Essay writing tips

The most successful essays are well planned. Essays that go off the point with lots of extra detail will get poor marks.

Clear your thinking

It sounds obvious, but read the question several times.

  • Underline key words in the essay title so you really understand the question being asked. It’s never a case of writing all you know about a particular topic
  • The words your teacher or examiner may use include: ‘discuss’, ‘compare and contrast’, ‘evaluate’, ‘account for’ and so on. Remember that these are ways of directing your answer so make sure you know what they mean
  • Other questions may start with ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ or ‘when’
  • Brainstorm your ideas on the essay topic to get started. Spider diagrams are good for this

Create a plan

  • Every essay must have a logical plan that runs throughout. Start to plan the structure of the essay by numbering each of your ideas in order of importance. At this stage you may wish to leave some of them out or develop others by breaking them into smaller points. Redo your original spider diagram if necessary
  • You may have to present your argument for the essay under broad themes like ‘economic’, ‘social’, ‘political’ or ‘religious’ reasons. Make sure you understand which theme suits each of your points, then assemble your points in order of importance into paragraphs

Follow a structure

1: Introduction

  • State the main points or areas you will investigate in order to prove your answer to the question set in the essay title

2: Development of your argument

  • To support your argument, make the most important points first. The way these points are ordered makes your argument clear to the person who reads the essay
  • Start a new paragraph for each new important point that relates to the question. You may include quotations from other historians and refer to primary evidence (such as you can find on this website) to support a particular point
  • Place less important linked points together in the same paragraph
  • Make sure your essay makes chronological sense. Try to present factual points in date order
  • Avoid the temptation to just tell the story of what happened. If you refer to an important historical event, you must make a point or comment about it. This will stop your essay from becoming a simple narrative and it shows you are trying to analyse events rather than just describe them
  • Aim for 5-7 paragraphs, depending on the essay and level of course you are following

3: Conclusion

  • Sum up the main points and briefly restate your argument. Re-read your work, check for spelling errors, and redraft if necessary.