People think that all essays are the same and therefore they should all be approached in the same way. While it is true that these tips and tricks can help with all essays, it is important that any writer be aware of the type of essay they are writing before they write it.
The first question you must ask is: what subject is this essay for? There are lots of subjects being taught in any given university, and each subject requires a different approach when it comes to formulating a quality essay.
These subjects include, but are not limited to: Political Science, Philosophy, History, Business, Nursing, Anthropology, Sociology, Marketing, etc… Every discipline has a different purpose, and therefore when you write an essay in a specific discipline, it is vital to keep in mind the purpose of that discipline.
For example, Political Science is the study of political processes and governments, and therefore a Political Science essay should give a better understanding of those issues. Sociology is the study of society and micro- and macro-social processes within it, therefore a Sociology essay should analyse these issues.
In other words, every discipline has a different purpose, and as a writer, it is important to begin the essay writing process with this in mind so that you can plan appropriately.
The next important issue is what type of writing assignment it is: is it an essay/term paper, a case study, a book review, a literature review, etc…?
An essay usually comes in the form of a question, likely the teacher has given you a question, and you are expected to answer that question in essay form – while making a strong argument. If you are writing an essay, then you know that the purpose of that is to make an argument relating to the question you have been given – it is a pretty straightforward task.
There are other types of assignments which differ from essays though, and it is important to know what the differences are. We commonly get requests for book reviews/reports, and these are somewhat different than essays because the purpose is different – in the case of a book review/report, the purpose is not to answer a question per se, but to analyse a book.
In assignments like essays, term papers, and book reports, it is important to take a stand – that means, to have a thesis statement, and to argue in support of it throughout.
There are other types of assignments that do not require this same argumentative approach. For example, we get many requests for literature reviews, and for the writer it is necessary to know the difference between a literature review and an argumentative
The purpose of a literature review is different; the point of it is to give the reader an overview of the research and literature that exists in a specific area. The task for the writer then is to assemble and present an overview of the existing literature and research in an effective and concise manner; the task is not to editorialize or argue. For this reason, a literature review does not require a thesis statement.
There are other types of assignments too, such as case studies and article summaries. Once again, the purpose is different, and therefore these various assignments cannot be approached in the same way as a standard essay. I could go on and on about the different types of assignments, but the key here is just to be aware of what you are writing to ensure that you are doing it with the correct purpose in mind.
Breaking Down the Essay Question
Many people do not realize how important this is, and that is why they become so lost in the process of trying to write an essay. In my years as an essay writer, I have come to learn the importance of being able to break down an essay question to figure out exactly what is being
asked of the writer. When you know exactly what you are being asked to accomplish, you will know how to approach the research process, and how to structure the writing.
Most essay questions are very specific in terms of what they ask, and the trick is to figure out what it is that is being asked. I suggest you make a list. Here is an example of an essay question that I got in one of my undergraduate political science classes:
What are the principles underlying the use of boycotts and why are they seen as appropriate in some circumstances and not in others? Answer this question by addressing the UN imposed economic sanctions against Iraq, and if these sanctions were used as a tool of American diplomacy.
This question might seem difficult, but in fact it is very straightforward. Let us make a list of what is being asked:
- What are the principles underlying the use of boycotts?
- Why are they (the boycotts) seen as appropriate in some circumstances and not in others?
- Use examples from the UN imposed sanctions against Iraq (in the 1990s and early 2000s).
- Were these sanctions used as a tool of American diplomacy?
By creating a list like this, you have literally created the outline for your essay, and now it can be completed in manageable parts. You can basically use these four points as topic sentences for your body/supporting paragraphs, and your essay will flow very well, with each part leading into the next part.
Here is another example. This is from a philosophy essay that I was assigned in my undergraduate studies:
Consciousness is a process of the body that makes the mind-body problem difficult to settle. There are many accounts that have resorted to reductionist principles to attempt to explain the workings of the conscious, but these according to Nagel are flawed. With reference to Nagel’s theory of consciousness and perception, is it impossible for us to know what it is like to be someone else other than ourselves?
Once again, we need to break apart this question:
- The first two sentences put the question into context, but they tell us some very important things that we will need to know: the essay is dealing with the philosophical concept of consciousness, many philosophers have weighed in on this issue, but this essay question will focus in particular on the account presented by Nagel.
- With the context laid out for us (part 1 tells us that we need to research Nagel and his theory), we then just need to determine what it is that Nagel is arguing, and how his argument compares to others who have also weighed in on the issue (why does he think the others are flawed?).
It can be seen again that by breaking the question up into manageable parts, the essay question becomes much easier to handle and to approach because we now know exactly what is
being asked of us.
This is important because quality essays do not waste words; it is important to always stay on topic and make an argument in the most concise way possible. By understanding exactly what is being asked in the essay question, it is much easier to be concise and focused throughout. Every essay question is different, but I have yet to come across one that cannot be broken down in this way. Remember to just make a list of what you are being asked to do, and then use that list to figure out how to approach the research, and how to structure the essay.