I have marked thousands of essays over the years. During my time I have noticed a key difference between good quality well written essays and poor essays. The good quality essays could take a boring subject develop clear ideas and present a discussion that was enjoyable and easy to read. In contrast, the poor quality essays had confusing or conflicting ideas and were extremely difficult to read. I noted that these students, commenced writing paragraphs as soon as they got their papers. However, the students who wrote good essays did something different. What is the key difference? Planning, students took the time to plan their thoughts, ideas and arguments. A key aspect of writing a good essay is planning through following the writing process. Using the writing process effectively is an essential part of producing a good quality essays.
The writing process is a series of steps that will ensure all your ideas are relevant and organised. There are 6 key steps and are as follows:
Step 1 – Select the Topic
Step 3 – Organise your ideas
Following these steps will ensure you have a clearly defined and well thought our essay. I have provided more information on each step below, of course this is only a basic summary and more research will be required.
Step 1 Selecting the Topic
The first step in the writing process is to select a topic. In many cases you are given a topic, question or topic to discuss. However, these are generally too broad and must be narrowed down to a specific thesis statement.
Example 1 - Schools – This topic alone would be too broad.
Example 2 – Secondary Schools – Better but still too broad
Example 3 – Private Secondary Schools in my country/state. – Much better.
Once we have chosen a topic a thesis statement must be developed. A thesis statement consists of a Topic and Main Idea. The thesis statement is what the essay is about and is generally your opinion or the key element you are going to discuss and provide evidence about.
Example Thesis Statement – Private Secondary Schools in Australia are too expensive for most students without government funding support.
In this example we have a clear topic and a clear main idea. The rest of the essay will form a discussion about why funding support is important for private schools.
Step 2 Gathering Ideas
Many students skip this vital step or they have insufficient ideas to complete their essay. This important step is a brain dump of all possible ideas about the given topic. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. The important aspect is to get as many ideas out of your head as possible. There are many methods of brainstorming for essays, I will mention 3.
Making a List
Write a list of Single words, phrases or sentence that are connected to your topic. The more the better. Write them on a piece of paper. You will use this list later once we have enough ideas.
When you free write, you just start writing, whatever comes into your head about your topic without stopping. It is not necessary to worry about grammar or spelling the purpose is to let the ideas flow without stopping. You will edit it later for irrelevant ideas.
Making a Map
To make a map, use a whole sheet of paper, and write your topic in the middle, with a circle around it. Then put the next idea in a circle above or below your topic, and connect the circles with lines. The lines show that the two ideas are related.
No matter which method you choose, you must have a sufficient number of ideas before you go to the next step or start writing your essay, else you run into problems.
Steps 3 – Organise your ideas
Now that we have as many ideas as we can think of, we need to determine which ideas are good and which ideas are not relevant. Our thesis statement is our guide. Review your thesis statement and review your ideas, ensure all ideas are related to the thesis statement. If they are not cross them out. The ideas that are left are the things that we would like to discuss. Next we number our main ideas (1,2….8,9, etc.), these form the key paragraphs in our body of the essay. After that we determine what supporting information needs to go into each paragraph and link them to the paragraph main ideas. Once this is complete we should be able to determine what types of paragraphs we will write e.g. opinion, descriptive, compare and contrast, process, advantage and disadvantage etc.
Step 4 – Draft Essay
If the previous steps have been done effectively, this step is rather quick as you already know your thesis, key points and the order of your ideas. This step becomes the easy part where you just need to link your paragraphs and key ideas together using the correct paragraph types and transitions.
Step 5 – Review
It’s obvious we need to check our essay for spelling and grammar. However, there is a more important aspect that needs to be checked and that is Unity and Coherence. An essay can have perfect spelling and grammar yet not be easily understood because the essay does not have Unity and Coherence. Unity is connection of all ideas to the thesis statement. Supporting sentences link to the topic sentences and topic sentences link to the thesis statement. If all sentences link to the thesis statement, then the essay is considered to have unity. Coherence is the essay being written in a clear and logical way of one idea building onto the next. After you have checked your essay for unity and coherence review your essay for spelling and grammar.
Step 6 – Finalise
After you have conducted your review of your essay, make the appropriate changes. Ensure it is in the correct format and you have included any mandatory information e.g. name and student number. Your essay should now be complete.
These steps are the key differences between students who write very good essays and those students who write very poor essays. Students who write good essays plan and structure their essay before they have started to write a single paragraph. Although, they may have some spelling and grammar mistakes, their ideas are clearly organised, have unity and coherence making them easy to read. The writing process works, it is suggested that all teachers who teach writing introduce their students to the writing process and for students to learn the steps. This will ensure they are always effective writers.
Zemach, D. E., & Rumisek, L. A. (2005). Academic writing from paragraph to essay . Oxford: Macmillan Education .