I think we can all agree that nobody likes banging away at a keyboard for hours to produce an 800 words of complete and utter BS, but unfortunately essays are a necessary evil of senior schooling. Thing is though, they actually aren’t all that difficult to fudge through if you know how to go about it. Here’s a few tricks you can use to get started next time you’re staring into the void that is a blank word document.
1. The question will help you plan your essay
Everything you need to know to write your essay is staring you right in the face in the essay question. You should be able to see a verb, something like discuss, or analyse, or compare, or assess – and this verb will be able to tell you what kind of essay you need to write. For example, if you’re asked to compare, this means you will spending your essay talking about how two or more things are similar or different.
Knowing this, you can now decide how you’re going to structure your essay – will you have two body paragraphs to talk about the two separate texts? Or one paragraph discussing the similarities between the texts, and a second paragraph to discuss the differences? Or if you want to get real fancy, three or more body paragraphs that each discuss an idea that’s either similar or different in both texts. This one little verb will form the basis of your entire essay, so take particular care with it.
An explanation of what each verb means can be found here.
2. Repeat the vocab of the question
Now pick up a highlighter and pick out any key terms or buzzwords for the question. Here’s an example:
‘All representations are acts of manipulation.’ To what extent does your study of conflicting perspectives support this statement?’
Some of the most important words in this question would be ‘representations’, ‘manipulation’, ‘conflicting’ and ‘perspectives’. Once you’ve identified these buzzwords, you’re going to want to use them or some variation of them (thesaurus, people!) as much as you can throughout your essay without sounding repetitive. This should hopefully show that you are actually answering the question in your essay and not just prattling on about nothing.
3. Structure is everything
Teachers love reading essays that are structured in a neat, easy to read way. Generally speaking, you want to structure your essay in a way that resembles this scaffold:
- Sentence #1 is a conceptual sentence/thesis statement. This sentence will immediately answer the question by outlining the main idea you’re going to talk about in your essay. The question and your main concept MUST BE RELATED in some way. Usually, you won’t actually mention the name of the texts or authors you’re going to be discussing, just the ideas in these texts. E.g. ‘Discovery is the one of the most vital aspects of human experience, allowing a deeper understanding of our values and sense of self.’
- Sentence #2 is your contextual sentence. This is where you mention the name of the texts and the authors in a sentence that will look something like: ‘This notion of discovery is evident in the book “The Turning” by Tim Winton, and the film “Muriel’s Wedding”, directed by P.J. Hogan.’
- A couple more sentences will go on to outline what more specific points you’ll be making in each body paragraph.
Body Paragraphs (between 2 and 4 of these usually works)
- Start again with a topic sentence. Like the conceptual sentence in the intro, this is going to outline what idea you’ll be discussing in that paragraph. Think of your conceptual statement in the intro as the main umbrella idea, and all your topic sentences as branches of that. Again, you don’t need to mention the text or composer just yet.
- Another contextual sentence. Now you can bring in the text and the composer.
- Main body of your paragraph. A number of sentences that support your topic sentence. Jump to step 4 below.
- Conclusion/linking sentence. The last sentence of your paragraph should sum up what you have discussed, and make a direct link back to the question you are answering, and if possible, lead on to what you’re going to discuss in the next body paragraph.
- Your conclusion will usually be around three sentences, and it will provide a summary of the all ideas you have talked about and what final conclusion you can draw from these in relation to the question. Again, this is one of the most important times when you need to LINK BACK TO THAT DAMN QUESTION.
4. Use PEEL or TEAL or whatever the hell they call it these days
There are a million acronyms for this, but they all do the same thing. Think of every sentence in your body paragraphs as a new point that aims to prove the idea you have outlined in the topic sentence of that paragraph. Every sentence should have its own point, a language technique (e.g. metaphor, simile, symbolism, etc), an example if possible (like a quote), and a link to your topic sentence.
This is actually the hardest thing to learn when it comes to writing an essay. Trying to get all that into each and every sentence, without making it a million years long, can be difficult. It’s all about learning to be concise. For example, if I was trying to prove in my paragraph that Johnny doesn’t like the education system, one of my sentences could be something like:
‘The metaphor in “his eyes shot daggers at his teacher,” evidences Johnny’s hatred for Ms. William and thus his overall disdain for the schooling system.’
I have made a point that Johnny dislikes his teacher, I have provided a technique in the metaphor, an example in the quote and linked it back to my overall idea about Johnny hating the schooling system.
5. Make sure you’re answering the fucking question
The most important thing when it comes to writing an essay is making sure that everything you’ve done, every bloody paragraph, every freaking sentence actually answers the question. You can write an incredible essay, the best one your teacher has ever read, but if it isn’t related to the question, you ain’t gonna get a good mark for it.
Keep the question open next to you while you’re writing, so you can always keep it in the forefront of your mind. Make sure that, if you could sum up your essay in one sentence, that it could easily provide an answer to this question.