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Essay Writing Skills

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English

We've all been there: the task is to write an engaging and knowledgeable essay, but the page is staring back, dauntingly empty. Being aware of the different skills that go into writing a good essay can make tackling this first step much easier and help you improve your writing once you get going. So, if you're not sure where to start, don't worry! We will explore tips and tricks to help you develop the skills you need to write an essay that is clear, informative, and will impress your reader.

Essay writing examples

When writing an essay, there are different elements to consider. For example:

The essay format - this refers to the physical appearance of your essay. How will it be arranged on the page?

The essay content - this refers to what you will write. What will your essay be about and what points will you make?

Essay writing skills - this refers to the ability to turn your ideas into words. How will you convey your thoughts and argument to the reader in a clear, concise way?

Now, let's explore these in more detail!

Essay Format Example

It is important to understand the basic format of an essay. This way, you will be able to plan your content around the basic format of an essay: the introduction, main body, and conclusion.

Introduction

The introduction is the opening paragraph of your essay. It tells the reader about the topic you are writing about and briefly states the main points you will expand on throughout the main body of your essay. An introduction usually contains:

  • A hook: a memorable sentence to draw your reader in and give them something to think about.
  • Background information: contextual information that gives your reader a better understanding of the topic you are exploring in your essay.
  • Essay brief and outline of main points: this tells the reader what your essay is about and the things you will be writing about throughout the main body of the essay.

Other words for 'essay brief' that you may be familiar with include 'thesis' or 'main argument'.

Main Body

The main body is split into different paragraphs. This is where you expand on your ideas or your argument to show the reader that you are able to analyse and interpret information effectively while also forming your own opinion on the topic. A good structure to follow when writing the main body paragraph is PEE. This stands for: point, evidence, explain:

  • Point: a statement relating to your essay brief.
  • Evidence: back up your point with examples (this is where your research comes in handy!). This can be in the form of a quote or paraphrase, both of which must be properly cited.
  • Explain: analyse your evidence; go into detail about what it shows and how it relates to your topic.

Conclusion

The conclusion is the final paragraph of your essay. It summarises the main points made throughout your essay and gives the reader something to think about when bringing the essay to a close. A conclusion usually does these three things:

  • Reviews the main point of your essay brief.
  • Summarises the main points of your argument.
  • Offers a recommendation/improvement/question.

Critical Thinking Skills in Essay Writing

In the main body of your essay, it's your chance to show off your critical thinking skills and let the reader know how knowledgeable you are about your essay topic!

But, what is critical thinking? Let's begin by looking at the meaning:

Critical thinking refers to the process of analysing and evaluating information in a skilful way.

Critical thinking helps to strengthen your point of view and enhance the way you express your ideas. It also helps you to reflect on your own opinion and also to question the views of others. In short, critical thinking involves not just taking things at face value.

Critical thinking also enables you to read between the lines, i.e., by considering meanings that may not be initially obvious. When thinking critically, you should consider the following:

  • What does the evidence suggest or imply?
  • Are there any positive or negative connotations?
  • Do I agree or disagree with other points of view?
  • What is my own opinion on the topic?
  • Who wrote the evidence; are they biased?
  • Is there anything the researcher/writer missed or didn't acknowledge?
  • Is the research credible and reliable?

Improve your English Essay Writing Skills

We will now look at a few things you can do to help improve your English essay writing skills. It is important to note that these are simply suggestions; everyone writes in different ways and will find different things helpful!

Steps to writing an essay

There are different steps you can take before, during, and after writing an essay to ensure that your thoughts are well organised and your work is clear.

Before

Before writing an essay, it can be very helpful to write down your initial ideas to help you plan out what you want to focus on in your writing.

Essay Writing Skills Image of a mindmap StudySmarterMind map, pixabay.

Planning for an essay can be done in various ways. You could organise your thoughts by creating a mind map like the one shown above, for example, or you could write a list.

