Academic Writing Complete Guide

Essay Writing Guide

2.1 Introduction

Before delving into the issue of essay writing, there is a crucial element worth discussion. It does involve neither writing nor little reading but important. It is the issue of the deadline. You have to find out when you are supposed to submit your essay and plan towards that. When you start your module, ensure you know all the deadlines for every assignment that you get. You will be able to plan accordingly. Knowing the due date of your essay will determine how you are going to plan for each assignment, based on how close or apart the deadlines are.

At times the faculty can plan the work of the student to avoid them getting overwhelmed at some point during the semester. However, that does not mean that there will not be some close deadlines. For instance, during the homestretch of a module, a student has to prepare for assessment, and most of the module will end almost at the same time in the semester. More so, planning your work is a skill that is applicable in other spheres of life and as such, it is important.

2.2 Selecting the question and analyzing it

The first step of essay writing is selecting a question. It is a personal choice, but there are several things to keep in mind:

  • Identifying the topics that are easy to write about
    You have to think of topics that you are most comfortable talking about especially in class. Go for that topic of which you have a firm grasp.
  • Choosing a topic that piques your interest
    When you write about a topic in which you have an interest, it will be easier to form an opinion, research on it and write about it. If you have not interested in the topic, it will be difficult to deal with, and you will find it leaden.
  • Selecting topics that have good resource materials available
    This is mostly ascertained when you decide to research the topics. Find out the questions that people are asking about the topic. If there are few of them, then you can consider taking another topic that has less competition for resources. You can also take on an academic topic that is more current because you will likely find more resource material, especially for electronic journals. Do not go for topics whose literature is hard to find or it is contained text that is not easily accessible.
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2.3. Question analysis

Once you have selected the question, proceed to analyze it carefully to enable your essay in getting the correct scope on its answer. The analysis also helps in identifying the direction of your essay. The question has three major parts that you need to identify and understand.

  • Task or command words
    Consider the following table
Give an account Here you give a description
Account for Provide reason for
Analyze Look at every aspect and provide an organized answer
Assess Decide on the importance or value
Give a brief account Provide a concise description
Comment on Give a personal opinion
Apply Use theory and show its application
Report give an account of the event or the process
Review Provide facts and views on fact. In other word provide a report
Specify Show details of something
State Provide a clear account of something
Outline Give basic factors
Justify Support the argument for
Plan Think on the organization of something
Illustrate Provide relevant examples
Summarize Give a brief account
Trace Give a brief chronology of the process or event
  • Information Words
    This part of the question describes the content on which you will concentrate in your essay. It can be specific or more general, and this should be reflected in your essay. Ascertain if the information needs to be illustrated using examples or case studies
  • Limits
    They define the scope of your essay. They can limit the topic or the information, for instance, by tome, group, or place. It can also apply to the length of your essay and the resources that you can use.

With a careful analysis of the question, you get the foundation of your planning and the research for your essay topic. If you do not analyze the question before you start writing, you will consume unnecessary time research or writing about parts of the topic that have a remote connection to the question.

Exercise

Your current modules can provide an essay question that you can use to identify the task information and limit words. Identify what you are supposed to write about as well as the kind of conclusion or answer the question is demanding. Is it a definitive statement of fact or a recommendation? Ascertain if it provides an idea of what you need to research.

2.4. Planning your essay

Planning for your essay involves two stages namely the initial plan and the full essay plan.

  • Initial Plan
    This hinges on the analysis of the question that you have selected. It gives a rough sketch of what you intend to talk about in your essay. It will also guide your research on the topic. Some of the things you consider during this stage are examples or case studies, any limits that are or will be imposed. At this point, you can apply the mid map and brainstorm some ideas before you include them in what you consider as the major points.
  • Full Essay Plan
    This hinges on the initial plan but is more detailed and draws mostly from your research. If your research has taken you in another direction, your initial plan becomes subject to revision.

2.4.1. Initial Plan

This plan uses the question analysis to outline the main direction or the trust of the entire research and the essay. It gives a loose outline of the examples or the case studies that are likely to be incorporated in the essay. For instance, you can compare three case studies and center your essay on them. With the rough outline, you get to highlight the areas that lack information or you are not sure about them. It is crucial for you to identify these areas before you start the writing process and deal with any knowledge gaps before you start your research.

The initial plan helps in identifying related aspects, even though they might not be of any direct use to the essay or your argument. As you research for more information, research effectively by targeting anything that aligns with your argument. You simply have to transcend the provision of background information.

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Exercise

The best way to formulate an initial plan is to read your resource notes and do a mind map or spider diagram to give you some initial inspiration. This is applicable to any essay question you have already analyzed. Have an open mind about it and write key words, topics, or examples that you can remember from your notes. See if they will assist in identifying the areas, you are not fully sure about and may need more research. See if it helps you in identifying that you are more interested in writing about.

