How to write the perfect essay

3 months ago   •   4 min read

By Michaela Spiteri

Writing essays can definitely be a challenge but essay-writing is a very important skill to master for your high school and tertiary studies. While essays can take many forms (depending on the subject, content and audience), we are here to offer a solid framework that will help you get one step closer to writing that perfect essay.

Think about your purpose and audience

A good essay should always aim to persuade the reader (or marker) of a certain argument. This argument should directly respond to the question you have been given. So, always start by considering these two questions:

  • What is the purpose of my essay? This will likely  relate to the key directive verb that the question contains. For example, are you discussing (providing points for and against) or are you evaluating (making a judgement based on some criteria)?
  • Who is my audience? Thinking about who is reading your essay is another important consideration. Make sure you always follow the assumption that your audience knows less than more. It is much better to spend some time going over the basics (I'm talking key definitions that might seem so obvious) rather than omitting fundamental information. Skipping the basics  will detract from your later argument regardless of how sophisticated it might be.

Structure

Your essay must follow a clear and logical structure that supports your argument. Even if your evidence might be lacking, structure will get you a long way in ensuring your argument is easy to follow. Some subjects and topics will require slightly different structures. We recommend that you discuss those nuances with one of our private tutors here at KIS. In the mean time, the following structure should provide a solid start:

  1. Introduction

Your introduction is the first thing that your audience reads so you really want to be making a good first impression on your reader. Use the introduction as an opportunity to bring your initial thoughts together in a succinct way and then provide a roadmap of where you are headed with the rest of your essay.

Your first sentence or two should not just repeat or rephrase the question. Open with a short introduction of the topic area that then allows you to directly answer the question with your thesis.

Now, answer the question with your thesis statement. The directive verb in the question should guide how you respond here. For example, if you are evaluating a statement, you might indicate the extent to which that statement is true and set out the criteria you will be using to reach that argument.

Then, use the next few sentences to provide that roadmap: what points will you be addressing? You might chose to dedicate a sentence to each paragraph or idea that you will later explore. Finally, finish with a sentence that reinforces your thesis (a clear link back to the question).

2. Body

The body of your essay consists of paragraphs, each a building block in the construction of your argument. You want to use the body of your essay to answer the question through added detail and sophisticated reasoning of related evidence. Take it as an opportunity to show your knowledge of the prescribed materials (as well as wider reading if relevant).

The content and amount of body paragraphs is in your hands but generally 3-4 paragraphs (each dedicated to a new idea/ point) will allow you to develop your argument with sufficient detail.

Your question may have more than one part, in which case you might choose to structure the body into sections that address those components.

You may be familiar with PEEL (point, evidence, explanation, link) or PETAL (point, evidence, technique, analysis, link) paragraphs. PEEL paragraphs can apply to a range of subjects, whilst PETAL paragraphs are more directed to English responses. Regardless, they provide a solid framework to structure your body paragraphs, ensuring that your content (point and evidence) relates directly to the question to strengthen your thesis/ argument.

P: Each paragraph should start with a point - a topic sentence that outlines the main idea of that paragraph and drives your argument to a strong conclusion. Then use supporting sentences to explain and develop that point.

E: include specific evidence from your reading or another related example that supports your point. For example, the evidence might be a quote or broader stylistic feature of your English text. Or, for economics it might be a statistic from a reputable online source.

E: explain and analyse the implication or significance of that evidence in relation to your point as well as the broader thesis. For example, why has the author used that technique to portray a certain idea?

I strongly recommend that you put together a bank of active analysis verbs that will bolster your analysis and ensure you are not just describing a text or recounting the plot. Here are a few to get you started:

  • strengthen
  • assert
  • elicit
  • characterise
  • imply
  • validate
  • underline
  • allude
  • emphasise
  • perpetuate

L: always link that evidence back to your point, your thesis and finally the question!

3. Conclusion

Your conclusion should not just be a repeat of the introduction. While your introduction moves from broad to specific, your conclusion should move from specific to more broad. Never introduce new content or ideas for the conclusion although, you might want to make your essay more thought-provoking by offering some food for thought for the reader (of course, related to what you have already said).

With all this in mind, it is time to get cracking! The earlier you start writing, the better:

  • Start with a plan, following the above structure.
  • Put together your argument, your points and then your evidence.
  • Often it can be easier to start with the body, working on each paragraph and then coming back to the intro and conclusion once you know what you actually want to say.
  • Revise your first draft to make sure the essay flows and is structured logically.
  • Then come back and edit with a fresh set of eyes!

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