Whichever way is best for you, you should begin by focusing on your essay brief or question. It is important to have a good understanding of the main purpose of your essay or the question you will be answering. This will make it easier to plan out the rest of the writing. It may be useful to highlight any keywords in the brief/question so that you know what to focus on when writing.

You could highlight instruction verbs as these can help you to understand exactly what the question is asking you to do. Examples include:

  • Argue
  • Compare
  • Analyse
  • Criticise
  • Discuss
  • Examine
  • Explain

When planning your essay, you should also ask yourself the following questions:

What is the brief/question telling me to do?

Do I understand the purpose of my essay?

Do I have to argue for or against something?

Can I develop this in the main body of my essay?

You could separate your plan into different sections to help determine the main points you will make in each paragraph:

Essay brief/question: Explore the ways slang can either have a positive or negative impact on teenagers.

  • Introduction
  • Body paragraph 1: helps to build a sense of community and belonging
  • Body paragraph 2: encourages independence away from older generations
  • Body paragraph 3: (counter argument) teens could be perceived as lazy and too informal
  • Conclusion

During

Now you've finished your plan, it's time to look at each section of your essay in more detail and start writing.

When stating the brief in your introduction, consider the following questions:

  • What is my essay about?

  • What is the purpose of this essay?

When outlining the main points and/or argument you will make in your introduction, consider the following questions:

  • Am I arguing for or against something?

  • What am I trying to prove to the reader?

  • What key points will I further expand on in the body of my essay?

  • Am I going to be discussing/analysing any theories?

During the writing of the main body of your essay, you should ensure that your ideas are clear and flow well. A good way to do this is to link your writing back to the brief. Linking back to the brief is important to show that you understand it fully and your argument clearly relates to it.

If you are answering the question:

'Do you agree or disagree that the internet has positively impacted communication?'

You could link your paragraph back to the question by writing:

'This shows that the internet has/has not (depending on your argument) positively impacted communication because…'

Linking can also be done between paragraphs – think of your paragraphs like a chain!

You could link the final idea of one paragraph to the next idea of the following paragraph. This will help to create a coherent flow and will ensure that all of your ideas relate to one another.

Another way to make sure your ideas are clear is to make sure your vocabulary is not too complicated. Although you may think that advanced vocabulary is more impressive, it is often unnecessary! Complicated language may cause confusion between you and the reader, as they may not understand the meaning of the words and could get distracted from the main purpose of your essay. Because of this, it is better to stick to vocabulary that you are familiar with, as this will ensure your writing is concise and your main points are easier to understand for the reader.

When writing your conclusion, you could consider the following questions:

  • What is the main message of my essay?

  • What ideas did I raise in the main body of my essay?

  • What is my overall opinion of the topic?

  • How did I contribute to the study of my topic?

After

After you have finished writing, you should allow yourself time to proofread your work to ensure that you have not made any obvious mistakes such as spelling or grammar errors.

Put your proofreading abilities to the test! Can you spot the errors in the following essay writing example?

It could be argued that the internet has had a positive impact on communication one reeson for this is ability to contact people quickly. Social media platforms such as facebook and instagram have enabled people to to engage in instant messaging, which lets people eficiently send and receive messages at a fast speed.

Below is the correct version of the text. The parts that have been corrected are highlighted:

It could be argued that the internet has had a positive impact on communication. One reason for this is the ability to contact people quickly. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have enabled people to engage in instant messaging, which lets people efficiently send and receive messages at a fast speed.

Essay Writing Skills - Key Takeaways

  • An essay usually follows the following format: introduction, main body, and conclusion.
  • Critical thinking refers to the process of analysing and evaluating information in a skilful way.
  • Before writing an essay, it is useful to create a plan, e.g., with a mind map or list.
  • To make your essay flow well, make sure to link back to the question and provide connections between paragraphs.
  • To ensure your ideas are clear, don't use vocabulary that is too complex.
  • After writing, proofread your work to check for mistakes.

