How do you Actually Write an Essay?

The foundation of the majority of academic work is the capability to write a great essay.  This might seem like stating the obvious, it is a talent which most students need to improve upon as very few people are actually born with the gift of being able to write great essays, let alone one which is able to elaborate on a specific topic with ease and sufficiently promote an argument with sufficient evidence and examples.

It is quite feasible to be able to learn the essay writing skill, however, and the information set out below assists in the defining of the key skills which have to be learned with the aim of being able to write a clear essay on your chosen topic from start to finish.

Without doubt, the kind of essay you are asked to write will be dependant to a certain extent on the specific academic area field you are studying. Overall, however, the structure of an essay remains fairly consistent with all academic areas.

Taking the First Step:

In the forefront of writing a great essay is the studying of the actual essay topic. There is a lot to be said for the importance of analysing the question first as the foundation of a great essay is of the utmost importance.  Surprisingly, a large number of students merely list all that they know about a topic without bearing in mind what the question is actually asking them to do.

It doesn’t matter if the topic has been chosen from a list of possible questions or it has been allotted to you, examine all the significant words which are written in the question, as these contain the features that need to be considered before the actual essay writing begins: Words such as: describe, examine, develop, analyse, influence ‘compare’ are the key to how the essay should be structured. All these words offer a way into discussion of the topic at hand and give you a good idea of the way your essay should be written.

A good example is when for an essay you are asked to compare and discuss the themes in two Shakespearean plays, you examine the language used and how it relates to the themes giving close attention to specific words and how theme and structure are different in each. However, if you were asked to examine the causes of the outbreak of a war, you would adopt quite a different approach, balancing fact and opinion.

It is also necessary to be aware of whether the question is simply asking for your own opinion or if its requirement is to highlight the present day thought or even past thoughts on a subject and then in the conclusion you give your opinion on the issue.

As the argument develops throughout the essay, it is essential to every now and again read through the question to ensure the heart of the question is being covered and that you are not simply regurgitating facts that you know about the topic.

If the topic is part of a fixed assignment, then what has to be discussed and the texts to be used in the discussion along with the word count and style will have been laid out for you but if you are starting the essay without this sort of outline then you will have to decide for yourself.  At this point you will have to select what is to be used in the essay and change the content later if your research indicates that other points need to be added to make the essay more complete. It doesn’t matter who has selected the topic, it will still be necessary for you to be able to put forward any critical opinion on the topic before you even begin to write. The success of a good essay is being able to critically evaluate any prior writing on the topic.

Doing Research:

Once you have decided on the content of the essay and how it is to be laid out then the next step is to put together any useful information that you have read. At this point in time it is worth mentioning that it is absolutely essential that you should make a note of the details of all and any internet sites, books or journals to which you have read and used for plagiarismis a big issue and it’s not too difficult to plagiarise whether it’s intentional or not. It’s not that hard to forget which sources the ideas came from, particularly when in the final stages of writing the essay.

After picking up the first source of information, it is good policy to start to write down an alphabetical list of all sources used at this point in time as it will be a time saver when including referencing and bibliography at the end, along with assisting you to make a note of where all the information has come from. All references within an essay and the bibliography at the end have to be written in the correct academic style of which there are several. It is advisable to check which one you are expected to use.

Try to get the balance right between any issues which promote your own ideas and those which are different from your own point of view. The best essay puts across a balanced position and makes the reader aware of differing opinions, and not just the view of the essay writer.


Students often like to forget about the planning stage but this is a great mistake as a good plan is a time saver even though, particularly in an examination situation, it appears to use up valuable time at a point when speed in writing the essay seems to be of the greatest importance. A plan is necessary in order to complete a well researched, well structured and well reasoned essay.

The plan should begin by reading over the question again and the key points that you have noted. Following on from this is the consideration of the evidence you have compiled and thinking how the two fit together: As long as you have followed the instructions that have been already outlined this should be quite straightforward, as you will have been keeping the question in the forefront all the time while you were carrying out your research.

In spite of this, it can often be quite hard to know which bits of evidence are the best to use to support the points that you wish to include. At this point, it is necessary to make decisions as to what information you will use and what will be surplus to requirements. This is often quite a difficult thing to do because often suitable evidence you have discovered has to be left out because it is quite simply not appropriate. simply because it isn’t relevant. Increasingly, students are penalized for exceeding the specified word count so ensure that all your evidence is really related to the points you are making and to the topic concerned.

It is recommended at this point in time that you draw up a plan of your essay which could be in the form of a diagram where simple headings for paragraphs and the expected content in each is noted. When the time has come to start the real essay writing then, you will be able to refer back as a reminder of you of how your ideas have really developed and why you chose certain ideas to put in the essay. Adding this structure to your essay in the first place will assist with the understanding and logical development of the essay as your position will be more lucidly developed and to the point, with paragraphs following each other with a clear emerging pattern right up to the  to your final conclusion. Planning in this way will also open up any flaws in your argument or linking which you can rearrange before the commencement of the writing task.