Over the course of my essays in university I’ve come to realise I’m an architect when it comes to writing. That is I plan so much that when it comes to writing the essay itself there’s little thinking to be done. In the first year of my undergrad degree Dr. Lyle Skains of the School of Creative Studies and Media went through a planning format for producing a coherent essay that I still use to this day regardless of what kind of essay I happen to be planning. Since I, and several other students, have found this format to be very useful I thought it would be beneficial to write it out so that mentee’s who much prefer planning out their essays in great depth can be made aware of it during sessions…
First, make a note of the total word count of the essay, for this example let’s say we’re dealing with a 4,000 word essay:
Total word count = 4,000
Your introduction should take up roughly about 10% of the overall word count. In this case 10% of 4,000 comes to 400 hundred words so…
Intro = 400 words
Based on this method of planning a good introduction should do five things:
- Make sure the subject is clear.
What we’re looking for here is something as simple as stating what kind of work is being written; argumentative essay, report, critical analysis, proposal, etc.
What is the reason behind writing this essay? What is the main argument/point/information you’re trying to convey to your reader?
- Background & Context
Establishing the state of the art, introducing (by name rather than explanation) the main theorists and theories being put forward.
- Justification & Importance
Why is this essay being written? Why should we care that is has been? Is it looking at something new and interesting? Going to argue a point that has yet to be made?
My favourite line to use in mentor meetings: ‘essays are not mystery novels’ forecast the structure of the essay so the marker (and us as mentors) know what the essay should look like, the flow of thought behind it and what kind of conclusions you might come to.
Having prepped an introduction the main body and conclusion of the essay would come next. Though I, personally, tend to leave the introduction till last as I find it easier to plan out with a planned essay body already made. A conclusion should be roughly about 5% of the total word count (so 200 words in this example) leaving us with a total of 3,600 words to write. A good paragraph that makes a coherent point in depth could be roughly 300 words, so that’s the total we’ll be working off here.
3,600 ÷ 300 = 12
Based off that we have about twelve decent paragraphs to plan out for this essay. The best way to do this is to think of each paragraph as its own mini essay and work accordingly. There should always be a topic sentence within each paragraph (preferably the first, occasionally the second sentence) which explains the subject-matter of that specific paragraph. This can be an argument being put forth, a subject that is being explained, etc. It is always vital to think how this topic being set out works to answer the overall essay question to help keep the piece of work on track; with that shall usually come 3-5 supporting statements that link back to supporting evidence that is then expanded upon to create an overall point for the essay. Finally, a closing statement should restate the topic of the paragraph (linking it back to the overall essay question by extension) and lead into the topic of the next paragraph as well. This helps with the flow of the essay and settles the reader into the introduction of a new topic/argument.
Having briefly mentioned this above, we know the total length of the conclusion in this case should be roughly 200 words and it is vital those words are used effectively. Within a conclusion there should be no new information or arguments as they should have already been covered. What a conclusion should do is restate the thesis (purpose/argument) and sum up all of the sub-arguments that were crafted within the essay paragraphs; it should also restate the importance of the research (justification & importance). Finally, if appropriate, the conclusion could mention further avenues for the research; new directions it could go, elements that could be expanded upon, or topics that were not covered in this essay whose relevance could be worth looking into in later (larger) projects.
By the time all this planning has been done writing the essay is the easy part as all you’re doing is transferring the information from a plan to essay format, writing it out eloquently and ensuring the spelling, grammar and punctuation are correct. I hope you guys have found this useful and if you ever get any mentee’s who’re looking to try a more architectural approach to essay writing this comes in useful.