There are six steps to writing an academic essay. If you follow each of these steps correctly, you will find that you can write university essays that will earn you a distinction (or high distinction) every time. It is simply a matter of understanding what steps to follow, and then completing each of them thoroughly.
This article provides an outline and brief description of each of these steps. It is an introduction to a series of articles that will examine each step in more depth. Reading just this article alone will provide you with assistance in learning how to plan, research and write your essays. However, reading all the articles in the series will allow you to gain a more sophisticated insight into essay writing, and to improve your grades even further.
These are the six steps you need to follow to write high quality university essays:
1. Analyse the Question
There are generally two types of essays: argumentative essays and explanatory essays. In an argumentative essay, you are expected to put forward an academic argument in answer to the essay question and support your argument with academic sources (references). In an explanatory essay, you are expected to explain or describe a process or topic in answer to an essay question and support your argument with academic sources (references). Regardless of the type of essay you are writing, it is very important that you understand what is being asked of you before you begin your research and writing your essay.
You must be sure that you understand all parts of the question and what it is asking you to do. You must be able to recognise the 'task words' in the question, which tell you what you have to do (for example, 'discuss', 'compare', 'analyse' or 'argue') and the 'key words' in the question, which tell you what you are being asked to write about (for example, Critical Thinking, or the roles of registered nurses). (More information on this step will be provided in the article 'How to Write Distinction Essays Every Time: Step 1. Analyse the Question.')
2. Draft the Essay Plan
You must write the first draft of your essay plan before you start your research. This will give your research direction and ultimately make it easier for you to write your essay. Having a plan will let you know what you need to research and how much research you need on each topic or subject that you will be writing about.
You will base this first draft of your essay plan on your essay question, and your current knowledge of your subject. It will not happen very often that you are asked to write an essay on a topic you know nothing about, since you will already be studying the subject and will normally have had one or more lectures or tutorials on the topic.
It is acceptable if your essay plan is rough or vague at this point, or if you do not have a great deal of detail. You will develop your essay plan (expanding it and including more detail) and possibly even change it as you go through the research process.
3. Conduct the Research
Part One: Organising your Research using a Research Document
Your research should be organised so that the transition from doing your research to writing your essay is simple. The best way to do this is to organise your research so that it matches the organisation of the essay. In Step 2 of writing an academic essay, you would have written a rough essay plan before you began your research. This essay plan is the guide you need to use to organise your research.
Copy and paste this essay plan into a Word document. All your research for this essay will be recorded in this one document. Use each of the dot points from your essay plan (topics you are planning to discuss) as a heading in your research document. When you do your research, you will organise it in the order that the information will appear in your essay. Doing this means you will be organising your research by theme or topic, not by source.
Part Two: Research Skills and Academic Sources
Being able to tell the difference between an academic source and a non-academic source, knowing where to find academic sources and deciding what sources are relevant to your research are important skills that you will develop during your tertiary studies.
The first place you should go is the library, even if this means ordering in books from other libraries. For academics to have their books (and journal articles) published, they must go through a process called peer-reviewing. During this process, one or more other academics who are experts in the field will read and assess a book or article to decide if it is of publishable standard. This is why your research will be of the highest quality if you use books, monographs, textbooks and journal articles written by academics for your research, because the work had to meet academic standards. There is no such process for publishing on the internet; anyone can write whatever they like on any subject.
Your second stop after books, monographs and textbooks will be journal articles. Some of these will only be available in hardcopy from the library, but many will be available in their full-text versions through online electronic databases, such as JStore, ProQuest and Ingenta.
4. Finalise the Essay Plan
In Step 2, you would have drafted a rough essay plan before you began your research. During the research process (in Step 3), you would have developed this plan further as you learned more information on your topic. Once you have completed your research, and before you begin writing your first draft, you need to re-think your essay plan and write a final version based on what you discovered during your research. Your final essay plan will contain more detail than your first draft and be a very specific guide to how to write your essay. Once you have completed the final draft of your essay plan, you are ready to begin writing the first draft of your essay.
5. Write the First Draft of the Essay
Now that you have completed your research in an organised way and have written a final draft of your essay plan, writing the first draft of your essay will be easier than it ever has been. All of the following decisions about your essay have already been made:
* What your answer to the essay question is
* What main points you will discuss in order to back up your argument
* The order in which to discuss your main points
* How long to spend discussing each main point
* What information each paragraph will contain (i.e. what information you will use to discuss each of your main points)
* What references you will use to back up your argument
Thus, there is no reason for you to feel lost or stare at your computer screen not knowing what to write. If you do get stuck for any reason, the best thing to do is to just keep writing. You can always improve something once you have written something down. If you have not written anything, not much can be done until you do.
6. Professional Academic Editing
Once you have completed writing your essay, it is vital that you have it professionally edited by an academic editor. You have just spent a significant amount of time doing the best possible job on your essay or assignment, doing your research and writing up your results. After all this effort, it is critical that your work is presented in the best possible way. Using a professional academic editor will ensure that your work is polished, well written, and presented correctly.
If English is your second language, having your essay or assignment professionally edited is even more important. You do not want mistakes in your writing to confuse your markers or distract them from the important arguments you are making. This could lead to you receiving a grade lower than the grade you really deserve.