How to write an essay, an essay by Josh

How to write an essay, an essay by Josh Poole.

I have written a fair few essays in my time, at school, college, university and even for my own enjoyment (sad I know!) I always got good marks, not because I was a particularly eloquent writer, but because I followed a simple formula that meant I always had a strong backbone to my writing and which then gave me more room to play with the information I had learnt or revised.

The most daunting part about writing essays is simply the fact that you have to sit and compose a long document that will probably take you hours and hours to complete. This was always the biggest deterrent for me actually getting started. The best thing to do to combat this feeling is to think of an essay not as a single piece of writing but simply as a series of backed up thoughts that you can plan out beforehand and then write them quickly and easily.

Planning will save you time and stress. Don't be afraid of taking the time to think.

Many of you will be familiar with the essay writing strategies PEE (point, evidence, explain) and PQC (point, quote, comment), but effectively this is the formula that gets you the marks; the red ticks on the side of the page. In other words making a point and explaining it by backing it up with a piece of knowledge or a quote. This is going to be the main thing you need to learn to succeed with any art/humanities essay; History, RE, Philosophy, English or Drama. In fact I usually prefer to use PEE not PQC as this has more relevance for subjects such as RE and History where you would use a fact in History for example, or a theory or idea in RE or Philosophy as the evidence to back up your point or idea. PQC comes into play more when writing an English Literature essay, where a quotation from the novel or play becomes your evidence.

But before all this you need to read the question......twice. There is nothing worse that getting half way through the exam only to find it says 1086 not 1066 and your essay about Harold Hardrada is utterly pointless. In order to know what kind of essay you should write you need to look for certain buzzwords that will tell you what structure your essay should take. Here are three types:

 1. Keywords to look for: Outline, List, Summarise. This isn't really an essay, just simply a case of recalling facts or idea. This will be the shortest of the answers and the least marks. All you need to do is regurgitate facts and summarise them on the paper. From my experience you don't tend to get these as much - maybe in an RE or Philosophy paper or even History at GCSE, but certainly not in English or Drama (due to the nature of these subjects being not factual recall in the same way)

It might look like something like this:

[Summarise Kant's Categorical Imperative.] (10)

Notice the lower marks, so you know this isn't a big one. So to plan this you might want to disregard the PEE as you don't need to explain anything and because of this it is the easiest to plan. Simply jot down in bullet points all the ideas that you've revised on the particular subject and get them down in a clear concise way. Don't! Be tempted to begin to explain the ideas in detail or voice you opinion on them and certainly don't compare them to any other similar idea even if it seems more eloquent and clever to do so. Trust the key words.

 2. Keywords to look for: Explain, Discuss, Why did..., What are the reasons for... These are more work because you literally have to explain each point you make so with this one you are using PEE to plan. So if the question looks like this:

[In Bronte's Wuthering Heights explain the facets of Cathy and Heathcliff's love] (25)

Note the greater number of marks for this question. You would firstly identify all the different facets of love in their relationship (these would be the separate paragraphs in your essay) then you find the evidence in the book for the points about the facets of love you are making. For example if you make the POINT that a facet of their love is a reflection of the love for themselves, you might use the EVIDENCE of the quote from Cathy from the book 'I am Heathcliff' and so then you can use this to go to town and EXPLAIN your first point about self love. Obviously the more EVIDENCE you use the more you can EXPLAIN the POINT the bigger the 'self love' paragraph is and the more marks you will get.

We also note here that this particular question does not have another side of the argument, there is no really antithesis or 'on the other hand' type POINTS we could make here, because there is nothing to weigh up. However if the question said:

[Discuss the idea that Cathy and Heathcliff's love is one sided and not multifaceted] (25)

You can see here that there are two clear sides to the argument and you can do PEE for both. In your plan you would weigh up the different sides, try and equally weight them and maybe synthesise (or bring the two sides together) in your final paragraph, or conclusion - but we come to that later.

