How to write a good essay

Essay writing is an art that can be improved through a combination of planning and practise. When writing an essay for academic purposes, you are usually expected to follow a certain structure, but it’s also important to include your own personal flair to ensure the writing is exciting and original and keeps the reader engaged.

As with everything, your personal flair can be developed over time if you practise writing or reading regularly and expand your vocabulary and personal tone of voice. For some people, essay writing comes naturally and expressing themselves or constructing a strong argument with words is easy. Regardless of your writing skills, everyone can benefit from good essay writing tips.

There are many elements of academic writing. From choosing a topic, defining your argument, research, planning to writing – there is lots to consider when it comes to the essay writing process.

If essay writing doesn’t come naturally to you, you can find peace in knowing that, after you learn what makes a good essay, you can apply the same techniques and formulas to almost any piece of academic writing. Whether you’re writing a standard essay, a reflective essay, a narrative essay, a dissertation, a course assignment or something different entirely, these tips and tricks will help make the process more straightforward for you.

What makes a good essay?

Although there are many different types of essays, there are certain traits that most types of good writing share. The following is a brief description of five qualities of good writing.

  1. Focus: When starting an essay, you should have a clear focus in mind. If you have been given a question to address, each paragraph should relate back to this question, tying the essay together as a whole.
  2. Development: The central idea of your essay should be supported by each paragraph and your argument should develop and grow stronger as the essay goes on.
  3. Unity: Unity refers to the idea that the entire essay is united and can be read as a whole, rather than many separate points that don’t connect with one another. Again, this means that each paragraph should relate back to the main idea.
  4. Coherence: During the planning stage, ensure there is a logical sequence to the points you make and that the essay flows smoothly. For example, don’t begin making one point in paragraph 2, get side tracked by another idea, then finish explaining this point in paragraph 7!
  5. Accuracy: Accuracy can refer to two things. Firstly, your essay should be accurate in the sense that you must fact check your work and make sure you are not sharing false information. Secondly, you should also check your grammar, spelling, sentence structure and make sure you use correct English.

The structure of a good essay

When writing an essay, the first thing you need to get right is the structure. Creating a detailed plan before you begin writing is one way to ensure that your essay flows and makes sense to your reader.

By creating a plan, you will be able to organise and adjust the structure and framework of your essay and ensure you have your ideal structure in place and haven’t missed anything out before you start writing. During the planning phase you should decide:

  • How you will answer the question(s)
  • What points you will make and what order these points will come in
  • Which evidence and examples you will use
  • How your argument will be structured

After creating your plan, you can begin the first draft of your essay. Think of your first draft as raw material you will refine through editing and redrafting. Once you have a draft, you can work on improving the writing style.

An essay will generally be made up of an introduction, a selection of paragraphs arguing and developing your point and a conclusion paragraph tying the essay together. A paragraph is a group of sentences that develops a main idea. Until you get the hang of writing an essay in English, it is a good idea to try and ensure each paragraph in the body of the essay contains:

  • A topic sentence: this states the main idea you are trying to convey and introduces your reader to each paragraph.
  • Supporting sentences: used to explain and develop the point you’re making.
  • Evidence: usually factual information or a quotation from a valid source to support your point.
  • Analysis: this is where you evaluate the implication, significance or impact of the evidence and critically evaluate your evidence you to show how you’ve come to your chosen conclusion.
  • A concluding sentence: restates your point, analyses the evidence, or acts as a transition to the next paragraph.

The introduction of a good essay

The aim of an essay introduction is, of course, to introduce your essay and hook your reader. The introduction will set the tone for the rest of the essay and give your reader a clear idea of what route the essay is going to take, so it is important to get it right.

The body of a good essay

The body of a good essay is made up of a collection of paragraphs sharing your ideas and the ideas of other scholars whose work you have engaged with. The body of the essay will contain paragraphs explaining why your argument is valid. One way to do this is to separate your paragraphs into points that support your idea and points that show you understand there are differing arguments. The body of your essay should establish a ‘flow’ that makes sense to the reader, so they can follow your argument and, hopefully, become more convinced of your personal standpoint as the essay goes on.

The conclusion of a good essay

The conclusion is where you summarise your argument, bring together your ideas and reiterate what you hope the reader will take away from the essay. Even if you have written an amazing essay, if you don’t conclude your points, the essay will not seem complete or tied together, so it’s important you get this section right.

Questions to ask yourself when you’re writing an essay

  • Have I answered the question directly?
  • Have I used enough evidence to support my argument?
  • Does my argument make sense? Is it well balanced and researched?
  • Have I used the appropriate referencing style?
  • Have I referenced all my quotes and paraphrases?
  • Have I stuck to the word limit?

Although you can follow all these essay writing tips listed above, the best way to ensure you write a good academic essay is to practise. If you increase the amount of time you spend reading essays and writing essays, you will naturally pick up what makes a good essay and writing a successful essay will eventually come as second nature.

If you are looking for additional support to help improve your English skills, why not enrol in a course at The Language Gallery? We run several different courses to suit a range of English levels and needs. Our General English Course is designed for those currently at Beginner A1 to Upper Intermediate B2+ level looking to improve their knowledge of the English language, pronunciation, accent and confidence.

Our Academic English Course may be more suitable for improving essay writing skills, students will be trained to use academic lexis whilst being introduced to key study skills such as critical thinking, longer writing exercises and delivering presentations in English.

If you want to become a fluent English speaker, get in contact and see how much you could improve your writing, speaking and general English skills in the next few months!

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