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The question

Before even attempting to write your essay you need to make sure you understand the question.

  1. Underline the key words that are related to the topic. These might be people's names, theories, concepts, periods of history or parts of a text.
  2. Underline the function words. These are the verbs which tell you how the examiner wants you to treat your topic and all require you to give a different response. Are you expected to discuss the topic? Compare it? Explain it?

If you aren’t sure what a word means then ask your teacher or look up its exact meaning.


  1. Write down what you know about the key words in the essay title – are there any important names, dates or events related to the topics?
    1. If asked to compare/contrast then split the planning page into sections, one to write the similarities and one to write the differences.
    2. If asked to discuss a topic then consider other people’s reactions to the same topic. Are there alternative view points to consider?
    3. If asked to explain, then ensure you know why something happened and have examples and evidence to show why this happened.
    4. If asked to assess or evaluate, make a list of positive and negative aspects so that you can easily consider them all in your response.
  2. Rate all of your ideas – which are the most important and most relevant? This isn't your chance to write everything you know about a topic. You need only focus on the aspects which are the most important in answering the question.

Tip: There might be lots of angles to consider. Don’t be scared to pick a particular one and focus your answer on a very specific area of the topic. For a lot of questions, this is usually fine as long as you acknowledge in the introduction that you have just chosen one.

Note taking

It is easy to fall into the trap of copying out everything. Don't do this.

After reading a page, section or chapter of a text, stop and think:

  1. What were the key points?
  2. Where were they in the text?
  3. How does this help me to answer my question?

Remember: Just because something is interesting to read it doesn’t mean that it is actually relevant to your essay.

  1. Is there anything which agrees/disagrees with your view?
  2. Is there anything that you can use as evidence for your evaluations, either positive or negative?
  3. Does the author define a term used in the title of the essay question?

Now, group all of your ideas together into logical sections. Put everything that focuses on one area of your argument into the same group. Some areas will overlap and allow you to link different ideas together.


Think of your introduction as a summary or overview which introduces what you're going to talk about in your essay.

  1. What arguments/evaluations/themes/ideas will you consider?
  2. How will you do this?
  3. What is your conclusion?

Tip: Many people find it is easiest to write their introduction once they have written the rest of their essay. Doing this means you can be 100% sure that your introduction will fully relate to the main content of your essay and your conclusion.

Tip: Consider if you need to define any of the key words. If there are multiple understandings of the terms, you may need to say which interpretation you will be using in your essay.

Main body of the essay

Go back to your plan and notes. Which idea was the most important and relevant one? Focus on this section first and then use your overlapping points to link this discussion with your other sections.

  1. You need to fully explain your views and give evidence.
  2. Use paragraphs well. There are 4 parts to a paragraph:
    • Point - this is your topic sentence to introduce the idea/paragraph,
    • Explain - what is your point?
    • Evidence/examples – why are you saying this? Who else has a similar idea to you?
    • Link to the next paragraph and/or the title.
  3. If your opinion is the same someone else’s that you’ve read/watched then you need to show that you know this by giving a reference.
  4. Don't be afraid to be critical or present a controversial view. If you can back it up with evidence and fully explain why you think this then this is acceptable!

Tip: Use quotations sparing. Keep them short and use them to back up your argument. Do not use them instead of writing your own thoughts. Remember to include page numbers and any other relevant information in brackets after your quote.


Go back to the original question and your introduction (if you have one!) to double check that you have fully answered all of the aspects of what you said you will do and what you're expected to do.

  1. The conclusion will summarise everything you have already said.
  2. It will give an evaluation, final comments or a judgement.
  3. It will not include anything new or unexpected – if you need to develop an idea then it needs to be in the main body of the essay, not the conclusion.
  4. A reader should be able to work out the title of your essay just by reading the conclusion.


Now read through your essay.

  1. Check that it answers the question directly.
  2. Correct any errors of spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  3. Feel happy that you’ve finished.

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