Essays are often used to demonstrate in-depth understanding of a particular topic. There are two main types of essays:
- Descriptive – when you give a thorough description of a particular topic
- Persuasive – when you present an argument and demonstrate that you have at least looked at both sides
The way an essay question is presented will give you an indication of the type of essay you will need to produce. Regardless, there are similar processes you should follow to plan for and write your essay.
1. Plan your essay
Deconstruct the question
A crucial first step is to understand exactly what the question requires of you. View the deconstructing a question resources.
Brainstorm an essay map
You will be asked to write an essay based on content you have learnt in class. Once you know exactly what the question is asking of you, do a quick brainstorm to map what you already know about the topic and what you need to find out.
Find and review information sources
Your lecturer will likely ask you to include course readings and to refer to additional readings. A good place to start is to refer to your course readings, revise these and see who the authors refer to in their reference list. You will also need to conduct a focused search for further information. View resources on finding quality sources of information.
Once you have a fair idea about your essay topic, start writing up your essay. Your initial writing attempts won’t be your final draft so don’t get too caught up in producing a final piece of work at this point.
2. Write your essay
The Introduction sets the scene for the essay and gives the reader a clear idea of what they can expect. A good introduction briefly introduces the topic and gives signposts to the main points that the essay will address.
The Body consists of paragraphs that address your essay topic. Paragraphs should focus on one theme and they should be structured in a logical manner. View resources on writing paragraphs.
The Conclusion summarises key points of the essay. A good conclusion doesn’t simply regurgitate content, rather it gives the reader a concise summary of the key points and a clear idea of your stance on the topic. The conclusion should not contain any new information.
3. Revise, edit and refine your essay
- Check the essay question – does your essay address the question?
- Check the marking criteria in the assignment rubric – if the lecturer wants you to address specific points, make sure you do so
- Read it out loud – by reading your work out loud, you get a better sense of how the reader will interpret your work
- Give it to someone to check for flow and to proof-read. If you’ve written a good essay it will make sense to someone who has no previous knowledge of the topic. This shows that your essay is clear and is structured in a way that develops understanding for the reader
- Proof-read your work – make sure you proof-read your work to identify spelling and grammar errors
- Check your referencing – make sure your work adheres to APA referencing standards
- Massey University’s assignment planner will map a timeline to complete key essay writing steps
- Use this list of linking words to help you link paragraphs and/or sentences within paragraphs
- Download examples of a good essay and a poor essay
- Our resources on paraphrasing will help you incorporate evidence into your writing
- Our resources on grammar will help you edit and refine your essay