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How to Write the Perfect Essay in English: 6 Easy Steps

If you are an international student at college or university and you need help with your essay writing in English, you are in the right place! We have created this simple 6-step guide to help you achieve the best results in the shortest possible time. This guide includes essay writing tips, examples, templates, and links to helpful resources. Let’s jump right in…

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What you will learn: 

Step 1: Plan
Step 2: Research
Step 3: Introduce
Step 4: Argue
Step 5: Reference
Step 6: Conclude

Quick Intro

Essay writing in English is very different from other types of written communication, such as composing emails for work or personal letters to friends. The main difference is that you need to demonstrate your ability to think and write critically.

When writing an academic text, you need to clearly introduce and explain an argument. This means you must show that you have understood and carefully considered the opinions of experts in the subject/topic.


There are also rules (or conventions) that you have to follow when introducing theories and using quotes from other people’s work. We have included tips and links to help you get this right in your English essays.

Do not let academic writing in English scare you. You can do this!
 

Step 1: Plan Your Essay

Have you ever heard the phrase “fail to prepare and prepare to fail”? Well, it is famous for a reason – and is certainly true when it comes to writing a good essay.

Having a detailed plan makes it so much easier to produce a great essay, dissertation or research paper.

In any sort of academic writing, your preparation and planning are important. Before you start to write, make sure you complete a detailed plan.

Of course, while you are writing your essay, you may change parts of your original plan – but only if you are sure that there is a good reason for making these changes.

Here are some tips to help you plan your thoughts effectively to make essay writing in English a lot easier.

How to plan an essay in English

  1. Study the essay question carefully. Make sure you completely understand it. Write it out in full and then try to say it using different words. This will help you when you start to write your assignment.
  2. Underline the most important words (the “key words”) in the essay question. Make sure you understand them – use a dictionary or synonym bank to help you. Define the key words in the essay question, but using your own words.
  3. Create a ‘mind map’ on a big piece of paper. Write the essay question in the middle and then surround it with any key words, ideas or quotes that you would like to include in your essay. People sometimes call this “brainstorming”.
  4. List the research work you will need to complete to write your essay well. This includes all the relevant textbooks, as well as the prominent authors you will reference with quotes. Make sure you have access to all the books you need before you begin (online, library, shop).
  5. Plan your argument so that it makes logical sense. To write a great essay, you need to answer the question fully. This means you must show independent thought, and present your argument in an intelligent and convincing way.
  6. Choose a suitable person and register for your writing. Most academic texts must be written in formal register. Although you should not use the first person in an essay (“I”), it is still important to demonstrate your ability to think critically. We will show you how to do this later.
  7. Decide how many sections your essay will contain. This depends on the required wordcount (length), but here is a simple section plan to get you started:

Example: essay structure

  1. Introduction – paraphrase the question to show you understand it in the context of your studies. We will look at paraphrasing – with a useful example – a little later (in Step 3).
  2. Body text 1 present your main argument early in your essay, with carefully considered points to justify it. Show that you have read about the subject and are well-informed in the relevant theory or ideas.
  3. Body text 2 – show that you know the key arguments against your main point, and use references to these.
  4. Body text 3 – explain why your main argument is correct or justified, using the remaining points from your research.
  5. Conclusion – summarise the essay or assignment by returning to the original question, making sure you have answered it fully and clearly.

Template: plan for an essay in English

Question:
Q. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Discuss what Benjamin Franklin meant by this statement. Do you agree with it?

Underline the important words (key words) in the essay question:
Involve me and I learn. Discuss what this means. Do you agree?  

Rewrite the essay question in my own words:
Benjamin Franklin was a self-taught learner and believed in the power of allowing people to complete tasks and activities themselves, rather than being told how to do them in a traditional classroom setting. This essay aims to discuss how this inclusive approach could be used to form teaching tools and programmes to empower educators and students – both now and in the future.

Research I need to do:


  • Benjamin Franklin – his life and ethos, his attitudes towards education.
  • The main forms of current student-centred/inclusive education styles and how they work. Theory vs. practice.
  • Theories of deductive vs. inductive education styles. Arguments for and against each, supporting my thoughts on the positive power of student-centred learning.
  • Complete a reading list of key texts.

