This is my first of a few articles I am writing to give simple, easy to follow essay writing tips to international students. I actually run my own website so I’m well qualified to give you some of the main essay writing tips I’d say would improve most of the essays we have submitted.
So today I’m going to talk a bit about essay structure for beginners – most English essays, from GCSE to degree level, follow a pretty similar format for best results. This will generally consist of your introduction, followed by an outline of the different arguments, analysis of each and finally a conclusion demonstrating the author’s opinion having considered everything previously. So what exactly do we need to see in each of these sections?
We’ll start with the introduction in article 1, which is hugely important despite not earning the most marks perhaps; this is because the introduction is where you must show how you have understood the question and how you will go about answering it. A good introduction will not waffle on for a whole page illustrating all your knowledge of the subject and it will not just repeat the question. The best essays are generally developed around a theory which is then constructed into a question – if you have been given a question already may need to identify what its actually telling you to do so you can answer the question most effectively.
A good introduction will:
– Start by reaffirming the main assumptions within the question – if the question asks ‘what is the most important factor?’ this might mean stating that there are a number of factors which we need to consider – eg. ‘The outbreak of war in 1914, and the reasons for it, is a hugely controversial topic between historians and different analyses consistently deliver different conclusions.’
– Then include an explanation of what the question you are answering is actually focusing upon – this means identifying the question words and interpreting them. For example if it is a ‘to what extent…’ question, you will be comparing the importance of one factor to the importance of a number of others. Eg – ‘This essay will attempt to identify and analyse the different factors, with the aim to compare the importance of each before reaching a conclusion.’
– Now explain some of the different possible arguments whist fleshing them out a little with some background knowledge – for example ‘Different historians advocate and different deciding factors for the outbreak of war; the assassination of the Arch Duke for example was one a short term culmination in a succession of events; this essay will analyse the overall importance of this, and the other major factors, in leading to war. In the conclusion I aim to reach my own conclusion as to which factors stand out as being most influential.’
– You may also briefly analyse the different general viewpoints to show your knowledge of how the question has been answered by others. Depending on the historical upbringing of the author; the sources at their disposal or even underlying bias, historians traditionally fall into many different camps on the subject.’
So overall my introduction might read:
‘The causes of the outbreak of war in 1914 are a hugely debated topic between historians with different historical analyses consistently delivering different conclusions. This essay will attempt to identify and analyse the range of different factors involved, with the aim to compare the importance of each before reaching a conclusion. Different historians advocate different deciding factors for the outbreak of war; the assassination of the Arch Duke for example was a short term culmination of a succession of events and is argued by many as the major catalyst, others suggest this was simply the natural progression for long term factors to reach. This essay will analyse the overall importance of the different causes, both long and short term in leading to war; in the conclusion I aim to reach my own view as to which factors stand out as being most influential in starting the First World War.’
Notice that the use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ is only used rarely and the introduction kept short and simple. All you want to do is identify what the question is asking and explain what you will do to answer it – combining this with a sprinkling of knowledge of the arguments or subject knowledge and you will have a good stand point for the rest of the essay. If you do already have an argument it is worth stating this also so the reader will know exactly what you think and hopefully once you show your reasoning be persuaded.
Thanks for reading and if you’ve anything else you want help with please visit my site; next time I will be discussing how to analyse each argument effectively.