Writing a Good Essay
Many of my students find writing an essay a daunting task. Getting to grips with a text is one thing, but when you are studying English Language or Literature, you are also required to write about it in a structured and coherent way. Here is a brief, step-by-step guide, on how to approach answering an essay question. I hope you find it helpful.
What is an essay?
- Answering a question
- Putting forward a point of view which is focussed, clear and supported
- Explaining what you think with evidence from the text
Remember, before you begin an essay, you must know your text well.
- Your response to the question
- How you intend to answer
- What your essay is going to say/explore/argue
- State your point of view
- Your interpretation of the text
- Are you aware of different levels of meaning?
Consider: the question, the text and the author
AVOID simplistic and irrelevant value judgments (for example, ‘.... is good...’)
2. Following paragraphs
Develop and support your point of view.
Use your paragraphs to develop your argument using the following method:
Point – make a point/express an opinion relevant to answering the question
Evidence – use quotations and refer to the text to support your view
Explain – discuss this further
- Why is this significant?
- How is it being done (e.g. the poetic/dramatic methods used)?
- What can you say about the language, style or structure?
- Why has the author used those words/expressed an idea in that way?
- How does it affect the reader/audience?
- How does it affect the themes/meaning(s) of the text?
- Complexity – could there be more than one interpretation?
- Does the style alter or develop across the text?
When using PEE, you should:
- Comment on the method used by the author
- Look at the effect of the language used
- Analyse reasons why this might have been done
Always work logically through the text, from beginning to end (this shows that you are also analysing the author’s structure). This will also help give your essay a sense of building up to a conclusion.
AVOID telling the story!
Instead, discuss the ideas or messages ‘behind’ the text. Aim to show how these are created, developed and revealed.
Other things you might want to think about...
- Consider the genre conventions and how these might shape meaning and interpretation
- Consider author’s context
- Consider author’s motivation, intention or purpose
3. Conclusion – summing up
- Tell your reader why you’ve said what you’ve said in your essay
- What are the wider issues raised by your discussion?
- Leave a final impression – give the reader something to think about
When analysing and responding to a text, look at how a writer uses form, structure and language and think about the effect they have on the reader.
To put this simply, analyse:
- FORM - is the name of the text type that the writer uses. For example, scripts, sonnets, novels etc. All of these are different text types that a writer can use. The form of a text is important because it indicates the writer's intentions, characters or key themes. In this case, we are looking at how Stevenson creates his novel - looking at the different perspectives he uses.
- STRUCTURE - is how the plot is ordered and put together for the reader. You can think of plot at a text level but also at a sentence level. In this case, we are looking at the order of events in Stevenson's novel, how he presents his ideas and the structure of his sentences.
- LANGUAGE - the words a writer uses and what impact they have. In this case, we are looking at the words Stevenson uses. What words does he use? Why? What effect does this have? Does he employ any language devices in his writing? For example: metaphor, imagery, alliteration, pathetic fallacy, etc.