Good essay writing is a skill all students need to learn. Through practise and following some simple rules, essays can become rewarding and no longer intimidating.
Here are some essential tips to writing essays.
Example Essay Question – What were the causes of the First World War?
Answer the Question. As a teacher, this is the most frequently repeated piece of advise I give. The biggest mistake is to write what you know about a topic, rather than what the question asks. At the end of each paragraph, ask yourself – how does this answer the question. It is often appropriate to finish a paragraph by making reference to the question.
Good Introduction. A good introduction does not mean you introduce yourself and what you would like to do. A good introduction is concise and helps create focus to the rest of the question. Explain key concepts and what the essay will do.
For example, this kind of phrase should be left out.
- Bad – In this essay I will consider various aspects of the different factors that led to the start of the First World War.
- Good – The First World War was ostensibly triggered by the assassination of a relatively obscure Austrian prince. However, many other factors caused this small spark to spread into a full scale European war. This essays shall examine the significance of factors such as militarism, the balance of power and treaty obligations in causing the First World War.
Simple Tips for Essays
Avoid Unnecessary waffle. This is material which in no way helps to answer the question.
Keep writing simple. If possibly vary the length of sentences to make writing more interesting, but if uncertain, it is better to err on the side of caution and write in short simple sentences.
Use Paragraphs. Paragraphs should consist of 4-7 sentences. Don’t worry this is just a rough guide, but paragraphs shouldn’t be one sentence or a full page. Keep to one main point per paragraph.
Consider different points of view
Bad – It was all the Germans fault.
You Don’t Have to Agree with a Point to Include it.
Marxist historians argue the First World War was created by the ruling classes to mask the oppression and injustice suffered by the working classes.
Bad – The war began on a fine summer’s day, and Europe was never the same again.
Give Analysis and not just description of what happened.
Bad – Archduke Ferdinand was shot. Then Austria-Hungary mobilised, then Russia then Germany…
Good – The sequence of events showed the complicated system of treaties and alliances meant an escalation of war soon occurred.
Good Conclusion. Be confident to argue for one particular viewpoint. Evaluating a question doesn’t mean you have to avoid strong conclusion. Be confident to say which argument is the strongest, and explain why it is the strongest.
Bad – Clearly there are quite a few different reasons why the war started, each having a degree of merit and importance.
Good – I believe the strongest reason for the start of the First World War was the series of treaties which gave countries obligations to support their allies. This point is significant because countries felt honour bound to support their allies at any cost.
Essay Writing Plan
Identify, Explain, Justify, Analyse, Evaluate.
A good paragraph could start by identifying a particular point.
- In Germany there was a strong national sentiment that supported the concept of war.
The next sentence takes this point and explains using evidence to support it.
- A popular book in Germany, during the pre-war period, was entitled ‘Weltmacht oder Untergang’ – ‘World Dominion or Decline’. The popularity of this books illustrates how many ordinary Germans felt a war was necessary to protect the interests of their country.
- In many European countries, there was also a strong sense of loyalty to the ruling classes. This made the population more willing to support militaristic adventures. Therefore there was little, if any opposition to the war aims of the Kaiser.
This spirit of militarism is quite significant, it is displayed in the enthusiasm with which war was greeted. However, a similar enthusiasm for war was also displayed in other European countries such as France and Britain, suggesting that strong national sentiment supporting war was not confined to Germany.
Other Writing Tips