5 useful tips for writing an effective essay

5 useful tips for writing an effective essay
Photo: Fizkes, Bigstock

Whether you’re still wading through high school or are completing the final year of your university degree, essay writing is a skill that you need in order to succeed in most academic pursuits. Essays are useful because they asses the student’s understanding of the subject matter while also prompting them to use what they’ve learned to answer a questions or perform some kind of deeper analysis of the facts.

At its core, an essay is about attacking a question and laying out your argument in a structured document that combines supporting evidence with deep analysis. While this sounds quite difficult, essay writing doesn’t need to be complicated and is actually quite easy once you get some practise.

If you’re experiencing a sense of dread every time you get asked to write an essay, then it’s a sign you need some help to understand how to approach these kinds of academic tasks so that your grades don’t suffer.

Let’s take a look at 5 great tips for writing an effective essay.

1. Think about the question

According to Australian Writings, if you have your essay question assigned to you, then there isn’t much wiggle room here as you will need to answer the question you’ve been given. However, if you are able to ask you own essay question, then you can make things a lot easier on yourself depending on how you choose to phrase it.

The easiest essay questions are “assess the impact of A” or “demonstrate how B was accomplished” as they invite you to present evidence and relate each exhibit to the original question. Questions that ask you to evaluate the evolution of some mechanism or period of history are simpler questions to answer as they allow you to use more of your personal opinion.

2. Structure your argument

Essays are essentially the art of putting an argument into a comprehensive piece of writing. This means that above all your goal should be to demonstrate your argument succinctly and with as much supporting evidence as possible.

A useful mantra to repeat to yourself is “answer the damn question” as this keeps you focused throughout the essay, allowing you to easily connect all of your evidence with your main argument. Each and every paragraph should relate back to the original contention of the essay so that the entire document is filled from top to bottom with mutually supporting information.

When structuring your argument, separate each talking point into a bulleted list and add useful notes to each one.  Identify what your strongest arguments are and get rid of ones that you can’t fit into the essay or simply aren’t strong enough.

Like any effective argument, your essay needs to not only present evidence but be persuasive in convincing the reader of its contention. For this reason you need to think about how a reader would be convinced by the flow of your arguments and structure them accordingly.

Ideally, you should open with a strong argument and end with an even stronger one. When you end the essay with your strongest argument you have the highest chance of the reader walking away agreeing with you.

3. Write the body

The first actual writing you do on your essay should begin with the main body of argument and work its way towards the end. While it may sound strange not to start with the introduction, there is a good reason for this that will be explained later.

Each body paragraph should begin with the point it is trying to make and then be followed by each bit of evidence. After that, you then need to perform an analysis of the evidence and connect it to the original argument you are trying to make.

4. Write the introduction

Now that you have your entire argument laid out, you can go back and write your introduction. The reason you write your introduction after your body is because your introduction needs to give an accurate summary of what the body will discuss.

Make sure that your introduction clearly states the essay question and gives an answer to it. It’s also a clever idea to start your introduction with a brief anecdote or even a joke if it’s appropriate to the subject matter as this is a great way to endear your readers to your argument.

5. Write the conclusion

After you’ve done everything else, the natural last step is to write your conclusion. The conclusion should be a powerful last paragraph that summarises your points and reiterates your answer to the essay question. This is where you should use your most persuasive language and finish with a strong line that closes the topic authoritatively.