Frequently Asked Questions about Essay Writing Skills

To write an essay, you should first be aware of the essay format: introduction, main body, and conclusion. The introduction tells the reader about your essay brief and the main points you will make. The main body expands on your main points. It allows you to analyse information, develop an argument, and form your own opinion. The conclusion summarises your essay brief and the main points of your argument. 

An essay is a piece of writing that explores a topic by evaluating ideas, analysing evidence, and building an argument.

There are different steps you could take to improve your essay writing skills. For example:


  • Plan out your argument before writing your essay. 
  • Link your writing back to your essay brief (this ensures your writing will flow well and your ideas will be clear to follow).
  • Don't use vocabulary that is too complex (stick to what you know!).
  • Proofread your work and change spelling/grammar errors.

5 good skills to have when writing an essay are as follows:


  1. Planning out and researching your topic well
  2. Having a strong argument and purpose
  3. Linking your writing back to the brief
  4. Using critical thinking
  5. Editing spelling and grammar mistakes

Typically, the 5 parts of an essay are as follows:


  1. Introduction
  2. Main body paragraph 1
  3. Main body paragraph 2
  4. Main body paragraph 3
  5. Conclusion


(This may differ depending on the type of essay or the word count).

Final Essay Writing Skills Quiz

Question

What does PEE stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Point, evidence, explain.

Show question

Question

What is a point?

Show answer

Answer

A statement relating to the question you are answering.

Show question

Question

What is evidence?

Show answer

Answer

Examples used to back up your point.

Show question

Question

What does 'explain' refer to?

Show answer

Answer

Going into detail about how your quote backs up your point and considering what it suggests/implies. 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


You should  ____  your explanation back to the question.

Show answer

Answer

Link

Show question

Question

A quote should be long.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False.


Try to keep quotes short and succinct!

Show question

Question

What is a conclusion?

Show answer

Answer

An ending paragraph that brings an essay to a close.

Show question

Question

What comes before a conclusion?

Show answer

Answer

The main body of the essay.

Show question

Question

What is an essay brief?

Show answer

Answer

The main idea of the essay.

Show question

Question

You should directly repeat ideas from the rest of your essay in your conclusion.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

You shouldn't introduce new ideas in a conclusion.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


Directly repeating ideas can be _____ for the reader.

Show answer

Answer

boring

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


Directly repeating ideas takes away from the main _____ of your essay.

Show answer

Answer

message

Show question

Question

A conclusion should be around __% of your total word count.


A. 15

B. 10

C. 20

Show answer

Answer

B. 10

Show question

Question

A conclusion ______ your argument.


A. develops

B. disproves 
C. summarises

Show answer

Answer

C. summarises

Show question

Question

A conclusion _____ your essay brief.


A. reviews

B. changes

C. disproves

Show answer

Answer

A. reviews

Show question

Question

What is an introduction?

Show answer

Answer

An opening paragraph that states the purpose and outlines the main objectives of your work.

Show question

Question

What is an introduction followed by?

Show answer

Answer

Main body and conclusion

Show question

Question

What is a hook?

Show answer

Answer

 A memorable opening line that draws the reader in and intrigues them.

Show question

Question

A hook can be written in a variety of ways. What are they?

Show answer

Answer

Statement, question, quotation, fact/statistic

Show question

Question

What does background information do?

Show answer

Answer

Provide the reader with context.

Show question

Question

Fill in the blanks:


Background information allows the reader to gain more of an ________ of the _____ you are exploring.

Show answer

Answer

understanding

topic

Show question

Question

What does an essay brief refer to?

Show answer

Answer

The main idea of your essay.

Show question

Question

Outlining the main goal of your argument lets the reader know what?

Show answer

Answer

What to expect in the body of the essay.

Show question

Question

Your introduction should be long.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False.


Your introduction should be brief and concise, not too long.

Show question

Question

An introduction should be around __% of your overall word count.


A. 15

B. 10

C. 20


Show answer

Answer

B. 10

Show question

Question

What is a transcription?

Show answer

Answer

A transcription is a written or printed version of something.

