How to write essays

The most successful essays are well planned. Essays that go off the point with lots of extra detail will get poor marks.

Stick to the question

Underline key words in the essay title so you really understand the question being asked. It’s not about writing all you know about a topic.

Words like ‘discuss’, ‘compare and contrast’, ‘evaluate’, ‘account for’ are used as ways to direct your answer; make sure you know what they mean.

Other questions may start with ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ or ‘when’.

Write a plan

Brainstorm your ideas on the essay topic to get started. Spider diagrams are good for this.

Plan the structure of the essay by numbering each of your ideas in order of importance. At this stage, you may wish to leave some of them out or develop others by breaking them into sub points. Redo your original spider diagram as necessary.

You may have to present your argument for the essay under broad themes like ‘economic’, ‘social’, ‘political’ or ‘religious’ reasons. Make sure you understand which theme suits each of your points, then group your all points on the same theme in order of importance into a separate paragraph.

Writing the essay

1. Introduction

Your essay must have an introduction. State the main points you will discuss in order to support your answer to the question set in the title of the essay.

2. Development of your argument

After the introduction, add further paragraphs to build your argument, make the most important points first. Remember the way these points are ordered makes your argument clearer to the reader.

Start a new paragraph for each new important point and any linked points that relate to the question. You may include quotations from other historians and refer to primary sources (such as you can find on this website) to support a particular point.

Make sure your essay makes chronological sense. Try to present any factual points in date order.

Avoid telling the story of what happened. If you refer to an important historical event, you must make a point or comment about it. This will stop your essay from becoming a simple narrative and it shows you are trying to analyse events rather than just describe them.

Aim for five to seven paragraphs, depending on the essay and level, of course, you are following.

3. Conclusion

Sum up the main points and briefly restate your argument.

Re-read your work, check for spelling errors, and redraft if necessary.

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