3. Key words to look for: Compare and Contrast, How far do you agree with..., To what extent is... The last type of question, and by far the most common (as it has the most to talk about) is very similar to my last example, comparing two ideas or looking at the sliding scale of a claim or theory about something:

[How far do you agree with the claim that Iago's actions in Othello are completely motiveless] (30)

So clearly here the task is to weigh up our different ideas on each side of the argument that Iago is or is not motiveless in his actions. Again we do this by looking at the evidence in the text. Once we have the evidence we can make and explain the point.

It is often good in these comparing questions to try and find points that directly contrast each other so that the essay has good continuity. Also it's easier for you to do the contrasting paragraphs if you have an earlier point to directly refer to and refute. For example at first you might say that Iago has no real motives because all he says on the matter is the rather insipid "I hate the Moor" but then in your later paragraphs you might go back to that line and say that this might be be the clear expression of years of jealousy and he speaks it to show his motives are very simple and deeply felt. Not only will this be much easier but it will make the essay well rounded and clear. That isn't to say you can't make points that don't have a direct comparison, but these may take more time to explain.


Ok. So now you planned it, you can begin to write. Because of the planning you've done most of the leg work in terms of thinking, and so next I'll give you tips to be eloquent and clear every time.

Introduce and Conclude, that's all you now need to do.

People often find it very hard to start and finish essays because they have no idea how to transition to and from the 'meat' of what you've planned. If this is the case, don't write your introduction and conclusion until the end, it can be much easier to write the meat of the essay and then bookend it with the intro and conclusion because you know exactly what you've written. Whenever you do do it, all you need to do is introduce the question and then conclude it.

All intros should start something like:
This essay will (insert relevant keyword here) the (insert subject here) which is/ because/looking at (insert some relevant introductory info here).

For type 1 questions you just have to introduce the point you are summarising and maybe outline what it is, effectively giving a short definition of the subject:
... The Categorically imperative is...

For type 2s you introduce why the statement needs further explaining:
....Cathy and Heatcliff's love is very complicated throughout the book and doesn't just fall into one type or facet....

For type 3s, again the easiest you simply compare the overall ideas on both sides:
....some critics argue that Iago.......whilst others say.......

Don't! Be tempted to start getting into the meat, or making points you want to make later, stick to general points and keep it brief! Also don't be tempted to play it clever with openers like:

Imagine if you will: Enlightenment Germany. A man walks. He stops, ponders. This is Immanuel Kant. And this is his Categorical Imperative.
This is too much!

All conclusions should start like this:
To conclude...(insert statement about what the essay tells us and answer the question).

For type 1s you don't really need to conclude once you have the facts down as the marks are in the facts.

For type 2s just make sure the question is answered and do a short summary of what you've explained or found
....Cathy and Heathcliff's love comes in many forms including..... But romantic love prevails throughout this gothic novel.

For type 3s
You can come down one side or the other as that will show your findings have been active rather than saying 'I don't know.'
....this essay suggests that Iago IS motivated in his actions due to....

For top marks you can try and synthesise the two points of view in type 3 (and some type 2) , by making a new idea from the two old ones that you have just analysed:

...whilst on the surface Iago convinces that he is simply motiveless, however if we dig deep into the text we can find his true motives and see that his motiveless nature is his facade even to the audience and thus it only seems that way.....

Remember! Don't use 'I' in essays, 'I' suggests to the examiner that it is your opinion and you aren't using evidence even when you might be. So rather than 'I think', say 'this essay suggests' or 'the evidence suggests'. This is of course unless the question specifically asks for you opinion as some RE questions do.

And there you have it! A formula for essays! Read the question, always plan using PEE, write short concise intros and conclusions and keep your head. The more tricks you have up your sleeve on the day of writing it the less stressed you will be. Remember also, this is my formula, it worked for me but might not work for everyone.

If you have any more specific questions feel free to email me or book a session.

Filed Under: Essay How To Write English RE History Drama Help

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User Type: Tutor  Verified
Name: Josh
Uploaded Date: Jul 17,2016

About The Author

I am a committed and hardworking tutor specifically in English and Drama and RE and Philosophy. I also coach acting to prospective Drama School students.