My initial thoughts (the argument I need to articulate):

  • Including students in activities and tasks, making lessons student-centred, is a better way of helping them to learn than traditional teacher-centred methods. 
  • Link education to the concept of democracy; giving people the power to make autonomous decisions is a more productive way of helping a group to develop independent thinking skills and therefore evolve as a society.
  • My essay must argue why this is true, analysing theories of deductive vs. inductive (i.e. inclusive) education methodologies from the most prominent educational theorists of recent times. 
  • I need to remember to conclude my essay by returning to the original question. 

 

Step 2: Research the Topic

Any piece of academic writing – whether it is an undergraduate essay, post-graduate dissertation or post-doctoral research paper – requires detailed and relevant research.

However, researching for an essay in English does not need to be a difficult or painful process!

Learning how to research effectively and efficiently will save you a lot of time and stress.

Remember that even academic professionals are not expected to know absolutely everything. We all learn something new every day.

However, it is important that all academic writing demonstrates the author’s readiness to explore a variety of facts and theories, and discuss them critically.


 
What is critical thinking? 

“Critical thinking” means thinking logically and rationally about facts, ideas and concepts, as well as the possible connections between them.

Critical thinking is different from everyday thinking. It is an essential skill for any college or university student, studying in any language – not just English. In academic or essay writing, you must show you are able to explain your critical thinking skills clearly.

Everyday thinking is something most of us do all the time – it does not usually require any real effort.

Critical thinking is the opposite to this. It is when we intentionally use our powers of analysis, combined with our knowledge and research, to produce a theory or argument about something.

How to think (and write) critically in English

Critical thinking involves several skills, including: conceptualising, analysing, refining and evaluating.

  • Conceptualising: To conceptualise means to combine pieces of information to form a new idea, or concept.
  • Analysing: To analyse means to study a fact, idea or concept in great detail, using independent thinking and research to discover its meaning or validity.
  • Refining: To refine means to break something down into its essential parts. In other words, to take out all the unnecessary (or irrelevant) information and present the most important information, ideas or facts in a clear and concise way.
  • Evaluating: To evaluate means to understand an idea, thought or argument and go on to assess how accurate or useful it is. A key part of critical thinking is acknowledging that not all arguments are equal, and being able to explain why some are more valid than others.

You will also need to evaluate your own work, after you have written your essay, to see where improvements can be made. This is an important step to complete before submitting your essay for marking.
 

Step 3: Write a Great Introduction

To create a great introduction to an essay (or any academic piece of writing) in English, you need to do two things:

  • Demonstrate that you understand the question fully
  • Introduce your argument clearly

Here is how to do this…

  1. Show that you understand the question

The most important thing is to show you understand the question that you are answering in your essay, assignment or thesis. You should use clear and concise English. A simple way to do this is to paraphrase the essay question within the introduction to your essay.

What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing means explaining what a statement or question means, using different words and grammatical structures. In academic writing, this demonstrates that you understand a point and are able to think critically about it – and express those thoughts using clear written English.

Example: 

  1. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Discuss what Benjamin Franklin meant by this statement. Do you agree with it? 
  1. American self-taught writer, scientist and diplomat Benjamin Franklin believed in the power of learning through experience. This quote demonstrates that he advocated inclusive education, rather than a teacher-centred, or didactic, approach to learning.

Franklin himself was a self-taught polymath. He learnt through experience, which greatly informed this view. This essay aims to demonstrate why today’s educators should take inspiration from Franklin by adopting an experiential approach to delivering lessons.

How to paraphrase in English 

  • Make sure your first statement starts at a different point than the original sentence or question.
  • Try to use synonyms (alternative words that mean the same thing – such as “different” instead of “alternative”) for the words in the original sentence or question.
  • Break down the information, for example into two sentences (instead of one).
  • Use different words to the vocabulary used in the essay question.
  • Use different sentence structures to those used in the assignment question.

  1. Introduce your argument clearly

Although you do not need to go into great detail in your introduction, you should definitely begin to answer the essay question by referencing the direction your argument will take.

In this particular essay question, the student is being asked to express their agreement or disagreement with Franklin’s point of view. Therefore, expressing an argument for or against the quote is especially important here. Remember that you should never use the first person (“I’) in academic writing, unless it is specifically asked for.

Example:

“This essay aims to demonstrate why today’s educators should take inspiration from Franklin by adopting an experiential approach to delivering lessons.”

