6 secrets to writing a great essay

Why does the word “essay” strike terror into the hearts of students?

Maybe because a blank page can seem like the size of Antarctica when you’re not sure how to fill it.

Filter - female student

Tip 1: Begin with the end in mind

This will give your work direction. Trying to write an essay without this is like the difference between getting on a horse that gallops straight towards its destination and wandering around aimlessly without a map. Yes, you might find your way eventually but it’ll take a lot longer.

Know where you’re going and make that clear to the reader from the outset.

Tip 2: Give it a striking title

Try to avoid giving your essay the same title as everyone else in your class. For instance, if your essay is about the causes of World War 2 then 90% of your classmates will probably call their essay “The Causes of World War 2”.

But you’re more original than that, so prove it – for instance, you could use a relevant quote about your topic or create a startling image that pulls the reader in. George Orwell’s famous essay, Shooting an Elephant, does the latter.

Tip 3: Open with a hook

You’ve created a great title – now what? Well, ideally you want your first sentence to be equally great. Good openings include:
– A question.
– A quote.
– A bold or controversial statement (that you’ll attempt to either prove or refute).
– An attention grabbing statistic or piece of information.
– An anecdote – the perfect opening anecdote should be relevant, interesting and illuminating. For inspiration, read the work of Malcolm Gladwell – he’s a master at using them.

Tip 4: Don’t let the reader go to sleep!


Remember – your teacher is marking dozens of essays so if you keep your work interesting they’ll love you for it. Try:
– Linking from paragraph to paragraph to create flow.
– Including well-chosen quotes.
– Addressing questions to the reader.
– Using appropriate humour – satire and irony can be very effective in an academic essay. Use both sparingly though.
– Experimenting with misdirection – create an expectation that you’re making a particular argument then turn things on their head midway through.
– Including short, relevant anecdotes.

Tip 5: Omit unnecessary words

This will tighten your work and give it flow. Don’t be tempted to pad.

Filter - male student studyingTip 6: End it well 

Ever seen a brilliant movie with a rubbish ending? Didn’t it spoil the whole film with you? Exactly. Don’t do the same for the essay you’ve spent hours slaving over. Effective endings include:
– Linking back to your opening sentence.
– Finding a quote that sums up your argument.
– Using a strong piece of concluding imagery.
– Asking a final question (which can can be rhetorical).

Remember – your essay is a journey that you’re taking the reader on. Make it as enjoyable as possible so that when they reach their destination, they feel that it’s all been worthwhile.

Have you fallen into the procrastination trap? 5 things you tell yourself to avoid studying.

You might also like: How to do effective group work, 6 skills for university success and What’s your learning style?

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2 Responses

  1. Mandy says:

    Hi guys! I would like to say you did a great job. Fifth tip is my favorite one because I tend to write unnecessary words and too difficult sentences that make text complicated and hard to read. My advice for someone who wants to start writing good essays is to read some samples of high quality essay written by another students. This way you can see for yourself what are flaws and strengths of an essay.

  1. January 17, 2017

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