ESSAY WRITING TECHNIQUES
1) Analyse the question
Questions tend to be either specific and tailored towards a particular issue, or general. The former ties you closely to a specific narrative in your response, whilst the latter invites you to present and defend your own interpretation. In analysing the question you are looking to break it down in order to establish what the question is concerned with, how you intend to interpret it and respond to it and what the parameters of your essay will be as a consequence. The hardest part of the essay is deciding what to leave out rather than what to include. If you have looked into a topic, followed all of the reading suggestions, and gone further, you are likely to have more information than you need, in terms of ideas and evidence, to back up an argument. Your task is to set out your own interpretation and defend it, and the way you read the question is crucial to it. Remember that we assess your ability to construct and defend an argument, not to recite what other people argue about a subject. This does not mean that anything goes by way of response to a question. A good essay shows your ability to persuade the reader that your interpretation is both valid and powerfully stated. Essay plans can be useful to this purpose if they help you focus on what your argument actually is and encourage you to sift out all the less relevant material and ideas.
Possible weakness to avoid:
A poor essay offers little explanation as to why it is addressing the question the way it does, or a coherent and clear account of the case that it is defending.
Your introduction can explain what you think the question is concerned with, and where questions are ambiguous clarify your reading of them, how you intend to answer and what you are defending. Without giving it all away here, you can spend a few paragraphs taking the question apart and explaining it in a way that the reader knows how your essay is going to be structured and why. You are guiding the reader into your interpretation, without stating the obvious, just by establishing your parameters.
Potential weakness to avoid:
If introductions are unclear, absent or understated the reader has to impose their own structure to your essay and this can be problematic.
3) Explain and discuss
The main content of the essay is where you present your case and defend it from counter claims and challenges to your interpretation. If you are discussing an issue, you don’t need to set out every possible argument for or against it in a merely rhetorical manner. Avoid listing points and try to construct a coherent narrative to persuade the reader that these are important issues to be engaging with, by means of reasoned argument and evidence. While there are other arguments to be used, this is your interpretation and what you think is of most significance for anyone trying to understand the issues the essay addresses.
Potential weaknesses to avoid:
Lack of a clear structure. Remember to include signposts to link together the different arguments you wish to set out, so that when moving from one point to the next you link them by a sentence telling the reader why you are making the move.
Use of anecdotal evidence (opinionated one-liners, hearsay, etc.). To avoid this remember to use references and always acknowledge the sources of your information, this shows that you have researched the topic as well as thought about it.
Conclusions are not something tagged on at the end. They are the answer to the question! There is no pressure to be definitive if you are still undecided, but you do need to tie things together and offer an answer to the question in the conclusion. Here you can also try to draw out an overall picture from the discussion and argument you defended in the essay.
Potential weakness to avoid:
Your interpretation only emerges in the conclusion, giving the impression that you were unable to handle the question thoroughly.
Academic essays require full references and bibliography. For an example of how to do this, read the Harvard Referencing Style http://www.staffs.ac.uk/uniservices/infoservices/library/find/references/harvard/index.php