Get Writing! Essays & reports

How to write an essay

Try this:

Write down in no more than 50 words what you consider to be the purpose of an essay.

Think about this

Michel de Montaigne, a French philosopher, developed the essay in the 16th century. The term itself derives from the French word essai meaning ‘testing’ or ‘trying out’. The purpose was (and still remains): To try out or test a proposition or ideas in the context of other thinkers and in the light of personal experience and judgement. In Montaigne's day, the idea of applying your personal assessment to issues, rather than deferring to authority, was quite revolutionary. Today, academic study demands that you think about other people’s ideas and write about what you think of them. In most essay-type assignments, you are given a statement to test, to try out the arguments and opinions for and against a particular position by demonstrating a use of evidence. A good essay should guide the reader from the issue(s) raised in the title to a conclusion, by developing a clear and logical line of thought so that the reader is not side-tracked by points that are not directly relevant. It is normally in the form of continuous prose, using paragraphs but probably not using headings or numbers. This means that, while the essay may be broken up into paragraphs, generally the writing flows along without interruption.

What does a good essay need?

An introduction, telling the reader what the essay is about;  A main body, containing the ‘meat’ of the essay, where you outline your particular point of view, while demonstrating awareness of other perspectives or interpretation;  A conclusion, summarising the content of the essay clearly and concisely.

If we present the list above in a different way (see the diagram below), you can also see that this process is not linear. It is not simply a case of beginning with an analysis of the assignment and ending with a consideration of your tutor's comments. It involves frequent revisiting of earlier stages, checking and reflecting: two steps forward, one step back. You may notice how much depends on a constant referring back to the question.

Now that you’ve had a look at both report writing and essay writing click on Scary Stuff Explained for more help and advice with academic writing.

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