Form
|List the main definitions and questions, coming to the point, list the background and context for your work
|Support your thesis with data, research and your own arguments
|Main body paragraph 1
|Evidence, data and arguments to support idea 1
|Main body paragraph 2
|Evidence, data and arguments to support idea 2
|Restate your thesis briefly, and list the general implications and additional areas of research
What professors don’t like
- Failure to answer the question at all
- Badly organized answer
- Failure to keep to the main question
- Use of rhetoric as opposed to proof
- Bad use of data, including over-generalization
- Too large descriptive part, without analysis
- Repeating others without outlining your own thesis
- Unnecessary repetition
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How to write an essay: a summary
Before you begin:
- Did you read the literature (key articles and chapters, thematic research, other sources)?
- Do you have well-organized summaries?
- Did you study the question in detail?
- Did you think about your approach to the task? Be prepared to defend it!
- Do you develop your argumentation?
- Do you have a plan to use this argumentation?
- Do you have a well-flowing sequence of sub-headlines?
Writing the essay:
- Is the introduction brief and on topic?
- Does it explain your approach and briefly define your main terminology?
- Do you follow your sub-headlines?
- Is every paragraph dedicated to one main question?
- Do the paragraphs follow each other logically?
- Do you use your arguments well?
- Do you link your sources correctly?
- Do you avoid repetition, overgeneralization, description without analysis, and describing other people’s theses without your own point of view?
- Is your conclusion brief and on topic?
- Do you list the broader implications and further areas of study for your topic?
- Did you re-read your essay, paying attention to the above?
- Does the essay provide answers to the questions it raises?
- Is the style of your work acceptable?
- Do you quote other researchers correctly?
- Did you make a bibliography?
Submitting your essay:
- Did you organize your time so that you can present your work according to the syllabus?
- Do you know of any ways to improve the essay, if you could?
- Check the professor’s remarks about your work
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Essay word limit guide
|Total word limit
|Introduction (c. 10%)
|Main body (c. 80%)
|Conclusion (c. 10%)
Remember that this is merely a guideline; there’s nothing wrong with, for instance, an introduction of 7% total words.
Make your references as footnotes at the end of the page, or list them inside your text, pointing to the place of the reference in your bibliography. In the bibliography, list them in alphabetical order, specifying the author, the year, the name of the work, the place, and the publishing house, like this:
Jones P.H. (1987). The Red and the Blue Team. London: Ash-gate.
Reginald P.T, Goldstein I.P. (Eds.). (1991). The aftermath of history. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Brook J. (1996). Approaches to differential psychology / Journal of Exploratory Studies. № 4. P. 49-65.
Webpages can be listed like this:
Prodl R. President of the European Commission. Europe and the Constitution: Letting the People Have their Say. European Constitution and the Italian Presidency of the EU from the Convention to the Intergovernmental Conference Bologna. University of Bologna, 2003.5 July. <htpp://www.europa.eu.int/comm/commissioners/prodi/speeches>.
Report from Presidency of the Convention to the President of the European Council. <http://european-convention.eu.int/docs/Treaty/cv00851.en03.pdf>.
Reference to the original source in the text can be done in one of the following ways:
- indication in parentheses of the name of the author and the year of publication, for example: (E. Durkheim, 1995) or (J. Buckmorton, 1996);
- an indication in square brackets of the number under which the author appears in the list of references, and the page(s) containing the cited fragment, for example [23, p. 16] or, if there is a reference to the work(s) as a whole [7; 25; 31].
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