Show question

Question

What needs doing before you can transcribe spoken data?

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Answer

You first need an either audio or audio-visual recording of speech before you can transcribe it.

Show question

Question

What needs to be considered before recording speech to use as data?

Show answer

Answer

Ethics and observer's paradox.

Show question

Question

How do ethics affect data collection for transcription?

Show answer

Answer

You need to have the speakers' permission before you record their speech.

Show question

Question

Why is observer's paradox a problem when collecting spoken data?

Show answer

Answer

When you're recording people speaking, you're usually wanting natural speech. This is very difficult to get when the speakers know they're being recorded or listened to.

Show question

Question

How can you overcome observer's paradox when collecting spoken data for transcription?

Show answer

Answer

You can ask permission to record someone's speech in advance and then record when they aren't aware, then ask permission again after to check you can use that recording as data.

You could also start the recording and let the speakers chat for a period of time before selecting a section of recording to use as data, so they're more likely to have relaxed and be speaking more naturally.

Show question

Question

What should be at the beginning of a transcript?

Show answer

Answer

At the beginning of a transcript, there should be a couple of sentences giving some contextual information regarding the interaction. This should include who the speakers are, what their relation to each other, what they're doing, and any social factors such as age, gender or class that might be relevant to your research.

Show question

Question

What should each line of a transcript have?

Show answer

Answer

Each line of a transcript should be numbered. In some cases of longer transcripts, it could be that every fifth or tenth line is numbered. This is so you can clearly reference a specific line of the transcript in your analysis.

Show question

Question

What features of speech can be shown in a transcript?

Show answer

Answer

  • False starts
  • Fillers
  • Micro-pauses
  • Pauses
  • Interruptions
  • Simultaneous Speech
  • Repetition
  • Stutter

Show question

Question

What's the difference between a micro-pause and a pause?

Show answer

Answer

  • A micro-pause is a tenth of a second long and signified by (.)
  • A pause is any pause in speech longer than a tenth of a second and is represented by a number (of seconds) such as (0.6) or (4)

Show question

Question

What can you use to show specific speech sounds in transcriptions?

Show answer

Answer

You can use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols to show specific speech sounds.

Show question

Question

How do you discuss a short quote from a transcript?

Show answer

Answer

The first time you introduce a the transcript, give the year and a bit of context. Then use quote marks around your quote and give the line number.

Show question

Question

How do you give a long quote from a transcript?

Show answer

Answer

You introduce the extract and then quote the extract as a separate paragraph after. Then discuss the quote in another separate paragraph below.

Show question

Question

What is plagiarism?

Show answer

Answer

Plagiarism is when you take someone else's work and try to pass it off as your own.

Show question

Question

In what order are reference lists typically in?

Show answer

Answer

Alphabetical order.

Show question

Question

When do you not need to reference?

Show answer

Answer

You don't need to reference when

  • You are drawing your own conclusions.

  • You are sharing your own original thoughts, ideas, or personal experiences. 

  • You writing up the results of your research.

Show question

Question

When do you need to reference?

Show answer

Answer

Anytime you are using someone else's ideas, findings, work etc.

Show question

Question

What punctuation is needed for direct quotes?

Show answer

Answer

Quotation marks.

Show question

Question

If you are using a direct quote, what information do you need to provide in-text?

Show answer

Answer

The author's surname, the publication date, and the page number(s).

Show question

Question

True or false, you should use quotation marks when paraphrasing?

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

What does the Latin term 'et al.' mean?

Show answer

Answer

And others.

Show question

Question

In the reference list, which part of the reference should be italicised?

Show answer

Answer

The title of the place where the work was published i.e. the title of the book or the title of the journal article. 

Show question

Question

What is a DOI?

Show answer

Answer

DOI stands for Digital Object Identifiers. They work as direct links to online journal articles.

Show question

Question

PEE paragraphs can sometimes be referred to as PEEL paragraphs. What does the 'L' stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Link

Show question

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