A simple guide to writing a first-class essay

A simple guide to writing a first-class essay

The Internet is awash with not-so-helpful essay writing advice, making it tricky for students to find the advice they need when writing essays. To help you out, our aademic experts have written the following tips you can use before and whilst crafting your essay, to ensure your writing hits the mark.


Understand the question


This may, at the face of it, sound like somewhat banal advice – but fact of the matter is that failing to properly understand the question set is one of, if not the most common reason behind a disappointing grade when it comes to essay writing. Are you being asked to critically evaluate something? Compare and contrast? Analyse a particular circumstance? Evaluate the usefulness of a particular concept?


These are some of the common phrases found in essay questions, and each indicates a different set of expectations. If you are asked to critically evaluate a particular theoretical approach, for instance, you have to gain an understanding not only of said theory, but also other common approaches. They must all be weighed against each other, highlighting the relative strengths and weaknesses of each theory and, importantly, you must come to a well-justified and confident conclusion. Is the theory good? What are its flaws? How can it be improved?


If you are asked to evaluate the usefulness of something, however, you don’t necessarily need to go into as much critical depth. Yes, you should still acknowledge alternative approaches, and yes, you should still note some strengths and weaknesses – but the bulk of the work must emphasise the concepts practical usefulness. Perhaps the best approach is to find one, or a few, case studies where the theory has been used – what was the outcome of this? Does the application of the theory reveal any particular shortcomings, or strengths?


“Compare and contrast” essays, meanwhile, are essentially a hybrid of the above – you need to take a critical approach and evaluate the literature, but your focus has to remain solidly on the theories that you have been asked to compare and contrast. It is important to show that you understand both (or all) core theories in great depth, both on a theoretical and applied level.


In essence, the wording of the essay question will tell you how the essay should be written. It will indicate where the focus of your essay should lie as you research and write.