A major part of assignments at school, college or university deals with writing, be it long essays or just short summaries. Samantha Yong finds out what makes a good essay.
Essay assignments help to improve writing skills and the ability to think creatively, analytically and systematically. Writing a good essay not only requires considerable effort but also good management of your time and ideas. Teachers and lecturers look for an essay that is well constructed with evidence-based arguments. It is advised that students consult with teachers or lecturers to discuss the difficulties that they may have, especially when writing a research paper, thesis or analytical study to make sure that they stay on the right track.
The essay structure
A standard essay structure includes an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
The body of an essay, also known as the longest part of the essay, should contain all statements necessary to support your essay objective as well as deal with opposing points.
In this part of the essay, you conclude by restating your essay objectives and provide a summary of your main points.
The writing process
Reading the question carefully and determining what you are being asked makes the writing process clearer. It helps to underline keywords and check their meaning as the keywords relate directly to a topic. Also look out for direction-words like discuss, analyse, compare etc as this will set the tone your essay should take.
It is important to read extensively so as to get a broad overview of a topic before choosing to zero in on one aspect of the topic. Question yourself with the 5 Ws – ‘Who? What? When? Where? Why?’. Read effectively and make clear notes, keeping track of details to be included in the ‘References’ section.
Any plan is better than no plan. Planning allows you to get a clearer understanding of what a particular essay should include. Structure your headings and points that you should address within each heading.
Draft writing helps organise materials and clarify expressions. It is advised that students transform points from the planning phase into paragraphs. Please note that the introduction and conclusion should be written last, as your ideas will always change slightly and doing so will ensure that what you introduce and conclude are accurate.
This is essential and will differentiate between a distinction and a pass, or a pass and a fail! After leaving your draft for a day or two, go back to it and re-read it. You will find that it may not be as clear or as coherent as you remembered it. It is also here that you check if the objective you defined for your essay has been met and that you used the correct grammar and punctuation as well as cite all your references.
Not only does an essay need to have solid content, it must also be presented well, in order to attain the coveted ‘distinction’.
Here is a checklist of the characteristics of a well- presented essay:
- Direct, clear and interesting
- Avoid long sentences. Keep sentences short and simple
- Avoid the use of slang words
- Good grammar and correct punctuation
- Avoid sexist language
- Neat. Use a word-processor (ie MSWord)
- Number your pages
- Have a cover sheet
Plagiarism, defined by the Oxford dictionary as to copy another’s ideas, words or work and pretend that they are your own, is considered a serious offence, particularly in tertiary institutions. It is thus important that your essay contains references for all the quotes used in it as well as books you have read and websites visited in your writing process.
A standard referencing system used by tertiary students is the Harvard system. A reference is made at the appropriate place in the text with it being cited in the following order: surname(s) of the author(s), year of publication and the page number(s). In the text itself, a reference can be made to the author alongside the quote you want to use, for instance as below:
Carl Sandburg (1959) stated that ‘Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.’