In this essay I will be discussing the different stages involved in producing a good college essay from start to finish. I will describe exactly what an essay is, how to break down and understand an essay title, how to prepare to write an essay, the key stages in essay development and the role of self reflection on the development of your essay writing skills.
An essay is a major part of formal education and is used to access a student’s performance and show that they have researched and understood a particular subject or issue. It is a piece of writing with a particular structure and layout. “A short piece of writing on a particular subject, especially one done by students as part of the work for a course” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2009). “Usually it is written in a formal, academic style: the language is different from the way you speak….it is not conversational” (Cottrell 2008:175). An essay title is given and this is used as a ‘question’ which must be ultimately answered throughout the essay. You are expected to stick to exactly what the essay title is asking for. Before starting an essay you need to make sure that you understand what it is asking you to do. “Every question has key words, and identifying them will help you decide what the assignment is about and what you have to do” (The Open University 2007).
Once you have a clear idea of what the essay title is asking for you can then look more closely at the resources available to you, such as books, articles, class notes, the internet, television and newspapers. You need to weigh up the relevance of the information you find and be selective. You need to ask yourself ‘Do I need the information?’ and ‘How will I use this information?’ (Cottrell 2008:176). It is important to record which recourses you found your information in to avoid plagiarism. All recourses used in the essay needs to be listed in a reference list at the end of the essay and allows the reader to refer back to these sources for themselves. Next you need to organise and plan your essay. “The Structure and organisation of your work is just as important as the content. What matters is not just what you know but the way that you organise it” (Cottrell 2008:182). The hard part is getting the information and ideas that you have gathered into a well organised and coherent state and then start the actual writing. Arrange the information that you have already sourced into topics, a spider diagram can be handy for this. Make a plan for the main parts of your essay, and note down the key ideas and information for each part.
An action plan is good way of preparing your ideas and will help you map out your essay. A good essay flows logically from one point to another, preparing an action plan can aid this. It gives you the chance to plan out what you may put in your introduction and conclusion, what your main points will be and what you will focus on in each paragraph in the main body of your essay. An action plan can help you to develop your argument but also keeps you on track. “If you simply start writing, with your pile of notes at your side, and you haven’t given any thought to the organisation of the ideas and information, then you are very likely to end up with an essay that rambles and has no clear sense of direction” (Edinburgh Napier University, 2009).
A first draft is a chance to quickly jot down your ideas using your plan. This is not a final version of your essay. “Don’t expect to write perfect text at the first go, you will need to spend time going back over and rewriting or reorganising your paragraphs” (The Open University 2007). Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation at this stage; this is just a chance to get your ideas down on paper.
Sometimes after writing your first draft your ideas may have developed from those which you put in your initial action plan. This means that you would have to revise your action plan “If necessary, rework your outline plan as you proceed. You may rework your plan several times as your thinking becomes more sophisticated. This is part of the process of understanding a subject” (Cottrell 2008:186).
At this point you should have a good picture of what you want in your final essay. You should check that the information you have is grouped and in a good logical order, then begin to write your final draft. You need to make sure that your final draft makes sense, reading it aloud can help with this. Ensure that you have used enough evidence and examples to back up your argument and make certain that your references are written correctly and that the source of your information is made clear. Check for punctuation, spelling and grammar mistakes, getting this right can help improve your marks. Finally check that it is neat and well presented.
It is important as a student to be able to reflect on how you learn best; this can help you improve your essay writing skills. Cottrell believes that you should make constructive use of the feedback that you receive from your tutors but it is also of great benefit to be able to work out for yourself what is it you do well and what you need to improve. This is also called self-reflection. Your performance as a student is likely to improve if you set time aside to reflect on how you learn.
In conclusion, to produce a good college essay you must always keep focused on what the essay title is asking for, present your ideas and information in a well structured, coherent way, ensuring that it flows logically from the introduction to the conclusion. Support your ideas or arguments with good relevant evidence and make sure that this is properly referenced. Lastly always present your essays appropriately in good written English.