Once you have obtained related data, go back to the question analysis, and identify parts of the mind maps that you can apply. Identify any information that can be discarded since it does not align with your actual argument. Find out if there is a case study that is less important and you can do without

2.4.2. Full Essay Plan

This plan breaks down your argument into subsidiary points as well as your main points. It includes the introduction, discussion and the concluding paragraphs of your entire essay. The rewriting of your plan might seem as boring, but it is important because it reduces the amount of time you will use when writing the essay. It keeps your process focused. Get an estimate of the number of words you will use in each paragraph or section and stick to it. It will help you in avoiding unnecessary editing.

Do not even stop writing just because you have reached the word limit. The concluding paragraph of any paper is crucial just as the introduction and cannot be left out. When you write within the limit, you enhance your concise writing, which is a crucial communication too, and employability skill. The introduction and conclusion are usually shorter than the body of your essay.

The construction of the main body of your essay can use many different ways. The way you choose to do it must remain appropriate to the task as well as a clear structure. Consider the following ideas for your structures.

Analytical The analytical approach can use SPSER model to assist you in unpacking or deconstructing the topic using the following elements:
  • Situation - context description and a brief history
  • Problem - define or describe the problem
  • Solutions - describe and explain potential solutions
  • Evaluation – identify the positive and negative aspects of each solution through the provision of evidence or reasons that align with your point of view
  • Recommendation – identify the best option based on your opinion, and provide the premise of your reasoning for it. This element is not mandatory since it may not be required in the task
Chronological This describes the process or the sequence. For instance, the history of the development of a product, or even an organization. It is not a major part of the assessment since it is mostly descriptive
Classification This can be used to morph a broad generalization to a more specific point. For instance, you can talk about the economies of superpowers and transition to their major export and import sectors. You ca break further and talk about specific industries.
Common denominator The question can prompt this approach, especially if there is an indication of a common denominator between examples.
Phases This sequential approach allows you to move from short-term factors to medium term factors and then long-term factors.
Comparative/ contrastive This gives a discussion of the task or anything that you are examining ‘for’ and ‘against’ between groups of people. Formulate a list of stakeholders with each having the pro and con argument on the topic. Your essay can take the pros first subsequently followed by cons. You can choose to examine the views of each group each at a time.
Thematic It is similar to the phased approach, only that the themes are the identifying traits. The question determines the precise details. For instance, the traits might be:
  • social economic or political factors
  • age, health and income considerations
  • accessibility, workforce availability and cost

Questions can take any of the above approaches, or you can adapt them depending on your needs. However, your guiding principle is that your essay must have a defined number of points that can lead to a concrete conclusion.

Exercise

Use a few of the short scholarly articles from your reading list and see how they allocate space for different parts of the essay. Refer back to the initial plan you made for the dummy question that you may or may not have research. Consider it using the above approaches and identify which suits it best. See if you are able to write it in different ways. Identify the writing style that suits you best and the one you would find most fascinating to read.

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2.5. Writing the essay

Every essay takes the standard format of the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. However, this is not always the best order to write your essay. Recommendations suggest that you can start with the main body of the essay and then write your introduction and conclusion. Others write start with the main argument, then conclusion and finish the writing process with the introduction. Others follow the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The reasons for writing in any one of these ways will be clearer if there is an understanding of each essay section.


  • The Introduction
    This paragraph introduces your argument, and as such, you have to know what your argument entails and what the audience needs to understand the direction of your argument. Your introduction must have a brief background to the topic, which goes as far as it applies to the argument. Do not give a history lesson. It should have your thesis statement that relates back to the essay question’s instruction words. For instance, if you are required to ‘evaluate’ you have to give your value judgment. Whatever the approach, make it relevant to the argument.

    Your introduction must contain a snapshot of how you are going to discuss and support your perspective in the essay. For instance, if you have used case studies, show how it has involved undertaking any primary research. If your information is using a peculiar presentation, show the methods used and the reasons you have settled on it. Your introduction should also define key terms that are relevant to your argument, especially if they are somewhat ambiguous

  • The main body/argument
    This is a buildup of your major argument, and it substantiates them with reference to your research. Every point you make takes a single, paragraph in the essay. Every paragraph must have a topic sentence that indicates the main point you want to discuss in that paragraph. It is then supported by sentences that give evidence to support your point. You can use examples to do this. Everything you write in that paragraph must support the central argument of your essay.

  • The conclusion
    This is a crucial part of the essay although it is not lengthy. It wraps all your arguments and synthesizes them in light of the evidence you have provided in the body of the essay. You then make an overarching point proving that you have your ideas on the subject and have brought them to a cogent argument. Your conclusion can have a summary of the argument discussed in the body and their relation to the essay question. This should lead to your final point. It should restate your thesis statement presented in the introduction. This should be brief and should use words that lead to your final point. You can also include recommendations or suggestions, but that depends on the instructions of the essay.

