Essay Writing

What is an Essay?

An essay is a short literary composition, providing a personal view on a single subject. An essay is not just an exercise in research; it is also an exercise in communication. Essays require you to demonstrate that you understand the question asked, that you understand the issues involved and that you have done the appropriate amount of reading. Essays also allow you to demonstrate your analytical thinking and force a deep and powerful form of learning to take place for both the author as well as the reader.The length of the essay should be apt enough to meet the purpose, keep the reader gripped and conform to any pre stated space constraints. It is important to understand that a redundant detail may take the charm away from an essay while an over condensed one may elude certain relevant details; in fact , someone has rightly said" An essay should be like a mini-skirt: long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting"!?

Importance of essay writing

An essay is a reflection of one's personality. It gives an insight into an individual's ability to express. It gives the reader an idea about the person's attitude, aptitude and vision. Infact, the purpose of an essay is to evaluate the following aspects of one's personality:-

  • Knowledge - This is an important parameter as it measures the awareness levels of the writer; more so in case of factual topics. It reflects a well rounded and aware personality with a strong environmental sensitivity.
  • Written ability -This parameter evaluates the writer's expression of interest.A well written essay demonstrates good written communication skills.
  • Logical structure -This parameter displays the writer's logical thinking and ability to prioritize. It is important to cluster and group different sets of ideas and arrange them in a manner that reflects logical progression and proper sequencing.
  • Features of a Good Essay

    A good essay has the following features:-

    • Content:This is the subject matter on the topic; please remain close to the topic given. For example, if the topic is "FDI in higher education", don't deviate to include issues and challenges w.r.t "FDI in retail", as they very different topics. Focus on higher education in India and the rationale for FDI in higher education is needed.
    • Organization: How the argument is constructed using examples from the introduction to the end.
    • Presentation:This includes style, use of language, correct sentences & spellings and ease of reading. Using simple words with a clean and neat handwriting is an added advantage.
What are the steps in writing a good essay?
Steps in essay writing
Define the purpose
Organize your ideas

  • Define the purpose - Broadly, the purpose can be either to give an overview or an analysis. More specifically, it should be pre-defined as an essay intended to :
    • Persuade - whether for or against, you should be atleast moderately passionate about the issue.
    • Explain/Educate- you should be suitably well-informed about the issue.
  • Organize your ideas
    • Brainstorm- This helps you to think laterally and divergently on the various issues and challenges with respect to the given topic. The following are some simple tips to brainstorm effectively:-
      • Write the topic in a circle
      • Arrows and smaller circles outside
      • Fill these circles with points/facts/info. which support the respective point

  • The SPHELTIR technique of brainstorming-This serves as an effective tool to control and brand the diversity of ideas which come to one's mind while brainstorming. This approach is a yardstick to evaluate the topic from multiple environmental dimensions- social, political , historical, economic, legal, technological, international and religious. This method is more useful for brainstorming on factual topics. Following is an illustration of this method to the topic "Should there be reservations?":-

    Social inequalities in rural and urban India like untouchability
    Reservations for socially and educationally backward classes (Art 15)

    Caste-based vote-bank politics
    Women Reservation Bill

    Genesis of Caste System in India
    Was there any timeline set by constitution?

    Creamy Layer
    Reservations in jobs and educational institutes

    Indian Constitution - Right to equality (Art 14)
    However, 'positive discrimination' allowed (Art 15)

    Reservations in private sector like IT/ITES
    Is Reservation in IITs/IIMs killing merit

    Is Reservation making India less competitive in world?
    Similar policy of affirmative action in USA too.

    Reservations for Minorities?
    Sachar Committee Report

    The POPBEANS approach to brainstorming –This is also a useful tool to think in a divergent yet structured manner. The tool assesses the following aspects surrounding a given topic- people, objects, place, behavior, event, action, nature and society. This method is more useful for expanding abstract topics. Following is an application of this method to the topic "Black":-

    People- corrupt/ dishonest people
    Objects-Black hole, manipulated balance sheet( commerce point)
    Place-Historical monuments, graveyard, south or north pole.
    Behavior-rude and aggressive behavior
    Event-- 26/11, other tragic events
    Actions-- Honor killing, female foeticide , negligent behavior
    Nature –environmental degradation, catastrophic events,
    Society-- Decline in values, morals

  • Outline
    • Edit the main points- consider: chronology, logic, sequence
    • Put the strongest points at the start and the end, leaving the weakest in the middle
    • Ensure a logical and structured flow
  • Thesis Statement
    • Tells the author the domain and range of the essay
    • Tells the reader what the essay will be about
    • The Thesis Statement follows from the main ideas you have listed about the topic-what do they say or indicate about the topic?
    • The Thesis Statement has two parts;
The first part states the topic
The second part either states the point of the essay or lists the ideas you will discuss
  • Writing the essay

    In its most basic and traditional form, an essay has three elemental parts-the Introduction, the Body and the Conclusion. Each of these parts has a specific purpose which means the reader will be looking for expected features.

