Guidelines and Feedback on How to Write a Good Essay

Guidelines and Feedback on How to Write a Good Essay

1. Read the Question very Carefully
Do not begin work on an assignment before you are sure that you understand the question. If there are any words you do not know, refer to the dictionary.

2. Plan your Essay Carefully
You cannot hope to write an organized essay unless you have planned it in advance. A properly planned essay should contain introduction, main body and conclusion. All three parts are essential. If any of them is missing, the quality of your paper declines.

An introduction should set out the problem and how you intend to answer it. In your introduction, you should:
a) define key terms
b) define what you will do and how you will go about answering the question

The main body of your assignment should be a thorough examination of the question with the purpose of convincing readers that your arguments are sound. Your discussion, therefore, should always be backed up by a careful selection of historical data (statistics, quotes, figures etc.). Please remember:
a) each paragraph should be built around one central idea
b) each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. This allows your essay to be read quickly and easily
c) each paragraph should contain arguments and evidences to back the idea
d) care must be given to the flow of the essay. In other words, one point should lead 'logically' to the one following it

Even if you have a lot of good material in an essay, it will not be judged ‘a good essay’ unless the material is organized so that it hangs together. You, therefore, need to sort out your points into groups so that they can be presented in a structured way, giving the essay a beginning, a middle, and an end.

You need to keep a thread of meaning running through your essay. Each sentence should flow from the previous one, with adequate signposting to help your reader follow the moves you are making.

A final point about a good essay is that it should be easy to read. Grand-sounding phrases and elaborate sentences do not make an essay impressive. Clarity and economy are what count. You should also avoid one or two standard mistakes:
a) English is very keen on tenses: past, present, future: keep these sharp and focused
b) keep an agreement between the subject and the verb. Singular subject, singular verb; plural subject, plural verb

Finally, the conclusion is meant to summarise your major arguments. Therefore it must NOT introduce any new material that was not mentioned or discussed in the main body of your essay. You should:
a) show the connections between the ideas you have discussed earlier or the information you have arranged in the essay
b) deliver an overall judgement based on your previous arguments

3. The Seven Stages of Essay Writing:
Taking in the title
Gathering material
Gathering ideas
First draft
Final draft

Underlying the key words in the essay title
Gathering together notes for the essay from various sources within the course
Getting ideas on to paper; the quality of the essay is closely linked to the richness and range of your initial, informal jottings.
Organizing your notes into a simple outline plan; you need to work out a sequence of points that enables you to arrive at the conclusion you would like to draw.
Writing a first draft; ‘talking’ your reader through your argument.
Reading over your work in the light of the essay title and correcting errors and omissions.
Writing a final draft, adding argument as you see fit, and paying attention to legibility, accuracy and general presentation; be succinct.

Formulating the overall purpose of the essay
Working out what use you can make of the course material you have been studying
Capturing your own thoughts on paper.
Working out what shape to give to the argument of the essay.
‘Speaking’ your ideas to your reader, explaining your argument (translating your plan and notes from your own ‘private’ language into a shared, ‘public’ language).
Quality control.
Presenting a polished end product.

It is essential that you express your points clearly and in your own words. If you simply copy passages from books or the internet the following will happen:
YOU WILL BE GUILTY OF PLAGIARISM – this is the direct copying of the work of others without using a reference. This is definitely not permitted when you write your assignments.

It is perfectly fine to refer to others’ opinions – just make sure you use a footnote reference to show where you found them.

It is also perfectly fine to use others’ EXACT words AS LONG AS YOU ‘put them in quote marks like this’ and use a footnote to show where EXACTLY you found the words (and that means including the page numbers too!).

If you fail to use a footnote or quote marks where necessary:
a) You piece of work may be failed outright
b) I will not be able to tell whether you have understood the essay topic and will not be able to help you improve your skills

5. Giving References
In every academic text it is always necessary to provide references whenever you directly quote or paraphrase other people’s idea, words or statements.
If you quote, make sure that your quotations are not too long.
If you quote, do NOT make the quotation a sentence on its own. Instead introduce your quote like this:
As William Stubbs pointed out, ‘History is a pack of lies.’ (and include a footnote!!!)
Francis Bacon argued that ‘histories make men wise.’ (and include a footnote!!!)
If there is no need to quote, don't do it! Should such a need arise, explain what you have quoted and make sure that they cohere well with your own points. Teachers are often irritated by the mysterious appearance of lengthy 'undigested' quotations. Remember that your teachers will not be impressed by your quotation in quantitative terms. We only care about whether your writing makes sense or not

6. Present Your Essay Properly
You will need to write prose – not notes – organised into paragraphs. Try to ensure that you have written properly constructed sentences, and that you have not made any basic grammatical mistakes.

Please type your essay and DOUBLE SPACE it.

Finally, always read through your essay before you submit it.

7. When Should you Use Footnotes?
Basic factual information does not need citation. For example:
a) The First World War started in 1914
b) George W. Bush is the President of the United States of America

You must acknowledge other people if you refer to their opinions. The sources of statistical data, figures must always be acknowledged, however.

8. Examples for Footnoting
John Stevenson, British Society, 1914 – 45 (London, 1990), p. 43.
Andreas Fahrmeir, ‘Nineteenth-century German citizenships: A Reconsideration’, in The Historical Journal, 40 (1997), pp. 30 – 32.
James Sinclair, ‘The Role of British Industry in Imperial Expansion 1851 – 97’, in Essays on British Industrialization, ed. by Mary Nantes and Karl Pole (London, 1994), p. 20.

9. Examples for Bibliography
At the end of your essay you should provide an ALPHABETICAL LISTING of books and articles which you have used in your essay. This is called a BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Fahrmeir, Andreas. ‘Nineteenth-century German citizenships: A Reconsideration’, in The Historical Journal, 40 (1997), pp. 20 – 39.

Sinclair, James. ‘The Role of British Industry in Imperial Expansion 1851 – 97’, in Essays on British Industrialization, ed. by Mary Nantes and Karl Pole (London, 1994), pp. 14 – 30.

Stevenson, John. British Society, 1914 – 45 (London, 1990)

Please note that the author’s surname comes first, followed by his / her first name.