UK Distance Learning & Publishing offers dozens of online courses, all with different assessments. Almost all of our courses, however, whether it’s an online A-Level or a home study Animal Care course, require you know how to write a good essay. Now of course, the content of your work will depend entirely upon the subject that you’re studying. But there are a few simple tips and tricks that will help you when planning and writing any essay.
How To Write A Good Essay – Read the question
I know, I know, you’re not an idiot. Of course you always read the question. But it’s very important to know exactly what the question is asking you to do, and it’s not always as obvious as you think. For instance, a common essay question for English Literature might read something like this: “‘Wuthering Heights is a novel about passion versus reason’. Do you agree with this statement?” The shortest possible response to this would be ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but that isn’t what the examiner will be looking for. You might think the question wants you to say ‘yes/no because…’, but that isn’t quite right either.
Pretty much every essay question, however it’s phrased, is asking you to make a specific argument. It’s not enough to say you agree or disagree and give a list of reasons. The best essays will have a distinct, specific, and very direct argument of their own. The best way to express this is through a clear ‘thesis statement’.
How To Write A Good Essay – Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is the one or two sentences you put in your introduction which clearly set out your argument. If we return to the example we used above, a good thesis statement might read like this: “In this essay I am going to argue that Wuthering Heights is not about passion versus reason, but is in fact a novel that seeks to show how these two concepts can be made to work together. I will do this by comparing Heathcliff and Edgar with Hareton.”
In this example of a thesis statement, we acknowledge the terms of the original question, but set out a response that goes beyond just agreeing or disagreeing. It signals to the reader how we’re going to go about answering the question, and gives them a clue as to how the answer will be structured.
How To Write A Good Essay – Planning
When thinking about how to write a good essay, planning is vital. Planning your essay’s structure can be tough, but it’s a lot easier once you’ve decided on your thesis statement. Don’t do any planning unless you’ve got your thesis statement worked out. This will give you a template to work from. Using the above example, we can see how using comparison is a good way to structure an essay. A very basic plan for this particular essay might look like this:
Introduction: Thesis statement
Part 1: Show Heathcliff is represented as a purely ‘passionate’ individual and how this leads to him being unhappy. (Not being seen as suitable for Catherine, alienating others).
Part 2: Show how Edgar is extremely rational, but lacks passion (Catherine marries him but does not love him. Heathcliff is able to bully him).
Part 3: Show how Hareton is a combination of these two characters. (Related to Edgar through blood but raised by Heathcliff). He is both passionate and rational, and is the only male character to end the novel happily. (In a loving relationship with young Cathy)
There is much more you could add to this plan as you went along. However, by setting out the bare bones of it in this way you give yourself a clear map to work to. There are plenty of other ways to plan an essay that don’t involve comparisons, but the basic principle will still be the same. Build your argument in logical steps, and be very clear about which section of an essay addresses which particular idea or topic.
How To Write A Good Essay – Conclusions
People sometimes think that a conclusion to an essay should contain new information, a late flourish to show how clever you are. This is wrong. The conclusion to a good essay should be just what it says on the tin — a conclusion. A good conclusion will summarise all the main arguments you’ve made and explain, very briefly, how these prove your original thesis statement. That’s it. In a way, your conclusion should almost be a mirror image of your introduction. These two sections are both designed to break your whole argument down into its simplest form. They both help to direct your reader the bits of your essay that you consider most important.
Hopefully these tips will have helped show you how to write a good essay. There are many more things you can do to make your work really sparkle, many of which can be found in the UK Distance Learning & Publishing study guide. This is available to all our students.