A guide for students: how to write an essay
What is an essay? This question seems like one that has an obvious answer, particularly if you have been in school for many years. But an essay is a technical piece of writing, and a college essay is a very different piece of technical writing to a school essay. There are a few things that are expected in a good essay, and without knowing what these are, it is difficult to provide them. So, the following things are the kinds of things that your tutor will expect to find in your writing.
An Engagement with the Question
The primary point of engagement is with the question, which will, in most cases, form the title of your essay. Try to understand, and to demonstrate that you understand, every aspect of that question. Ask yourself: ‘what is this question intended to elicit from me?’ Interrogate every word, and take nothing for granted.
How is this Related to the Text?
When you understand the question, try to understand, with some careful thinking, why your tutor has set the question, and why they have set it in relation to the particular material. For example, if the question is: ‘What does Joseph Conrad imply about European society in Heart of Darkness’, you can assume that he says something about it. Of course, in step one, you would have interrogated the ideas in the question, such as ‘European Society’.
How can you Demonstrate That?
The exercise now has moved through: understanding the implications of the question, understanding how that is relevant to the text, to the stage of finding specific, targeted evidence that demonstrates your knowledge of the text and your ability to manipulate the concepts in the question. An essay is an argument, in which you decide what you want to prove, and then demonstrate that.