(Not! In MY essay… or I will aim to…) 
 

Step 4: Present Your Argument

When writing your essay, it is a good idea to explain both sides of the argument in the first section of the body text of your essay (body 1).

This helps to show that you have analysed the question, and understand the importance of considering different viewpoints. Including the work of prominent writers and theorists in your field of study also shows you have done your research on the topic.

To help you do this, write a list of arguments for and against the point you are discussing. Then incorporate what you have written into your essay.

Example:

Based on the question below, we might create the following table to use in our essay. This shows agreement AND disagreement with Benjamin Franklin’s statement.

  1. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Discuss what Benjamin Franklin meant by this statement. Do you agree with it? 
Arguments for (+) Arguments against (-)
Involving students creates less boredom By allowing students to talk freely, the teacher’s authority may be compromised
Encourages students to think independently Students might not listen to the teacher’s views
Modern teaching methodologies favour an inductive (student-centred) approach Traditional teaching favours a deductive (teacher-centred) approach
…more …more

 

Step 5: Use Quotes Effectively

As we said in the research section (Step 2) of this guide, including the work and theories of prominent experts in the subject you are writing about is very important.

However, it is also important to reference the work of other people in the correct way – otherwise you could be accused of plagiarism (copying or cheating)!

There are several different systems of referencing. These include:

MLA (Modern Languages Association) system
APA (American Psychological Association) system
Harvard system
MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association) system.

It is very important that you use the referencing system that is used and accepted by your academic institution or university.

For example, Nottingham Trent University in the UK requires students to use the Harvard referencing system, whereas other institutions might insist that students use the MHRA system. If you are in doubt, check with your tutor or lecturer.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is when you use another person’s work and pretend that it is your own. Sometimes, plagiarism is not committed intentionally, but is just the result of bad referencing.

Plagiarism is against the rules in all UK universities, and could cause a student to fail an assignment – or, in the worst-case scenario, they could even be asked to leave the course without graduating!

How to avoid plagiarism

  • Make sure you understand what plagiarism means. Most UK universities have a detailed definition of plagiarism on their websites – as well as tools you can use to detect plagiarism in your own work before you submit it. Make sure you use them!
  • Write quotes in a different colour or font type. Only change the format to match the rest of your essay text after you have referenced everything correctly.
  • Read your essay back carefully before handing it in. Check for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, as well as for plagiarism.
  • Ask a native English-speaking student or colleague to read your essay and check for inconsistencies in tone and style of writing – this can often indicate accidental plagiarism.
  • Check the referencing system used by your academic institution, and learn how to use it yourself before starting your essay. Give yourself plenty of time to do this.
  • Complete your bibliography. Your bibliography is the list of all the books, articles, websites and any other sources you have used to complete your essay. Check with your tutor to make sure your bibliography is written to suit the standards of your college or university. This is a very important part of the referencing process.

Here’s a useful video on how to use the Harvard referencing system: 


 

Step 6: End with a Strong Conclusion

The conclusion of an essay is just as important as the introduction.

It is here that you have your final chance to summarise your main points, highlight any research you have done and bring your thoughts together to end with a strong and convincing conclusion.

A great essay conclusion in English shows your ability to refine complex information and summarise an argument in clear and concise English.

Paraphrasing is important for the introduction of an essay, whereas summarising is important for the conclusion. Paraphrasing is saying the same thing as an original statement (but in different words), whereas summarising is providing a shortened version of the key points and defining exactly what they mean.

How to summarise

  • Read your essay through at least twice. What are the key points?
  • Identify these key points and rewrite them using different words.
  • What do these key points mean when they are combined together?
  • Write this out, making sure you refer back to the original essay question again.

Example summary (from essay conclusion):

In summary, by saying “tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”, Benjamin Franklin was not simply referring to education in the traditional classroom sense, where a teacher stands in front of a group of students and instructs them.

As this essay has referenced, many popular modern-day teaching styles, such as Montessori and Steiner, focus on student-centred learning. This focus on inductive learning in the early stages of a child’s life can be seen to be not only beneficial to the individual, but to society as a whole.

In conclusion, writing a great essay in English does not need to be painful or scary. In fact, it can be fun. Contact us if you need any support with English for academic, business or general purposes – we can help!

If you need native English tuition to improve your academic English, request a consultation today and speak to one of our experienced EAL instructors!

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Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Written by
Rachel Imms
English Tutor
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