How to Write an Essay
by Waller Jamison
When you are faced with college assignments, it is essential
that you know how to write an essay.
The first step is to check any guidelines provided by your
college so that you make sure you write your essay in the way that is required by your tutor. This would include
things like number of words, style – essay or report and whether to use double line spacing. There may be very
specific criteria based on the subject, fro example, if you are writing an essay in a foreign language you might be
expected to use a variety of tenses.
How to Write an Essay - Interpreting the
The next step is working out exactly what the essay title
means. This is crucial to your success, in some respects the most important thing you need to know when studying
how to write an essay.
This is because you can write a brilliant essay, beautifully
written, well set out and well argued, but if it doesn't answer the question you have been asked, you won't get a
good grade for it.
The most important aspect of the title is the verb or verbs,
which will tell you how to approach the essay.
If you haven't written an essay in a long time, you may need
to spend some time considering the types of essay you may be expected to write.
When you were much younger, your first school essays were
probably descriptive, the classic “What I did during my Holidays” type essay, which merely asks you to describe
something which happened.
Later, you might have been expected to write essays which
included some criticial thinking and analysis and you will must certainly be expected to do so at college
So let's take a look at some of the words, more specifically,
the berbs, which crop up in essay titles and what they mean.
if you have ever watched a discussion on TV, you will have
observed a group of people giving their opinions on a topic. Some of their ideas will be similar to those of the
other participants and others may be radically different.
At the end of the discussion, the host will give a summary of
the points made. If your essay asks you to discuss something, it will be done in much the same way, but of course,
all the points will be organized into logical order so that the essay flows
You'll begin with an introduction to the topic, state your
own point of view and then present both sides of the argument and end with a summary
Compare and contrast
you might be asked to compare and contrast the personalities
of two characters in a novel or play or you might be asked to compare and contrast employment opportunities in two
cities or a rural area and an urban area which are close to each other.
Compare means to discuss the aspects of the topic or
character which are similar and contrast means to highlight the aspects which are different.
Again, you would introduce the topic or characters, give a
general overview and then choose a certain number of points to compare and a similar number of points to
This means to look at each aspect of a situation or character
in close detail and write about what these aspects might mean. You are examining the topic from various different
angles to understand the meaning and the significance.
You start as always with an introduction and explain the
areas you intend to analyse. then analyse them in an order which makes sense, with ecah point leading naturally
into the next one. Finish with a summary of your conclusions.
In many cases there will be more than one verb. Make sure you
do what each verb asks. For example, you might be asked to outline the plot of a novel and interpret one aspect of
it or analyse one or more of the characters in the light of a specific event.
means to give examples of the topic or your interpretation of
means to assess a situation or point of view and back it up
with examples or proof.
asks you to explain the topic, for example to give your
opinion as to why a situation has arisen or what is meant by a poem or an aspect of a novel.
asks you to give a brief explanation the main aspects of the
topic or situation, in other words a short overview.
How to Write An Essay - The Next Steps
Once you have a clear understanding of the essay title, you are
ready to start writing your outline. Deciding what you are going to include and what you will leave out is an
important part in understanding how to write an essay.
Think about what you are going to be focusing on in your
essay. Make a list of all the points you want to cover, note the conclusion you intend to reach and put everything
into logical order.
You may need to do some research. This depends on the topic
you are writing about and could be anything from reading a few books or articles to interviewing experts on the
If you are really not sure how to write an essay, don' t
worry, you will find that your college or university provides study support and should be able to give you either
individual sessions or a place in a class which will teach you all you need to know about essay
For more information on how to write an essay go to our
basic essay writing guide.