How to write an essay

When you’re starting out at university, it can be easy to think you are the only one having problems with writing. But all students – both Australian-born and international – find writing essays difficult.

If you are an international student, you might even have an advantage. Having learned English as a second language, you are likely to know more about how English works than most Australian-born, English-only students.

No matter what your background is, there are many simple ways that you can build your essay-writing skills. La Trobe University’s Dr Karin Moses is an expert linguist who works with undergraduate students, postgraduate students and staff to improve their writing. She shares eight practical tips to help you get more control over your writing and reduce your essay stress.

There are many simple ways to improve your essay-writing skills, including drop-in learning and writing support at your university library. Image credit: La Trobe University.

1. Structure your essay to suit your discipline

The order in which you present your ideas – known as essay structure – is the most important aspect of essay writing. Before you start writing, find out how essays are structured in your discipline or subject area. Ask your lecturer or tutor (online or face-to-face) for past essays in your subject area. Read them for structure, not for content.

As you’re reading, look for how:

  • the sections are ordered
  • the introduction and conclusion are constructed
  • the paragraphs work
  • the evidence (references) are used.

2. Start with a strong introduction

Your introduction should entice your reader to keep reading. It should include:

  • background and context – let the reader know where the topic or question has come from, why it is important and how it fits into the wider discussion
  • a thesis statement – a clear response to the topic or question that states the aim of the essay and what your argument or position is
  • signposting – sentences that indicate how the essay is structured, the sub-topics or themes that you will cover
  • very little detail or evidence – this material should be used in the body of the essay

Your essay’s introduction should let your readers know where the topic or question has come from, why it’s important and what your argument or position is.

3. Refine your paragraphs

Just like your overall essay structure, individual paragraphs also have a structure that helps them make sense. Make sure that every paragraph you write has:

  • a topic sentence that lets the reader know what the paragraph is about
  • supporting sentences that provide definition or explanation and then detailed evidence in that order
  • linking words and phrases that connect your ideas, both within the paragraph and between paragraphs (e.g. to lead to the next paragraph)
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4. Finish with a convincing conclusion

End your essay with a final statement that briefly reminds the reader of your main idea – that is, the key argument or central point you have made in your essay.

Your conclusion should do four things:

  • signal the end of your essay by with a connective statement, like “To conclude”, “To summarise”, or “In conclusion”
  • paraphrase your thesis statement
  • paraphrase and summarise your sub-topics or themes
  • provide a strong final statement that leaves the reader understanding the importance of the topic (position or argument) – for example, what the implications are, what remaining problems or questions need to be addressed, and in what direction future research could head.

5. Reference other people’s work correctly

For most essays you write, you’ll need to include evidence to support your arguments. Ensure that you have used your evidence well and that your referencing indicates clearly where you have used other people’s ideas or words. In particular, you should strive to:

  • Use your own words most of the time – paraphrase and summarise what you have read or viewed, and quote very little.
  • Embed your references into the sentences, so that the paragraph still holds together well.
  • Use the correct referencing method for your discipline – bookmark La Trobe University’s Academic Referencing Tool and use it to check the style.

Use correct referencing throughout your essay to show where you have used other people’s ideas or words.

6. Write clearly and concisely

Always aim to be clear and concise in your essay writing – get to the point and do so as briefly as you can. To help you do this:

  • Think about the purpose of every sentence and paragraph and try to make that clear to your reader.
  • When editing your draft, look for doubling up of words and meaning – remove any unnecessary words that add nothing to the meaning.
  • Check your vocabulary for unneeded words – if you can use one or two words instead of many, do so.
  • Avoid using words if you don’t know their meaning – it’s better to make your writing clear and simple than confusing. Long sentences, difficult words and jargon do not necessarily make for good academic writing if no-one can understand what is meant by the language.
  • Make sure that you understand what you have written. If you don’t, your reader has no chance of understanding your essay.
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7. Take time to check your work

Always edit or at least proof-read your work. It is at this stage that you can look for grammatical and spelling errors. Make a list of your most common grammatical errors – perhaps you struggle with subject/verb agreement, or find it tricky to identify where one sentence ends and another begins. Limit yourself to two or three focus areas for each written assignment.

Then, proofread your essay looking for these errors. Once you’ve found them, take one or two of the paragraphs that you are most worried about to a Peer Learning Advisor (PLA) and ask them to help you identify your most common errors. At La Trobe University, PLAs are available for drop-in learning and writing support and can be found in the library for most campuses.

Proofread your essay looking for your most common grammatical errors.

Writing an essay for an exam

The most common form of assessment for Stage 6 English is the in-class essay or HSC essay. (You will have to sit at least 6 essays in Year 12!) Let’s have a look at some stratagems for preparing for these assessments.

What are markers looking for?

Markers must assess the following criteria:

  • Knowledge of the text
  • Understanding of the module
  • Understanding of the question
  • Ability to structure an argument
  • Ability to use evidence
  • Usage of written English
  • Ability to provide an insight into your perspective of the text

It is imperative that you keep these aims in mind at all times when you are writing your essay. Matrix students are taught how to address these criteria in their responses. You must ensure that you demonstrate a skilful ability to answer each of the seven criteria above.

English-Study-Guides-Sharpen-Your-Writing-Skills

Are you struggling with essay writing?

Practise essay writing with Matrix English Skills Course during the school holidays. Learn how to structure and write an essay step-by-step with HSC experts. Learn more about Year 11 English Skills Course.

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English-Study-Guides-Sharpen-Your-Writing-Skills

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How To Write A Paper In Short Terms

Sometimes professors set a task and ask to arrange something concerning a desired topic. In this case you don’t have another choice but to support the idea of this subject. Only choose if you want to create an analysis or an overview.

If you have to choose by yourself, it changes everything. You can select a subject you’re good at and write about it passionately. It can be something educative or persuasive. Make a research and represent an informative essay.

You already found thoughts and ideas, but still can’t put them together in your head. Take a paper, then write the name of a topic in a central part. Draw a few lines starting from it. Write your ideas near other edges of those lines. Now it would be easier to connect all thoughts and find new ones.

  1. Think of a thesis statement.

Your ideas are put in order, so, now you can work with a thesis statement. It will consist of 2 parts: one of them should explain your topic, another one will show the point of your paper.

Now you have to take your draft and create paragraphs of those written thoughts. Each one should be started with you main ideas. It means that one paragraph will describe the point of your certain thought. Put smaller ideas below to connect it with general topic and other ideas.

This part must grab the attention of readers. Use some shocking facts, a story or even dialogue.

The last sentence of it is your thesis statement.

It sums up all your written thoughts and performs final words of an essay. Select your principal ideas and compose three-five sentences to make an impressive conclusion.

Read your paper and think logically: are all paragraphs placed in a right way? Put your strongest ideas at the beginning of a text. Weaker ones should be written lower.

If your tutor gave you an instruction, check it once again. You must be sure that you kept requirements and a format.

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