Stages in Essay Writing

Stages in Essay Writing

Remember: Essay writing is made much easier if it is tackled in stages, because you aren’t asking your mind to do too much at once. The main stages, together with some advice about each, are as follows:
1. Analyzing the Question to decide what is required.
a. Read and think about the question (and any accompanying advice on how to approach it) very carefully.
b. Underline key words and check their meaning, if necessary. Distinguish between content and process parts of the question, e.g. evaluate, discuss, compare and contrast. Possibly try paraphrasing the question in your own words.
c. If you are in any doubt about the meaning of the question then ask advice, e.g. from your tutor. This is not cheating!
2. Reading/re-reading relevant material, with the question in mind
a. Investigate all likely sources (e.g. with OU set books, articles, radio and TV notes as well as the Units).
b. Make any notes, as necessary – this may simply mean marking useful passages; noting page references etc.
3. Selecting and noting down relevant material to be included.
a. Jot down ideas for answering the question, as they come to mind, without worrying about the order (pattern notes can be useful here).
b. Make a note of useful examples and illustrations; definitions, quotations and references, as well as possible points of argument.
c. Remember: in deciding what to include and what to discard, the keyword is relevance.
4. Planning your answer, i.e. organising the selected material into logical order to create a clear line of argument in answer to the question.
a. It can be helpful to draw up an outline plan with a clear structure, in note form, e.g.: see the structure of this handout
5. Sections and possible content
a. Introduction. Comment on the subject and the treatment proposed. Define any key terms. Include a signpost as to how you will answer the question.
b. Main body/Development Main points/arguments + supporting evidence/examples, in a sensible order.
c. Conclusion .Summary of argument so far and/or clear statement of conclusion if required. Any final comments.
6. Writing up the Essay. Ideally this involves writing up a first draft, editing the rough draft (altering, amending, and cutting, as necessary) and finally writing up the final copy with references. However, where time is short it can be possible to write up a neat copy from a thorough plan.
7. Some Advice on Writing Up: at the writing up stage, it’s important to concentrate on expressing your ideas clearly and achieving a flow of argument, so that the reader can easily follow your line of thinking. To help in this:
a. imagine that you are writing for an ‘intelligent lay person’ rather than your course tutor. This brings home the need to spell out points clearly and not assume too much. ‘Never be afraid to state the obvious’
8. Writing Skills
a. make clear your plan of campaign in the introduction, i.e. how you intend to tackle the question. This is your essay argument.
b. in the main body of the essay include linking phrases to show the reader where the argument is leading, e.g.: indicate how one point follows from another by using linking phrases/sentences such as: ‘ Having looked at the strengths of the two-class model, I shall now examine possible criticisms of it…’, ‘On the other hand…’
9. Writing Skills 2
a. relate points back to the question to bring out their relevance, by adding phrases such as: ‘One limitation of the two-class model is that…’ ‘This would seem to cast some doubt on the conventional stereotype of the vandal.’
b. draw your argument together clearly in the conclusion. Make sure the conclusion follows logically from the preceding argument!
c. use your own words as far as possible except when quoting and try to use simple and direct language
d. be careful to distinguish between your own ideas and those of other authors. Acknowledge quotes ‘…’ and give references. Try to keep to the word limit if one is specified, as you will be marked down 10% if the essay is 10% over.
10. Advice on editing the first draft.
a. Read through the essay carefully and check for things like:
b. Relevance: does the essay really answer the question set? Has anything important been left out? Can anything be cut out because it’s repetitious or unnecessary (i.e. not contributing to answering the question set) or anecdotal. Be ruthless!
c. Structure: is there a logical order and organisation of material? Is there a clear development/unfolding of argument throughout the essay? Is the argument clearly ‘signposted’?
d. Clarity of expression: is the essay clearly written? Rephrase or expand where necessary in the interests of clarity, e.g. add an example if this is helpful. Check spelling, punctuation, sentence and paragraph construction and correct as necessary. NB: Reading aloud can help in checking grammar. Keep a spelling list or dictionary handy
e. Accuracy: Are quotes, data and evidence used cited correctly and appropriately? NB: If possible, get someone else to read your essay to make sure that it’s clear and intelligible; alternatively, read it aloud yourself.

Final Comments
These are not hard and fast rules to be adhered to rigidly, but simply useful guidelines to make essay writing easier. They can be adapted and modified to suit you. Thinking is a very important part of the essay writing process and a lot of time should be spent on it throughout. NB: Sometimes ideas can come to you when you are not consciously working on the essay; to capture them before they escape from consciousness it can be useful to always have pen and paper handy (e.g. on the bedside table!). Essay writing skills do not come overnight – they take time, practice and guidance to develop.