1. Go do your reading. The amount of people who don’t actually read the content they’re writing about pre-essay writing is ridiculous. If you’re struggling to sit down and do the essay, you’ve probably not done enough actual learning. Especially if you’re in high school, the main reason why you’ve been set an essay is to show that you’ve learnt the content. Reading just the bare minimum to write an essay: A. equals awful essays & B, means you’ll probably fail whatever exam you’re working on. So, like I said, go read your course content.
2. Right, go REVISIT your course content. This should not be your first step, like I said in the previous point, if you are reading and learning with only the essay subject in mind, you will not learn very much or write a very good essay. So, revisit the course content, have a blank piece of paper with you (or an open Microsoft word document /etc.) and write down notes or headers that you think could be relevant. They can be in any order and in as much detail as you like, you might want to draft out entire paragraphs here or just buzz words. Just try to make sure that you get down a lot, more than you need, jot down ideas that you ‘know’ you won’t use, jot down ideas you already know you will use, jot it all down.
3. Find a new source of information. This can be a website, a book, a documentary, anything. Find a new source and commit to adding at least one more thing to your list. Sometimes you’ll find a lot more, sometimes you’ll just be adding to a previous point. Take the time to look outside your school textbook/powerpoint/etc. It will make your essay a lot better, and should be done before you’ve started writing.
4. Get writing. From here on out I’m offering my own view of essay writing, what I really mean by this is that EVERYONE should do the first three steps no matter what you’re writing. It is universally applied, and will work for everyone, if it doesn’t work for you, you’re not doing it right. Anyway, onto step four: you should have a page of notes and headers at this point; from here you get a new piece of paper and write your official essay plan. The first ‘bullet’ should read ‘Intro’ the last ‘Conclusion’. Look at your notes and think about which ones you can use to build an argument, use what you think your conclusion will be to guide you. Write notes in the conclusion section to help you choose where you’re going. If you’re one of those people who say “drafts don’t work for me” you’re also one of those people who do not write good essays, really. Good marks thus far, in your life, have been down to you including good content, the higher up you go in education, the more it will become obvious that you have not planned the narrative of your essay. Learn now.
5. Edit what you’ve got. Now you should have a set of bullet points, depending on how you took notes earlier, these will either be single words or short paragraphs. Look at your bullet points, which ones will you find easy to talk about, and which ones will you have not much to say about. Smaller points that are dead ends should either be deleted or consumed into bigger paragraphs. Random one off paragraphs are not useful, as you’re always guiding yourself towards the bigger picture. An essay isn’t a list of things you know, it’s a compilation of discoveries that lead you to a concrete opinion.
6. Use this new direction to write more. Flesh out all your bullet points, write as much as a paragraph as you need. Have your text books open in front of you, write in note form or in full sentences. Get down content.
7. More evaluation of content, possible editing. Now you can re-evaluate what you’ve got, you might need to do some wider reading, you might need to go back to your list of ideas. You might need to change what you think your conclusion is. Ignore the intro for now, it’s not important.
8. Write your essay. Properly, either start a new piece of paper/document and work with your crazy bullet list as a guide, or write the essay inside your bullet points and delete what becomes unneeded as you go. Whatever works. You should be adding more and more notes to your ‘conclusion’ bullet point while you write the rest of the essay. This will allow you to, when you finally get to the conclusion, have a pretty good idea where your essay has been pointing. Your conclusion should 90% agree with what your essay says 10% be profound and ‘meta’. What I mean by that is, a sentence like ‘but we’ll never really know..’. This is A. shows a good narrative, and therefore suggests you have mastered the content of the essay and it’s allowed you to go beyond just spewing out facts. & B. you realise that this is just an essay, probably not even sourced, and that there’s a lot more to the argument.
9. Write the intro. Some people get really annoyed that I write the intro last, but the best way to write a good intro, is to pretty much just paraphrase the whole essay. Some people like to do the introduction first as it gives them some more direction, I don’t. What I do tend to do however, is explain the question. Many questions can be answered many ways, in my introductions I recognise this and then explain how I plan to answer the question and maybe why. Depends on the word count.
10. Proof reading. Proof read the work yourself, this should contain some major editing, if it doesn’t – you’re doing it wrong. Then let someone else do it. Then leave it for a while. Then proof read it again. And you’re done!
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