  • The Introduction

    starts with a fairly general opening statement which introduces readers to the subject and gradually narrows to a specific thesis. The thesis, or thesis statement, tells the reader what you are going to say about your topic.
    Thesis statements often come at the end of the introductory paragraph. A good introduction keeps a check on the following:-

    • Attract attention- quote, anecdote, statistic etc.
    • Give an overview of the essay's focus and flow
    • Finish the introduction with the Thesis Statement
    • It is NOT a summary but merely an introduction to what is to follow
    • As a thumb-rule, should not exceed 10% of the total length of the essay
    • Writer's block occurs the most here-so consider writing it AFTER the rest of the essay is clear to you
  • The Body

    is made up of the paragraphs which support your thesis. These paragraphs contain the evidence, arguments, and examples that support your thesis. The number of paragraphs will depend upon on the number of ideas covered. Try to follow one point one paragraph rule. The following need to be kept in mind at this stage:-

    • Each main idea becomes a body paragraph
    • Start each body para. by writing a main point
    • Next, write supporting points for the main point
    • ELABORATE on the supporting points
    • To be effective, body paragraphs must possess three important qualities:

Unity: focus on one main idea.

Development:which occurs when the idea is elaborated on in the paragraph? This elaboration usually consists of the evidence you have gathered from your research to support the point you are making in the paragraph.

Coherence:where everything in the paragraph relates to and expands on the point you are making.

  • The Conclusion

    starts with a summary of the specific points of your essay, followed by a restatement of your thesis (usually in a slightly reworded form), and ends with a rather general statement about the implications of your thesis. Considering the time given to write an essay please try to conclude quickly and don't try to given more ideas but write in a brief manner. Remember the following while writing a good conclusion:-

    • Review the main points (but DO NOT RESTATE them)
    • Provide a final perspective on the topic-feel free to describe your feelings about the topic
    • Remember not to violate the intent specified by the Thesis Statement

As you begin writing the essay, do remember that this is an assessment of not just your knowledge about the subject. The examiner is also assessing your command over the language, the clarity and consistency of your thoughts and your ability to persuasively communicate your views on the subject.

Tips for writing a distinctive essay
  • Interpret the topic -

    is based on your familiarity with the topic as well as on the wording itself.
    For example : Corruption- a necessary evil? v/s Corruption- a necessary evil.

  • Determine your stand-

    Does the topic allow you to choose your stand? If yes, then you are writing an essay intended to persuade; If no, then you are writing to explain/educate e.g. Consider the topic "UN-Reforms".

    • Persuade: Does the UN need reforms? (list arguments FOR or AGAINST)
    • Explain:The UN needs urgent reforms ( list the steps proving why)
    • Educate:The need for UN reforms (list the areas that need attention)
  • Ideation :
    • Theoretical-the underlying basis
    • Conceptual-- the tools/concepts
    • Empirical-the illustrations/examples
    • All three refer mainly to the body paragraphs

    • Theoretical – the main point of a body paragraph
    • Conceptual - the elaboration of the body paragraph
    • Empirical -the example to substantiate the body paragraph

Topic 1:Combating Corruption
Theoretical Conceptual Empirical
Socialism/ Liberalism Democracy Anna Hazare
Capitalism Competition Enron/ Kingfisher
  Authoritarianism Revolution Arab Spring

Topic 2: Educational Reforms
  Theoretical Conceptual Empirical
  Levels Primary, Sec., Higher SSA, Mid-day meal, online CAT
  Gender Equality Gender ratio, financial independence
  National Development Demographic Dividend
  • Better Presentation
    • Mention the TITLE
    • Indent ( for each new paragraph)
    • Avoid slang/casual references
    • Avoid too many corrections/cuttings
    • Avoid spelling mistakes
    • Handwriting should be neat and legible.
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