How to Write Successful Essays
It takes skill to write a good essay – one that will demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a subject. But it is a skill that can be learned and developed and one that will make your work easier and more productive. It’s good to approach your essay in an organised way, following certain recognised steps. Make sure you really understand the question and understand what the question is asking you to do. This involves looking not only at the keywords, which will give you an indication of the subject areas you are meant to tackle, but also the instructional words, which tell you what you are expected to do in the essay and other terms, which give you further information about the scope of the essay.
Plan an introduction, main body of the essay and a conclusion. Sequence your argument in a logical way and guide your reader through the themes and arguments in the essay. Make connections between points and try and link ideas in a natural progression. The following structure should be adopted;
In the introduction you are telling the reader what they are about to be presented with. It should function as a ‘roadmap’ to guide the reader through your essay. State your answer to the question at the outset. Summarise the central thrust of your argument and explain the order in which you set it out. Make it clear to the reader that you are aware of the particular subjects/themes/ideas you are about to address. If you are using specialist terms you will need to present a broad definition of them and suggest how they will be useful for your essay.
This is where you present the argument of your essay. A good way of tackling an essay is to make a list of the key points you want to address; then place them in an order that seems to flow and make sense in narrative terms. A clear and coherent argument is one of the first things a reader will look for. Make sure that your essay fulfils its own ambitions and that it answers the question. Make sure you underpin your analysis with a discussion of key examples. Remember to include the dates of all images, objects and texts discussed in your essay – this will help you to establish their chronology.
Your conclusion should mirror the introduction. Briefly recapitulate your main points. Run through the main thrust of your argument, pointing out the key areas of discussion.
In your bibliography you must cite all of the sources used in your essay. List any articles, magazines or books you have looked at or found relevant. There are various systems of referencing, but in each case the reference should include the author’s name; date of publication; title; place of publication; and name of the publisher. For example, a book would be referenced in this manner:
Ross, A. (1991) Strange Weather. London: Verso.
A chapter in a book:
Ruppersburg, H. ‘The Alien Messiah in Recent Science Fiction Films’ in Kuhn, A. (1990) (ed.) Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema. London: Verso, pp32-38.
An article in a periodical:
Dean, J. ‘Between 2001 and Star Wars’, Journal of Popular Film and Television, vol. 7, no. 1, 1978, pp32-41.
I have published several other articles to help students with academic work:
The following articles give specialist advice on producing a dissertation: