This is a good way to make sure everything is ready. We don’t jump in straight away and start writing, but instead spend a few moments thinking about what we want to achieve in our essay. You may think of these considerations as a plan of attack.
What are the essential ingredients of an essay then?
First of all, you should know what you’re going to write.
Once you know that, you probably want to consider some examples to illustrate the argument.
Illustrations have two functions: firstly, they show that what you write is relevant, and secondly they make your argument more approachable.
Imagine someone who has done an introductory course in your subject, for example.
By writing for an educated person, you no longer have to explain some of the fundamental aspects of your subject matter.
However, it’ll still be necessary to explain some of the more specialized issues—maybe just to remind your reader.
Practically speaking, pitching your essay this way means that a non-specialist will not be lost when reading your writing.
It’s a useful skill to write difficult things in a relatively easy way.
Having worked out the content—what you’re going to include—you’ll also need to think a little bit about the structure: in what order you’re going to say it.
The approach introduced in this book will help you with this task. Sometimes there is just too much that you could write about; at other times there just does not seem to be enough.
The following approach may help you to decide what you include in your essay, and equally important, what you don’t. It helps to work like chefs do: having all the necessary ingredients at hand before starting with the actual writing.
Imagine a chef starting to bake a lemon tart, finding out half way though that he only has strawberries in the fridge.
Surely he can cobble something together, maybe even produce very nice strawberry tartlets.
Nothing in this document is rocket science, but most students enter university without having been taught how to write effectively.
Merely by studying at a university, however, no-one will learn how to write good essays.
By following just a few steps, most mediocre essays can be improved.
I tried to include many examples taken from my own essays to make this guide a practical one.
A key idea that I wish to convey, is that it really matters why we write an essay.
This small book aims to be a practical guide to essay writing.
A generic approach to writing is introduced, enabling you to write in a clear and structured way, while at the same time allowing you to develop your own argument in a creative way.
A good essay combines your own content with a clear structure.
I wrote this book because many mistakes in writing essays are unnecessarily repeated time and time again.
These mistakes can easily be avoided, and will allow you to get the credit you deserve.
There is no universal approach to writing, and the reason of writing will be the best guide as to how to write.
It’ll guide us to whom we write for, what level of details we include, what kind of language we choose, and so on. In the situation of a university essay, the audience is often imaginary.
That is not to say that your essay will not be read properly, but that the person for whom you write sometimes actually differs slightly from who is marking your essay.
Assuming your essay is being marked by a knowledgeable teaching assistant, why write at all?
She might know everything you have to say, or even know it better; on the other hand, you might be writing an essay about an area your marker does not specialize in. The solution is to pitch your essay towards a reasonably well educated person, but one who lacks the specific expertise.
At the same time, if your essay is read by your really knowledgeable teaching assistant, she will immediately see that you have grasped the subject matter: that you know what you’re writing about.
Sometimes, the question you’re set will clearly say what kind of style and level of language is expected.
A conventional essay is not the same as a report, nor the same as a press briefing, an entry in an encyclopaedia, or a memo.
In each case, you’ll have to think about the particular needs: who is your (imaginary) reader, what will they know, what will they want to know?