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How to structure an essay

So what do they want from you?...

The reason that you are asked to do an essay or paper on a certain subject is because they want to test different skills in a much more in depth way than can be expected during a timed exam or test. 

Do you get the question?...

The first thing is they want you to show them that you understood the question and when asked to write about ‘Does the Prime Minister hold too much power?’, that you do just that. So, do you really understand fully what they want from the essay title? If you’re not sure ask.

Put a skeleton together...  

Now you may be a ‘dive-in’ type when it comes to essay writing and fair play if that works for you. Another method is to write a skeleton of your essay before striking a bat. This also helps you manage your word count. 

Using the made-up example above, it might look a little like this…

‘Does the Prime Minister hold too much power in Britain? Discuss’
  • Executive Summary (I’ll do that last)
  • Introduction (this paper shows that…..) 
  • Background – a bit of context, who the Prime Minister is, the role in office (but not too much)
  • Option 1
    • The Discussion Part One -  Yes arguments – views backed up by sources that you have selected well and evaluated. This evaluation will either strengthen or dismiss each argument
    • The Discussion Part Two - No arguments - as above
  • Option 2
    • Take each theme such as the role of the Monarch, having large majorities in parliament, have weak opposition leaders; the power of parliament including select committees, the role of the media and analyse each one using the sources that you have found
  • Conclusion - now this can't contain any new arguments  - you're basically pulling together the content above it into a neat conclusion

Give it some depth...

Now essays (and exams) are full of words like ‘explore’, ‘explain’ and ‘discuss’. This means have a conversation in writing with the person reading it 

The fog of words…

There’s a question mark. This makes it a question; which means that you need to give an answer not just a lot of probably good and relevant material thrown together; which by the end of it is a muddle that you can’t conclude through the fog. 

Assume nothing?...

Ok there’s a line here; you don’t need to go too over the top but always explain acronyms like ‘EU’ should be written ‘European Union (EU)’ then you can use the initials

Don’t use ten words when five will do…

Put yourself in the shoes of your reader (they may have several to mark) short, punchy sentences and short paragraphs are the way forward but not text speak.

Don’t try and fake it…

Watch out for plagiarism – there are some pretty clever ways of telling whether it’s not your own work these days – don’t be tempted as chances are you’ll get found out.