Exercise

Look at how the conclusions of the scholarly articles in your reading list have been drawn. Identify how they summarize the argument and how they compare with the introduction

Redrafting your essay hinges on the extent of your planning and the focus of your essay. During revision, you have to consider its contents and the presentation. When revising your essay using the contents, consider the following questions:


  • Is the answer to the essay question explicit and clear?
  • Is the information you have provided relevant to the essay question and your argument?
  • Does your introduction contain all the elements?
  • Does the main body contain set of ideas that align with your thesis statement?
  • Is the argument logical? Does it relate to the task or command words in the essay question?
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When revising using presentation, consider the following questions:

  • Are all ideas referenced appropriately? Does the reference list adhere to the preferred reference system?
  • Are the spelling, grammar, and punctuation correct?
  • Does the conclusion contain all the elements enumerated above?
  • Does the essay follow all the rules of formatting?

Exercise

Use an old essay and practice revision based on the above approaches. Take out unnecessary wordy phrases or extraneous information

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2.7 Proofreading and writing style tips

You cannot afford to leave this to the spellcheck and grammar wizards on Word because it is not a perfect checker, as one would think. Check to see if the sentences give the intended impression using the right language. There should be mot typos. If proofreading becomes a little bit hard, you can cover the lines above and below whatever you are reading to enable you to concentrate on the sentence that you are reading. Your eye will not jump around, and you will be able to concentrate on words.

Writing information clearly and accurately is an important skill in essay writing. You ought to void grammatical mistakes not only in essay writing but also in other applicable types of writing. The errors therein can negate the meaning of the information you are passing across and bring confusion. Mistakes make your work unprofessional and sloppy. These are some of the mistakes you should avoid:

  • Use apostrophes appropriately
    For instance, the truncations for ‘are not’ is ‘aren’t,’ ‘should not ‘becomes “shouldn’t,” and so on. It is recommended that you use the full form or words instead of using their contraptions when you are writing formally. The use of apostrophe indicates ownership. For instance, ‘the dog’s meat’ indicates that the meat belongs to the dog. The apostrophe must always appear before the ‘S’ except in cases where ownership is shared. As such, the apostrophe comes after ‘S’ of the plural word. For instance, “the dogs’ meat “indicates that the meat belongs to several dogs.However, there is a rule that is exempted when it the apostrophe indicates ownership. The word “its” refers to the value of an object. When truncating it, you write “its value” instead of “it’s value.” An apostrophe can only be used when you are truncating the phrase “it is.” Never use apostrophes to indicate the plural of anything, for instance, you cannot say banana’s or book’s. This is incorrect and should be avoided.
  • Use there, their or they’re correctly
    The word ‘there” denotes the position of something. For instance,” it’s over there.” It also denotes the existence of something. For instance,” there is the house.” The word “their” denotes possession, for instance, “ that’s their car.” They’re a truncation of “they are.”
  • Differentiate between ‘your’ which shows belonging and ‘you’re’ which is truncated from ‘you are.’
  • There are no phrases like ‘must of,’ ‘could of’ or ‘would of.’ They should never be used anywhere in your paper.
  • Distinguish ‘affect’ from ‘effect.’ The word ‘affect’ becomes a verb when one is talking about influence or a change. For instance, “bad weather affected the powerlines.” The word ‘Effect’ is used as a noun to denote a change or influence. For instance,’ the weather had an effect on his health.’ If you want to show the accomplishment or achievement of something, you can use “effect.” For instance, “the hard work effected his desired success.”
  • Then the same case applies to ‘except’ and ‘accept.’ The word ‘accepts is a verb whereas the word ‘except’ is used to denote ‘other than.’ Both words can appear in a single sentence. For instance, “I accept your points except the last one.” In this case, accept indicates agreement whereas except indicates other than.
  • Use “i.e.” and “e.g.” appropriately. The meaning of “e.g.” is “for example” and is used to illustrate a point. With “i.e.” is a substitute for the phrase “that is.” This is used to state a fact.
  • Refrain from using double negatives such as “she did know nothing.” This appropriate phrase is, “he did not know anything.”
  • Keep your essay formal
    Your sentences must be free from the informal vocabulary. For instance, use ‘children’ instead of ‘Kids.’ Try as much to refrain from using the first person pronouns
  • Used a computer spellchecker to identify mistakes
    Do thorough readings before you submit your paper. This enables you to identify other mistakes that the computer might have overlooked.

The above mistakes are not the only ones you have to look out for. They are crucial tips on the common pitfalls committed by students during the writing process.

 

Exercise

Take a page from a book and look at how the paragraphs are structured, the tone of the text, and look at the sentence structure. Take one piece of your work and read it emphasizing on the punctuation or lack thereof. Do this severally until you are sure that you have corrected every mistake therein.

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